SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

History of the Israel/Palestine Conflict

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

This module provides a historical overview of the Israel-Palestine conflict and examines its political, social and cultural reflections, from late Ottoman Palestine to the present day. Alongside the political history, the module will emphasise social and cultural aspects of the conflict. It will bring a variety of voices and perspectives, often contradictory, on the conflict, its underlying causes and dynamics; these perspectives include not only the two “official” narratives, the Israeli and the Palestinian, but also voices “from below” of marginalised groups. Attention will be given to groups whose position does not fit easily with the official narratives: local Jewish communities in Palestine, Arab Palestinian collaborators with the British and the Zionists, Middle Eastern Jews in Israel, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. develop awareness of the challenges involved in approaching, in a scholarly manner, a contested history such as the Israel/Palestine conflict.
  2. consider the interplay between historiography, national narratives and cultural memory.
  3. familiarise themselves with different perspectives in the historiography on the Israel-Palestine conflict,
  4. analyse critically prevailing historiographical approaches
  5. provide their own analysis of key issues in the history of the conflict, positioning themselves against the historiography while engaging with counter-arguments.
  6. become acquainted with different methodological approaches to the history of the conflict, including social, cultural and political history.
  7. position Israel/Palestine within larger frames of analysis, against regional and global trends.


One hour lecture, one hour tutorial per week.

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: The Palestine-Israel conflict narratives, memories, histories
  2. Late Ottoman Palestine and the origins of Arab Nationalism
  3. Zionism and Palestine’s Jewish communities: the early encounters between Zionists and Arabs
  4. World War I and local viewpoints v. imperial viewpoints: Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration
  5. The British Mandate for Palestine: British visions of the ‘holy land’
  6. The Arab revolt and political/nationalist violence during the Mandate
  7. Arab-Jewish interaction: collaboration, cooperation and conflict
  8. The end of the Mandate: terrorism, fragmentation, immigration and politics
  9. 1947: The end of the Mandate, partition
  10. 1948: narratives of the Nakba and the War of Independence
  11. 1948 in cultural memory
  12. Jews of the Middle East and North Africa
  13. PLO and the Armed Struggle
  14. “Greater Israel”: 1967 and the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
  15. The first Palestinian Intifada:   (1987-1991)
  16. The Oslo Accords: making sense of the peace process
  17. Palestinian Citizens and the Jewish State
  18. The rise of Political religion in Israel/Palestine
  19. Oslo’s collapse
  20. Apartheid, the two-state solution and the State of Palestine

Method of assessment

Assessment will be by two term essays of 2000 words each, submitted by the first days of Terms 2 and 3 respectively (20% each, in total 40% of the total mark), and one three-hour written examination in May-June (55%); a 15 minute presentation on the secondary reading in one of the sessions (5%).

Suggested reading

Basic bibliography:
  • Gelvin, J.L., 2007. The Israel-Palestine conflict: one hundred years of war, Cambridge University Press.
  • Smith, C.D., 2009. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  • Tamari, S., 2009. Mountain against the sea: essays on Palestinian society and culture, University of California Press.
  • Shindler, C., 2008. A history of modern Israel 1st ed., Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Pappe, I., 1999. The Israel/Palestine question, London: Routledge.
  • Kimmerling, B. & Migdal, J.S., 2003. The Palestinian People: A History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Sachar, H.M., 1996. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time (Second Edition, Revised and Updated) 2nd ed., Knopf.
  • Morris, B., 1999. Righteous victims : a history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-1999 1st ed., New York: Knopf.
  • Khalidi, R. , 2006. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle Forstatehood, Boston: Beacon Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules