I spend a lot of time writing about fiction on this blog, and really just share a lot of reading recommendations as a whole. I do this in person at the Medford Library as well, but as a Reference Librarian, I also spend a lot of time helping patrons at the library with research questions. These questions can vary, and have included anything from assistance with family history research to finding the origins of colloquial phrases such as “when pigs fly.”
But these questions also frequently follow trends based on current events and news. Because this is the case, it’s no surprise that we have gotten plenty of questions about Israel, Palestine, and the war that broke out in October of this year. Patrons have asked how the war started, who Hamas is, and which group — if either — is “right” in their actions and goals. And while we will always encourage patrons to do research to form their own conclusions, we do try to point patrons in the direction of reputable sources to gain a deeper understanding, which is what I’d like to share more information about today.
To give a short overview in case you are unfamiliar, Israel and Palestine have been at war off and on for decades, if not longer, and violence recently broke out again on October 7th, 2023, when Palestinian militants launched an attack against Israel. These militants were led by Hamas, a political and military organization that has controlled the Gaza Strip since roughly 2006, after they won the majority of seats in their legislative election. Since October 7th, Israel’s military has responded with air strikes and ground invasions of Gaza and, other than brief pauses on both sides, violence and deaths have continued. As is often the case during active times of war, there are many falsehoods circulating on social media, online, and even in mainstream news outlets. Details like the total number of deaths and hostages, responsible parties for individual attacks or killings, and much more can be incomplete, misattributed, or outright false when first reported, only to be corrected after the dust has settled. As such, when trying to learn about political or historical events it is important to not just learn about what’s happening today, but how we got here.
Historic and current political events don’t happen in a vacuum. Whenever we want to learn more about a war, a political party, or a historic event happening during our lifetimes — especially when new information is still coming out — we can gain better insight by studying the past and the events that led up to where we are today. In the case of Israel and Palestine, we can learn about the historical peoples and kingdoms that ruled the land, as well as the evolution of religion that was prevalent in those communities. And this history goes back multiple millennia! The majority Arabic Muslim population found in Palestine has existed in the region in some capacity since very shortly after the creation of Islam itself, in the early to mid 6th century CE. Many Jewish communities currently living in Israel can trace their lineage to immigration over the last hundred or so years, but many also have an ancient connection to the area, as Judaism originated out of early semitic religions prevalent in the region as early as the 6th century BCE. And both these groups also have a long history of persecution and exile from this part of the world, whether pushed out by historical political empires, Christian crusaders, or each other. Learning about these power struggles, religious trends, and historical diasporas can lend insight into current tension and motivations for what both sides consider to be a holy land.
Similarly, just like ancient history can give us insight, we can understand the current war by looking at worldwide history and the recent influence of other countries and global political powers on present day tensions. Like much of Africa in the 1880s, parts of the Middle East were divided up for control by Western European countries after the end of World War I, including British control of Palestine, which, at that time, included present-day Israel. Great Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration shared their intent for Palestine to become a homeland for Jewish communities. Tensions heightened almost immediately, including an increase in Jewish immigration throughout the next few decades, and a corresponding increase in backlash from native Palestinians. Israel declared independence as soon as Great Britain relinquished control of the area in 1948, and since then, Israel and Palestine have fought many times, often with monetary and military support on each side from neighboring countries or global superpowers. The United Nation’s recommendations of border placement, Egypt’s support for Israel blocking Gaza’s trading routes, and the influence of other wars in nearby countries such as Syria all contribute to the power struggles and motivations of both sides in this war, too. Finding reputable resources going into detail about these European influences, power struggles across the region, and the political goals of Israel and Palestine and their allies can help us better understand the more recent history, interests, and motives of these communities today.
We’ve talked about the need to learn about history, both long ago and relatively recently, to better understand how we got to where we are today. But it is just as important, if not more so, to make sure we are learning from reputable resources that are accurate, timely, and as unbiased as possible. Checking the author for bias and expertise, comparing content from multiple sources to look for consistent reporting of facts, and examining the funding or motives of publishers responsible for articles and other forms of information can all help us determine how trustworthy and unbiased a source might be. If unbiased sources are hard to find, sources from multiple perspectives to get a more rounded picture can also provide insight. Research-based journals, historical documentaries, and books and other resources at the library, for example, are much more likely to be reputable than YouTube videos, social media posts, and clickbait-type articles. Even news stories from well-respected newspapers can be helpful for present-day information, but can lack context that would provide a more complete understanding, which is why consuming information from a variety of sources and formats is so critical.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Palestine, Israel, and the political powers that have influenced the region both historically and today, check out the library’s databases like Masterfile Premier and Opposing Viewpoints in Context, or consider checking out one of the books (or multiple) from this list. Or if you prefer to do your research in person, stop by the reference desk and we’d be happy to help!