Blog Home for Israel's History and Peoples


Course Description

This course focuses on the modern state of Israel in its Middle Eastern and global context, beginning with its pre-history in the late 19th century and concluding in the present.  The course is divided into two sections.  During the first section, students will be focusing on the major political, economic, and social developments that lead to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the major events within Israeli history from 1948 to the present.  During the second section, students will be examining Israeli society using a sociological and cultural studies approach.  Israeli society is quite heterogeneous, and the many peoples of Israel will be examined from the perspective of nationality and ethnicity (Palestinian nationality — citizens of Israel and those in the Occupied Territories, Jewish nationality, and foreign workers) as well as from the perspective of religion, gender, and economic status.

Course Student Learning Objectives:

(1) Students will demonstrate familiarity with establishment of the state of Israel and be able to explain this development as a function of complex political, economic, and cultural forces.

(2) Students will demonstrate familiarity with the diversity of Israeli society and the areas of tension and cooperation between diverse groups; furthermore, they will explain the forces that contributed to the existence of this diversity within the state and the factors that contribute to the continued existence of such differences.

(3) Students will demonstrate advanced level of proficiency in the political geography of Mandatory Palestine, Israel, and the Occupied Territories; as well as the routes of immigration and refugee destinations.

(4) Students will show intermediate level of proficiency in identifying and analyzing problems of historical interpretation, identifying and understanding various approaches to historical analysis, analyzing and interpreting historical sources; and students will demonstrate a basic level of proficiency in utilizing literary and artistic sources for knowledge of history and society.

Course Requirements and Grading

Required reading:

Bernard Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism: How its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy (Allworth Press, 2002)

Itamar Rabinovitch and Jehuda Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East, second edition (University Press of New England, 2008)

Donna Rosenthal, The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land (Free Press, 2008)

Course e-Reserves: articles, maps

Internet resources: Students must have regular access to the Internet to access the course website as well as required course reading.

Required writing

1. Current events journal (20%)

2. Map quizzes (10%)

3. Periodic homework assignments on the reading, and participation in class discussion (20%)

4. Two exams: one mid-term and one final (50%)

No late assignments are permitted.  The plus-minus grading system will be used.  All students are subject to the University policy on Academic Honesty.  Plagiarism and/or cheating will have serious grade consequences and will be reported to the Office of Student Affairs.

More details on the social conduct of course participants

In this course, you are invited to be free and well-behaved critical thinkers.  Nothing that you write or read will affect the political situation in Israel or the Middle East.  Nothing that you write or read will change past history.  I will not share your words or work with your family and friends.  In this course we will approach our topic with “disciplined empathy.”  This means that we approach the topics primarily with the tools of academic disciplines (primarily history and sociology) and also take account of the feelings of the human beings under study.  I will insist that we all speak respectfully to each other and take individual and collective responsibility for making the class a safe environment for learning.

More details on the Current Events Journal

You will write one journal entry per week based on the news from Israel/Palestine.  You should try to examine at least two sources for any story.  Journal entries should average about 2 double-spaced typed pages.  Entries should consist of two parts: a summary of the issue reported or the reading and a few sentences of reaction.  You need to bring the journals to class for use as the basis for discussions of current issues, which will take place roughly once a week.  Journals will be collected and graded twice during the semester.

Every news source has its bias.  The best way to get news on a particular event is to sample several sources.  The following sources are a sample of what is available in English:

New York Times has the best daily foreign news coverage of any American publication.  A subscription is required to read full articles on-line.  A shortened version is available at

Haaretz is Israel’s oldest newspaper.  It has a left-of-center orientation and, of all Israeli newspapers, the most influential on government officials. The English version can be read on-line at

Jerusalem Post is a right-of-center English-language Israeli newspaper.

Israel National News (Arutz 7) is the voice of the religious settler movement.

Palestine News Agency provides news and analysis from the Palestinian perspective.

Palestinian Information Center is the website for Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. is a joint Palestinian-Israeli website with analysis of current issues, edited by two important figures in the Palestinian and Israeli security establishments.

Grading criteria for the Current Events Journals (out of 10 points)

9-10: excellent summary consisting of more than one source with thoughtful analysis of news items

8: adequate summary based on at least one source with little analysis

7: weak summary and/or no analysis

1 point will be deducted for each missing journal entry

More details on the essays and writing in your homework assignments:

The exams will consist of two parts, short identifications and a 4-5 page take-home essay.  The ID section will be done in class on the day that the essays are due.  The essay is based solely on required readings and class discussion.

Grading rubric for writing in this course.  The following are my criteria for grades:

A:  clear and comprehensive treatment of the question written in excellent expository style; work demonstrates that the student is thinking in a creative way and is making an original argument; excellent use of written sources and class discussions

B: good summary of the essential points, written in satisfactory style; arguments repeat readings and class discussions

C: only some essential points, but significant gaps; unclear writing; very partial use of readings and class discussions

D: lacking in central issues; incomprehensible writing; little evidence of familiarity with readings and class discussions

Course topics, by weekReading is due at the beginning of the week assigned.  All reading outside of the purchased books is available in the Course e-Reserves or class website.

Section One: The History of Modern Israel

1. Introduction and historical background. How do we approach the topics of the course and write/speak about events, land, and peoples in order to sustain a respectful learning environment?  What was Palestine under the Ottoman Empire?  Political and economic life, social organization of the multi-national and multi-religious subjects of the Turkish imperial regime.  Demography and immigration of Arabs, Jews, native and immigrant “others.”

Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism, 15-21

Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, 15-37, 78-82

Amos Elon, “Eastern Origins” in The Israelis: Founders and Sons, ch. 3

2. 1880-1921: Zionism, European colonialism and the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the developing Old and New Yishuv, and World War I.

Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism, 22-66

Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea (selections)

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

3. 1921-1947: Mandatory Palestine. The British Administration, growth of the New Yishuv, Arab resistance and socio-economic developments, British proposals for Jewish and Arab co-existence.

Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism, 99-132

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

Rashid Khalidi, “Elements of Identity I: Peasant Resistance to Zionist Settlement,” in Palestinian                        Identity, 89-118

4. 1948-1950: The War of Independence/Naqba, immigration, and Refugees

Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism, 172-184

Benny Morris, “The Origins of the Palestinian Refugee Problem,” in New Perspectives on Israeli             History, 42-55

Film: Al Naqba (shown in class – 56 min)

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

5. 1950-1967: Israel in its 1948 borders. Jewish immigrants and absorption, Palestinian citizens of Israel.  Security matters, the 1956 war, and international relations.  Internal Israeli society and politics.

Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis, 95-194

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

Film: Salah Shabati (shown in class

6. 1967-1981: Israel and the Occupied Territories. The 1967 War, the Yom Kippur War, the  administration and the growth of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, security matters, treaty with Egypt and international relations.  Economic, political, and cultural change for Palestinians in Israel and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism, 235-271

Michael Oren, “The Six Day War,” in Mordecai Bar-On (ed.), A Never-Ending Conflict, 135-146

7. 1982-1993. The first Lebanon War, the first Intifada, the Russian immigration.

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism, 272-296

Ehud Sprinzak, The Ascendance of Israel’s Radical Right (selections)

Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel (selection)

Graham Usher, “What Kind of Nation? The Rise of Hamas in the Occupied Territories” in Joel                             Beinin and Joe Stork (eds.), Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report

8. 1993-2008. The Oslo Accords, the failure of Oslo, the Second Intifada.  Economic, political, and cultural changes.

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism, 349-369

Section One Exam

Section Two: The Peoples of Israel, 1948-2008, with a focus on contemporary society

9. Demography in 1948, citizenship laws, determination of personal status, the invitation to foreign workers.

Rabinovitch and Reinharz, eds., Israel in the Middle East (selections)

Online demographic and sociological data.

10 – 15. These weeks will focus on the Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Russian, Ethiopian and Arab residents of Israel’s multicultural society, in addition to foreign workers.  There are a number of ways of categorizing Israel’s diverse population, and I have done it in this way because of the structure of the book we are reading.  You will see that within each group, differences are created by distinctions in gender, religion, and economic class – and some of these differences trump a person’s “membership” in a national/ethnic group.  There are five weeks in which to study seven groups.  All students will be reading about each group, but each student will be assigned to present on two of these groups.

Jews from Muslim lands (Mizrahi Jews)

Ethiopian Jews

Ashkenazi Jews

Russian immigrants in the late 20th century

Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the territories


foreign workers

Reading is Donna Rosenthal, The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land and internet material.

Section Two Exam

study many hours


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