Accessible Sources for Understanding Zionism to 1949

Modern Zionism to 1949

Learning about modern Jewish history, Israel and the Middle East can be daunting. Whether student or teacher, Jew or non-Jew, knowing what sources to trust and where to find them can be overwhelming, given the number of blogs, organizations, websites, and individuals who claim their views are the most relevant, salient, or reliable!  More than understanding Zionism’s role in modern Jewish and Middle Eastern history, feeling comfortable with Israel’s story allows belonging, encourages ownership, and may permit easy spread of the story’s relevance. After four decades of teaching modern Israel and discovering sources of all ideological colors, I am certain that I have omitted valuable views and sources, especially from books, articles and digital sources. Listings of books and articles not on-line may be found in the Research Bibliography sections of the major themes identified on the website. 

In this Curated Reading list, you will find overviews of Jewish and Middle Eastern History, with the primary focus on Zionism’s formation and Jewish nation-building to 1949. The period here rounds out with 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Study and Learning aids (maps, chronologies, timelines, and a classic YouTube video series of modern Israel narrated by former Israel Foreign Minister, Abba Eban). Access to several on-line courses on Israeli history and Israeli culture are noted.  In a second Curated Reading list to be uploaded in the weeks ahead, Israel 1949-present we shall continue with Israel’s story and its role in Jewish and Middle Eastern History, focusing on 1949 to the present and contemporaneous issues.  In the meantime references to Israel’s modern story may be accessed through the CIE Theme section of the website.

Ken Stein, January 2021

A. Overview of Jewish history 

Lord Jonathan Sacks and Simom Schama, “Genius, Story of the Jews, their resilience against adversity through the ages,” (Youtube, 1:22), February 2015,

Leon Wieseltier, “The Soul of American Jewry,” (Youtube, 56:16), November 2016,

B. Overview — The Middle East – 19th to the 21sth Century 

     ***“The Great Powers, the Middle East and the Cold War,” – September 2020, (1800 words), Center for Israel Education,

Bernard Lewis, “Impressions of the Middle East- Evolution of the Middle East to the 21st century,” November 2003, (54:10 Youtube)

“Hisham Melhem, “The Barbarians Within Our Gates – Arab civilization has collapsed. It won’t recover in my lifetime, Politico, September 18, 2014,

Jacques Neriah, “A Scorecard on the First Decade after the Arab Spring,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, December 31, 2019,

      Zubair Iqbal, “The Arab Awakening: Determinants and Economic Consequences.” Middle East Institute (5 pp.) February 25, 2014,

   ***David Fromkin, “A Peace to End all Peace,”(1914-1922), Youtube video (26.36), March 2012, How the Ottoman Empire became modern Arab states at the beginning of the 20th century?,  Interview based on his superb paperback of the same title,

C. On Zionism to Israel’s establishment 1800s to 1948

***Biblical Times to 1897 – (Biblical Covenants, Jewish life in diaspora as minority, rumblings of Zionism)- 3,000 words , 2015,

***Zionism to 1947 – (Ottoman and British Rule, Zionist building of infrastructure for state, Arabs in Palestine reject two state solution) – 4,000 words, 2015, 

Zionism (unedited text of 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia- Biblical Origins to Herzl’s death in 1904), Richard Gottheil,

The Zionist Movement- The Israel Year Book (14 pages- Herzl to 1949) –

***Kenneth Stein, “How did the Zionists Make the State, 1882-1947,” Center for Israel Education, June 2020, (48:31), (traces Zioinism, WWI from the end of Ottoman Empire through 1947, with powerpoint)

Cary Nelson, Rachel Harris and Kenneth W. Stein. A Concise History of Israel, 2015, (180pp.)

***Forming a Nucleus for a Jewish state, 1882-1947 – (Jewish immigration and land purchase to Palestine, Zionist institution building) 4,500 words, 20 maps and prose, 2020,

D. First Arab-Israeli War 1947-1949

***1948 – Israel Independence War, (causes, course, end, and consequences of 1948 war) 1800 words, 2020,

Why Arabs lost the 1948 war? – Arab scholar viewpoints – 1800 words, 2016,

***How did the Zionists win the 1948 war?  – Israeli military leader, Yigal Allon – translated from Hebrew, 3,000 words (1952),

British Mandate for Palestine, 1922 – 1949 – How Zionism grew under British administration, (14 pages – best unbiased account compiled by British Colonial Office)

E.  Study Aids –

 1. Israel’s History in Maps  (two dozen maps with short explanations of each, reference) –

 2. How to analyze a document, source or text?

 3. Timeline – Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1880s – 2021,

4.  Timeline – History of Jerusalem,

5. Overview of Israel Youtube video classic  Abba Eban’: Israel A Nation is Born- Par 1- Part 5 (this is former Israeli Foreign Minister’s magisterial history of modern Israel in video format- Eban’s preference was to link Zionism almost exclusively to the holocaust that preceded it; he  does not provide a historical link of Zionism’s origins to Jewish peoplehood, to Jewish diaspora existence or increased anti-Semitism in the 19th-20th centuries. 

a. Israel: A Nation is Born- Part I (51:03), December 2015, (1939 to 1947)

b. Israel: A Nation is Born- Part II (51:14), December 2015, 1947-1952)

c. Israel: A Nation is Born- Part III (50:43), December 2015, (1952-1957)

d. Israel: A Nation is Born- Part IV (48:43), December 2015, (1957-1973) – prelude to 1967 war

e. Israel: A Nation is Born- Part V (55:28), December 2015, (1973-2000)

6. On-line courses- free

 Modern Israel History and Politics and Israel Culture –self-taught or instructor led courses below—(seven and three sessions each, respectively  30 minutes for each session 

CIE, On-Line digital courses – self-taught or instructor led, Modern Israel and Israel Culture,

 a) Modern Israel is a 7 session (30 minutes each) overview of Israel’s birth and development. The following topics/subjects are covered (2019) 

Jewish Peoplehood – Exiled from their homeland in the first century, Jews maintained a relationship with the land and with each other through ritual, liturgy, and actions.

Origins of Zionism – Zionism did not evolve as a result of a civil war, the victory of one country over another, or because of anti-Semitism. Understand how it evolved from centuries of Jewish history and a newly defined communal destiny.

State MakingPathways and Obstacles to Israel – From 1882 to 1948, Jewish presence in the land of Israel grew from 20,000 to 650,000. How did Jews buy land and establish the nucleus of a Jewish state by 1939? 

Independence and the Jewish State’s Definition – Following its establishment in May 1948, the new state of Israel faced significant economic, sociological, and security challenges. How did Israel navigate these areas?

State Keeping and June 1967 –Unexpectedly, the June 1967 War helped further connect Israelis to the land and protect Israel’s precarious borders. It also set in motion fifty years of Arab-Israeli negotiations that still remain unfinished. Explore the open-ended nature of the June War.

The US-Israel Relationship – During the Cold War, Israel became a close ally of the United States and in 1983 that friendship had evolved into a strategic relationship which continued to expand to this day.

      Contemporary Issues –Despite its many achievements, Israel, like any country, has ongoing challenges, both foreign and domestic, that it continues to face

b) Origins and Development of Israeli Culture is a three session (30 minutes each) course that traces the evolution of Israeli culture from its origins to the present.  Self-taught or instructor led, The following themes are covered (2019),

   Zionism’s process of creating a revolutionary Jewish culture in order to safeguard Jewish existence;

          The impact that different Jewish immigrant groups have had upon Israel’s culture and society;

          Existing tensions between different demographic and religious groups in Israel;

          How different segments of Israeli society are represented in Israeli culture –music, literature, and other media.