The arab-israeli conflict

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Professor: Nadav Shelef


Phone: 263-2280

Office: 414 North Hall

Office hours: Tuesdays 2-4
Course Description

This class will provide an in-depth understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict and it evolution over time. Our goal is to develop an appreciation of the complexities and dynamism of this conflict through an examination of its origins, the actors involved, and the key historical and political factors that have shaped it.

Structure of the course

The class will contain both lectures and critical intensive discussions of the assigned readings. The lectures will be primarily oriented to providing contextual and introductory material for each of our topics.

Course Requirements

There will be no examinations in this course. Students are expected to attend each class ready to contribute to the discussion and to have done the readings assigned for each topic prior to class. To that end, students are required to submit a 1-2 page critical reaction to the readings each week. Reaction papers are to be emailed to the professor by 9 am on Monday morning. Please include your full name in the title of the file. In addition to the weekly response papers, each student will write a research paper (20-25 pages) that evaluates a general claim about Arab-Israeli relations or some politically important aspect of the conflict. Close consultation with the professor in the choice of topic and the development of research design is expected. Paper topic proposals with preliminary bibliographies must be turned in by March 1st. The final papers are due on May 3rd. Late papers will be penalized half of one letter grade for every day they are late.

Grading Criteria

Final course grades will be assigned according to the following weights:

Attendance and discussion participation 20 percent

Critical reaction papers 20 percent

Research paper 60 percent
Critical reaction papers

Critical reaction papers are not simply summaries of the readings. I want you to demonstrate that you have read and given serious thought to the material for that week. To do so, in addition to summarizing the arguments in the reading, include your own reactions to them, describe their implications in the context of the other readings we’ve done that week or previously and point out their limitations. An effective reaction paper demonstrates knowledge of all assigned readings, but may focus on one significant element (theme, argument, issue). You might consider the following questions as you write your reaction papers:

  1. What are the principal arguments or points of view offered in the readings? What are they trying to explain? Are they successful?

  2. What assumptions do the readings make? Are they plausible? How would you refute them?

  3. Is the evidence offered by the readings to substantiate their argument relevant, effective, and convincing? What are its weaknesses?

  4. What are the broader implications of the readings?

  5. How does this reading compare/contrast to, or expand on, other material presented in this class, other classes, or your outside experience?

  6. What questions remain unanswered once you’ve finished reading this week’s reading? What should have been addressed?

Regardless of the particular strategy you adopt for these assignments, your reaction papers should also be concise, well-written, and carefully proofread.

Research Paper

The research paper will provide you with an opportunity to explore nationalism or ethnic relations in a particular context in significant depth. I am relatively open about the scope of topics that can be chosen. However, if you have trouble coming up with one, I would be happy to assign a research topic to you.

The paper itself should be 20-25 pages double-spaced using 12pt Times New Roman font. Citations must be provided in footnotes using the Chicago Manual style. For information see,
A good paper both informs and persuades; to do this it must be logically organized, clearly argued, and well documented. Avoid writing a paper that merely restates the readings or repeats the lectures or discussion sections. You need to do some original thinking, research, and analysis in this paper. Stay away from normative arguments or political polemics. This is hard work. You are strongly encouraged to meet with me to discuss the progress of your paper throughout the semester.
Style Counts! Spelling mistakes as well as errors of syntax and grammar are unacceptable. At best they are evidence of sloppy work. At worst they make your argument impossible to understand. While style does not replace substance, a poorly written or organized paper makes it difficult to get to your argument. I encourage you to consult the UW Writing Center’s “Writer’s Handbook” for more information about style, organization and references.
There are also a number of excellent guides on the web that I encourage you to consult about how you could go about writing an analytical research paper. Some good sites include:

  • How to Research a Political Science Paper, by Peter Liberman:

  • Writing Political Science Papers: Some Useful Guidelines, by Peter Liberman,:

  • Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students, by Patrick Rael:

  • Writing a Research Paper, by Sarah Hamid:

  • An accurate summary of some things not to do, which (unfortunately) students commonly do, can be found at Advice on How to Write a Bad Paper.

Here is a rough explanation of how to understand the grading of the papers: 

A: This is an outstanding paper. It is well organized around a clear and insightful argument that is logically organized and well-supported with evidence from the historical record and the scholarly literature. The paper considers alternative arguments, deals with countervailing evidence, and weighs their relative merits. It also convincingly shows that its main argument is better/more complete than the alternatives. This paper also shows how and why the question it pursues and the answer it offers are significant and important. There are few (or no) spelling or proofreading problems and the paper is well and appropriately documented.
AB: High quality in terms of style and content. The paper has a clear thesis statement, good organization and supporting evidence. It shows a solid grasp of the issues at stake and is well written. This paper shows evidence of original thought and planning. While it makes some reference to the scholarly literature it does not fully engage it.
B: The paper shows a decent understanding of the phenomenon and the overall argument is relatively clear although it may tend more toward summary than analysis. While the wider literature is acknowledged, the paper does not add its own insights. However, there may be significant grammatical and syntax errors, organizational problems, and the references to the literature may be perhaps a bit narrow, superficial or insufficient.
BC: The paper conforms to some of the requirements, but falls short on many, or is seriously marred by crucial shortcomings, including, but not limited to, poor organization, poor grammar or a poor understanding of the question. While there is some attempt to deal with the question, the argument is unclear and/or it is not adequately supported by appropriate evidence. There is little attempt to anchor the argument in the literature on the topic.
C: The paper attempts to pose and answer a question but does not actually do so. In other words, it has no argument. It may also be plagued by, among other problems, poor organization, poor writing, over-generality, lack of evidence or its inappropriate, selective or partial use.
F: The paper does not meet the requirements of the assignment and/or is so poorly written as to be unintelligible or has plagiarized from a published text or another student. Note also that an adequate paper that is not on an appropriate topic also falls within this realm
I will take into consideration papers whose final draft shows substantial and significant improvement over earlier drafts. Note, to take advantage of this you have to complete drafts of your paper early enough to get feedback. I require at least 3 weekdays to get a draft back to you with comments. In other words, don’t wait until the last moment to start your paper.

Academic Conduct

This class is geared to maximize our joint exploration of important topics in the history and politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Serious scholarly discussion becomes impossible when diatribe and invective displace scholarly analysis. As a result, when posing questions or responding to others, students are expected to demonstrate an appropriate level of respect despite what might be deep disagreements.

The paper you are required to write will require you to cite other people’s work. Plagiarism will not be tolerated! If you are caught turning in work that is not your own or using another author’s work without properly citing it, you will receive an F on the assignment. If you have any questions about what constituted academic dishonesty, please consult the Dean of Students Web page, at
Required Readings

Many of the required readings for this course are in the course reader, which is available at the University Book Store. A copy of the reader has been placed on reserve at the College Library. The books can be purchased at the University Book Store. or found on reserve at the College Library.

The following books are required for the course:
Gelvin, James L. 2007. The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bucaille, Laetitia. 2004. Growing Up Palestinian: Israeli Occupation and the Intifada Generation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Laqueur, Walter and Barry Rubin, eds. 2008. The Israel-Arab Reader. New York: Penguin Books. (7th, updated edition).
The following recommended books have been placed on reserve at College Library:

Morris, Benny. 1991. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Tessler, Mark. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.


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