As an American Jew, I have always had a deep connection to Israel – through Hebrew school and summer camp, through songs and stories, through prayers and holiday celebrations. Our first family trip to Israel was in 1982, just after the onset of the war with Lebanon. We took my 81 year old grandfather to visit his brothers one last time. They all escaped Nazi Germany just in time, with my grandfather coming to the US and two of his brothers going to Israel under the British Mandate.
A few years later, I was fortunate to spend a gap year in Israel between high school and college. I lived half the time in Jerusalem and the other half on kibbutz. That December, the first Intifada broke out. I vividly remember a trip to Neve Shalom / Wahat Al-Salam, a village made up of Jews and Arabs setting an example by raising their children together. (See the book about it below.) Mixed in were trips to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Masada, and visits with so many cousins.
The conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians have been going on long before you or I were born. It had always been my hope that my daughter and her generation would be able to experience a true peace between Israel and its neighbors. With the horrific events of the past few weeks, it feels like we are further away from peace than ever. Amid the latest Israeli Palestinian conflict, I wanted to share books filled with hope for young readers showing pathways toward peace.
Children’s Books for Hope & Understanding Amid the Israeli Palestinian Conflict
Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam written by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Chiara Fedele
A beautiful retelling of the folktale “Two Brothers,” taking place between two friends and neighbors, one Jewish and one Muslim. An important story of friendship that celebrates both our differences and what we have in common.
Snow in Jerusalem written by Deborah da Costa, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
When Avi, who is Jewish, and Hamudi, who is Arab, discover that they are caring for the same stray cat and her new kittens, they fight over her. She runs away from their arguing. As snow begins to fall (a rare occurrence in Jerusalem) they worry for her safety. The boys work together to find her and also come up with a plan to share her and the kittens.
A Moon for Moe and Mo written by Jane Breskin Zalben, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
A story of two boys, both named Mo(e), who find they have more in common than they expected. Moses is Jewish, and Mohammed is Muslim. They are both getting ready to celebrate the holiest days of the year (Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan). While this story takes place in New York and not Israel, it is still a timely and important read.
Wishing Upon the Same Stars written by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman
Written in an accessible way, this book is full of hope about the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis. Yasmeen’s father is Palestinian from Jerusalem and her mother is from Lebanon. Based on the author’s own family, they are not Muslim but Maronite Christians. When they leave their large Arab-American community in Detroit to move to San Antonio, Yasmeen feels like she will never fit in. Her mother hears Arabic spoken by their neighbors across the street, but hurries home when she finds out their last name is Cohen, and they are Jewish Israelis. Against all odds, Yasmeen and Ayelet Cohen begin a friendship that grows to include their entire families.
Running on Eggs written by Anna Levine
Karen, who lives on an Israeli kibbutz, and Yasmine, who lives in a nearby Palestinian village, both love running. They meet through the Arab-Israeli track team. When Yasmine has to quit the team since the coach won’t let her run in skirts, they meet in secret in the “no man’s land” between their communities since neither of their families would approve of their friendship. Despite everything, they work together to maintain their friendship and their running goals.
Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi
Samir, a Palestinian boy, shatters his knee in an accident and ends up in an Israeli hospital waiting for a specialist. As he waits in the shared room, he gets to know the other children there, both Jews and Arabs. Most notably are Tzahi, an Israeli boy who taunts him and Yonatan, who becomes his friend. As the weeks drag on, Samir faces the stereotypes he has always known and learns more about Israelis on a personal level. Note: this is a Palestinian point of view written by an Israeli author.
The Six-Day Hero written by Tammar Stein
Motti is twelve, and his older brother Gideon is nineteen — the same age as the new state of Israel. Gideon is serving in the army now, as all Israelis do when they finish high school. The young country is a mix of immigrants, many of whom survived the Holocaust, and native-born Sabras like Motti and his family. Things are tense in the summer of 1967. Egypt, Jordan, and Syria are assembling their troops along the borders, threatening to wipe the new country off the map. When his father is called up to the Reserves and his brother’s training becomes more intense, Motti knows it is only a matter of time before war breaks out. This incredible story places the reader right in the middle of those terrifying and then exhilarating six days. It is a phenomenal look at life in West Jerusalem when it was still a divided city. It is one thing to learn the history of the Six Day War, it is entirely different to experience it alongside Motti.
Neve Shalom / Wahat Al-Salam: Oasis of Peace written by Laurie Dolphin, photos by Ben Dolphin
This cooperative village outside of Jerusalem brings Jews and Arabs together in the hopes that by raising their children together, they will create a peaceful co-existence. Told from the point of view of two 10-year-old boys, with photographs throughout.
Sharing our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp by Trish Marx
Peace Camp is a day camp operated by Givat Haviva, an educational organization that works toward Jewish-Arab peace. Most of the time, Jewish and Palestinian children have no contact. At Peace Camp, they play sports, create arts and crafts projects, go on field trips, and have fun together, all in the hope that they will create friendships as children that lead to better understanding and peace as they grow up.
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