Contested Land, Contested Memory


2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize — Nonfiction Runner Up

The complex histories and memories of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis today frame Israel’s future possibilities for peace.

1948: As Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, struggle toward the new State of Israel, Arab refugees are fleeing, many under duress. Sixty years later, the memory of trauma has shaped both peoples’ collective understanding of who they are.

After a war, the victors write history. How was the story of the exiled Palestinians erased – from textbooks, maps, even the land? How do Jewish and Palestinian Israelis now engage with the histories of the Palestinian Nakba ("Catastrophe") and the Holocaust, and how do these echo through the political and physical landscapes of their country?

Vividly narrated, with extensive original interview material, Contested Land, Contested Memory examines how these tangled histories of suffering inform Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli lives today, and frame Israel’s possibilities for peace.


National Jewish Book Award (History Category)
Dayton Literary Peace Prize


In this moving, lyrical, and very important book, with some of the bravest and most honest of Israelis and Palestinians as guides, Roberts offers readers an intimate, often searing tour of the country’s psychological landscape.

This compelling and compassionate book offers fresh insight into how these divergent histories reverberate in Israel today, examining how selective memories of suffering that exclude the ‘other’ impede reconciliation and a just peace.

[A] beautifully written book … Jo Roberts captures the voices of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis in all their diversity, pain, and eloquence.

[T]his nuanced, empathic, and knowledgeable book is an important read for supporters of [both Israelis and Palestinians], and for people seeking a book through which to enter the charged field of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Roberts does a masterful
job of presenting all perspectives in their proper context.

Publishers Weekly

[Roberts’s] writing has academic credibility and personal appeal. If that sounds unlikely, it is. Only a writer as good as Roberts could make it work—but work it does, as it proceeds to unravel Israel’s paradoxical political identity.


The author significantly contributes to the historiography of 1948, particularly in her presentation of the lesser-known experiences of displaced Palestinians who remained in what became Israel after the war.

Electronic Intifada

A short review such as this cannot do justice to a book which narrates in rich detail the history of the Jews in Europe leading to the founding of the State of Israel and its impact on the local population of Palestine. The discussion of identity, statehood and the role of narrative give a context for the sources of the conflicts and their continuation.

Jewish Renaissance

. . . Roberts provides an engaging introduction to the significance of collective memory in Israeli and Palestinian education, geography, and law. What results is a diverse anthology of the ways these divergent memories affect the current culture and conflict.

Writers have used collective memory to explore the history of groups besides Israelis and Palestinians, but Contested Land, Contested Memory distinguishes itself on several counts. First, Roberts' fine writing makes the discourse of collective memory more accessible than many other books do. And because the catastrophes that concern her happened fairly recently, Roberts is able to use the memories of actual Palestinian and Jewish Israelis to frame her subject matter.

Roberts’s formal arguments have a lapidary quality that makes them appear nearly self-evident. I thought more than once, “I knew that. She’s got that just right, and I couldn’t say it better.”

America: The National Catholic Review

Contested Land, Contested Memory is a work that disinters Israel’s buried history concealed in the collective psyche that ignores the past. It also shatters the assumed periodization of this conflict as originating in 1967 and highlights instead how the 1948 war and a Zionist ideology of ethnic nationalism contributed to this conflict.

Journal of Palestine Studies

This remarkable book is, to my knowledge, the first detailed analysis of the oppression inflicted upon the Palestinians by the Israeli government … that has been welcomed by Jewish organizations and prominent Jewish scholars.

THE ECUMENIST: A Journal of Theology, Culture, and Society

About the Author

Jo Roberts

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
Jo Roberts photo

Jo Roberts

Trained in her native England as a lawyer and anthropologist, Jo Roberts is now a freelance writer. For five years she was managing editor of the New York Catholic Worker newspaper, to which she frequently contributed. Her reportage from Israel and from the West Bank has appeared in Embassy, Canada's foreign policy weekly. She lives in Toronto, Canada.