The minefield of Middle Eastern myths, passions, and deceit is so dense that even making a factual statement may open you to accusations of bias and mendacity.  It would take an entire issue of Chronicles just to provide a comprehensive bibliography and a list of the websites relevant to the Middle East.  However, the non-idiot might begin with Walter Laquer’s The Israel-Arab Reader (Penguin, 1995), a clear, readable reference work full of documentary sources.  For an eloquent analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, coupled with a careful argument for America’s “constructive disengagement,” proceed to Leon Hadar’s Quagmire: America in the Middle East (Cato, 1993).

For contrasting Zionist and Palestinian accounts, try Howard Sachar’s A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998) and Edward Said’s The Politics of Dispossession (Random House, 1994).  You will notice how the grinding of different axes translates into differences of rhetoric, emphasis, and intent.  You will need to learn how to recognize these in other authors as you continue.

Thanks to the internet, many documents, rare books, and other primary texts are now available to the nonspecialist.  To study the ancient history of the region, visit the Electronic Tools and Ancient Near Eastern Archives (, a treasure trove of books that are currently out of print.

Turning to modern times, the Avalon Project at Yale Law School ( offers a collection of documents from 1916 to the present, including many primary sources unavailable in electronic format elsewhere.  

As history becomes current affairs, the minefield of partisanship becomes more treacherous.  As, dedicated to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, warns visitors, “you are advised not to take anything at face value” among the many sources of information that are designed to boost circulation and present a viewpoint, not to inform.

On the Arab side, the sources are, not surprisingly, fewer and less diverse.  Worth bookmarking is, predictably discriminating in its selection of material to reflect the fact that it is “owned by ArabNet Technology (ANT), part of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, publisher of the leading newspapers and magazines in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”  The site has special features on 22 countries and a daily selection of current-affairs articles and commentary from around the world.

Using ostensibly neutral research institutions as vehicles for political advocacy is fairly common in Washington, and the Middle East Institute ( provides an excellent example.  It is a sophisticated pro-Arab lobbying organization in the guise of a think tank.  Its useful links will take you to dozens of sites all over the region.  The Institute’s quarterly, the Middle East Journal, has articles by scholars, foreign-policy analysts, and area experts sympathetic to the Arab cause.

Lower on the scale of sophistication, the Foundation for Middle East Peace ( publishes a bimonthly Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories.

In the middle ground, there is Harvard’s and PBS’s joint Global Connections site focused on the Middle East (, which integrates public-broadcasting resources “to provide a global and historical perspective that will help teachers, students, and the general public explore and understand seminal events of national and international significance.”  The site stores much useful material with a heavy p.c. slant (e.g., “Three Religions—One God”). 

For the more academically minded, I recommend the Middle East Network Information Center (, a public service of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. 

On the pro-Israeli side, the field is more crowded with lobbying and propaganda groups that project an academic front.  We are thus told that, “Founded in 1985, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy [] is a public educational foundation dedicated to scholarly research and informed debate on U.S. interests in the Middle East.”  Yet the group, led by Dennis Ross, seems interested in “U.S. interests” only if they reflect those of Israel.  

The Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute ( explores the region’s media and thus

bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.

It has a huge and constantly updated pool of translated articles, but its slant is evident both in the selection of materials and in the fact that it has been praised as “the single most important resource for understanding what is happening in the Middle East today” by Charles Krauthammer, “an invaluable research service” by Thomas Friedman, and “the most important research source for the Arab world of which I know” by Martin Peretz.

DEBKA file ( is an Israeli electronic news publication, a news and analysis live wire that relies heavily on Israeli intelligence sources.  It is a “must read” for Middle East junkies, though it should be consumed cum granum salis.

The same warning applies to most of the sources you will encounter in your research.  Information is plentiful but seldom “objective,” and it is often calculated to mislead.  You will need to study the original sources—not summaries prepared by Beltway lobbyists parading as analysts—and interpret them in context.  No need to hurry: The problem will be with us for many, many years to come.