In preparation for an upcoming trip to Israel, I snagged Donald Zeigler's "Israel," a primer in a series called Modern World Nations intended for middle school students. And though the book was understandably simplistic and dry, this was to be expected for a textbook for teens. Nonetheless, it was still quite helpful to me, an admitted ignoramus about Middle Eastern politics and history who needed some help understanding some basic facts before I find myself walking around that part of the world.
Of particular value in this book was its rather comprehensive approach. Though only scratching the surface, the author managed to cover a lot of ground, discussing the history and present status of religion, governance, geography, and economics in the fascinating nation of modern Israel. And to his credit, I thought he did a remarkable job of remaining impartial and even-handed in his descriptions of the obvious tensions that exist between various religious and cultural communities that co-exist very contentiously in the Holy Land. Of course, another reviewer thought otherwise, and any readers who have a firm commitment that one of the warring parties is the rightful owner of the land of Israel and should have priority and authority over the other will surely be disappointed that the author does not align with their allegiance. But I commend Zeigler for dispassionately analyzing the reality of Middle East tensions without bowing to the twin dangers of either ignoring the situation altogether or making the book a stump-speech for one particular side. I found his approach to be tempered and responsible.
Of course, there is much more that could have been included. I would have loved some more serious and thorough engagement with the religious undertones of the historical and present-day tensions. I think some more maps would have been helpful. And some further discussion of the more significant historical and sacred sites throughout Israel would have been interesting. But I need to remember that I'm looking at the book as a prospective tourist, so my interests certainly vary from a middle school student. Ultimately, I think that this book is a helpful guide for understanding what and who the nation of Israel is in the early part of the 21st-century, and I'm happy to recommend it to other folks like myself who are starting at ground zero and want to build a basic foundation of understanding.