Dayton Literary Peace Prize 2nd place for Contested Land, Contested Memory

Jo Roberts Discussion

My recent book, Contested Land, Contested Memory: Israel's Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catastrophe (Dundurn Press, 2013) has placed second for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

“Perhaps the best book I can think of for thoughtful people to read about Israel and Palestine,” said Prof. Laura Levitt, author of American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust. Mubarak Awad, founder of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence, said, “This compelling and compassionate book offers fresh insight.”

Contested Land, Contested Memory has met with critical acclaim from reviewers of diverse political perspectives, including the Electronic Intifada, the Times of Israel, Mondoweiss, America, Embassy (Canada’s foreign policy weekly), and Publisher’s Weekly. It was a finalist in the 2013 U.S. National Jewish Book Awards (History).

Dayton Literary Peace Prize judge Faith Adiele wrote the following:

Her analysis of the conflict is nuanced and complex…. Jo Roberts’ theories on social suffering and memory narrative resonate across history and culture. Readers from every region in the world will find parallels to their own and gain understanding. As I read, I was applying her analysis to situations with which I am intimately familiar, from post-colonial Africa to recent events in American inner cities. Just as we might be tempted to think there is nothing new to learn about modern Israel and the Palestinian conflict, or that the situation is too intractable for a solution, comes this lyrical and balanced book advocating a path towards reconciliation based on the notion that a fractured relationship can only heal when both parties open themselves to regard the pain of the other.


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?

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.

Praise for the book

“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.” Professor Ian Lustick, Bess W. Heyman chair of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania.

“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.” Mubarak Awad, founder, Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence.

“[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.” Hillel Cohen, Israeli historian and journalist.

“[This] beautifully written book provides an essential perspective on a topic that could not be more urgent... [and] captures the voices of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis in all their diversity, pain, and eloquence.” Professor Michael Rothberg, Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, & Memory Studies Initiative at the University of Illinois.