How I Learned to
Speak Israel

An American's Guide to a Foreign Policy Language

The United States not only played a significant role in the creation of the state of Israel; we also play a significant role in shaping Israel today. How does our role align with our values? Addressing that question requires knowledge of the history and situation today. It also requires language skills to interpret the messaging we hear.

A lot of what we’re told about Israel doesn’t make sense unless we learn a new language I call “Israel.” In that language words such as security, equality, defensive, peace, rights, and illegal have different definitions from those we’re used to, and that’s why I wrote this book. I had been told that Israel is always on the defensive, yet I learned that it controls territory that it seized from its neighbors. We’re told that God gave the land to His people, yet Israel is a secular state. We’re told that the Palestinians are terrorists, yet the US has supported them with aid for decades.

How I Learned to Speak Israel shines a light on what we have not been told. It uncovers

  • the unpublicized history kept from most Americans that clarifies today’s situation
  • real-life situations on the ground that provide context for the vocabulary
  • an analysis of the messaging we hear and how it can be a house of cards that collapses under scrutiny

Learning to speak Israel is a journey. It is a journey in time, in place, in beliefs, and in self-reflection.

Welcome to How I Learned to Speak Israel.

What People are Saying about How I Learned to Speak Israel:

How I Learned To Speak Israel is a remarkable book. Joining such rare works as Walt and Mearshimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy in its display of courage to speak the truth about the unspeakable, it delves even deeper into explicating the strange, unwise, and increasingly dangerous trance most American leaders are under when it comes to Israel — and the book does so in almost every way and area important and imaginable. The explanations are so powerful they explode the trance, if only the reader will listen and learn.”


Former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell


“The Israel-Palestine dilemma has been a source of confusion for many people for many decades, so it is refreshing that Alex McDonald ‘s new book dispels the confusion with common sense, simple logic, and integrity. How I Learned to Speak Israel offers readers a path to clarity and understanding, and freedom from one-sided beliefs that influence our perception of the world and induce us to lose our humanity. In conjunction with that approach, McDonald’s analyses rely on both objective research and firsthand observation from his time in Israel and the occupied territories. If you want to broaden your knowledge and develop a solid and rational understanding of one of the world’s most intractable dilemmas, read this book!”


Author of Wake Up and Reclaim Your Humanity:
Essays on the Tragedy of Israel-Palestine and

Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict


“How I Learned to Speak Israel is an easy-reading, conversational history of Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli relations. It’s a book that helps us talk to others who may have a different view of the history of the region and who may use words and phrases that take on new meanings in this dialogue. Author McDonald calls these word choices the “Israel” language and the book is about his day-to-day efforts within his family and community to figure out the language. A few examples include the phrases “security fence/wall,” “defensive,” and “terrorism,” which he points out all have different connotations depending on whom is using them and their experience. McDonald has written a very cogent description of the challenge these words bring to communicating the important issues for Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of us who are interested in learning more. He compellingly demonstrates how miscommunication about the conflict is a major hindrance to peace and democracy in Israel/Palestine and how it directly affects the US.”

Retired US Army colonel and former US diplomat
Author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience

“How I learned to Speak Israel is a must read for any American. Learning to Speak ‘Israel’ is a crucial part of any American’s political awakening. Alex McDonald’s book is an important contribution to the education of Americans wishing to understand how a wealthy apartheid state, Israel, manages to receive the largest foreign aid package and total diplomatic immunity from the US, more so than any other country in the world.”

Author and activist
Author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine and
Injustice: the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five

“When one finds a key that helps to open us to understand, even heal memories that break the heart, it is time to rejoice. Rarely does one discover a book whose author ranks with the important current prophetic spokespersons of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. Alex McDonald stands with people who challenge courageously the heretical religious and political cult figures of our era. How I Learned to Speak Israel must have a place on my desk next to the Bible, dictionary, and scholarly commentaries. It is a carefully researched encyclopedic source of knowledge which provides direction about what helps bring about a brighter future.
If it had been available for reference when I was working in the occupied Palestinian territories and the UN in Geneva it would have made my advocacy more effective. McDonald’s book emboldens seekers with enlightenment and relief. A modern-day oppressive colonial empire can be transformed into the dream of a “holy land” by all the cousins understanding one another as “chosen” Children of Abraham. Now there is an aide for all those of varied backgrounds who continue the journey for peace with justice even when it seems naïve.
There surely are people of all religions who pursue faith ideals and ethical principles who want the clouds of misunderstanding, mythic history, ethnic division and racial persecution addressed in Israel as well as America. Alex McDonald’s understanding of the basics of the “Israel language” is beyond the notional and leads to ways of dealing with the present “hopeless” anger and fear. He reminds me of Psalm 27’s promise that there can be witness to the “Goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”.”

Former Senate staffer, Israel/Palestine NGO director,
and a Geneva UN Representative for non-profits


“Alex McDonald’s How I Learned to Speak Israel: An American’s Guide to a Foreign Policy Language provides an invaluable perspective to the most fraught political issue of our time. Comprehensive in scope, the book interrogates all the arguments commonly cited to justify the disproportionate economic, military, and diplomatic support the US accords Israel. McDonald earns readers’ trust by sharing with them what first led him to question these arguments and how further research made him change his views. In the process, he teaches readers how to discern hidden manipulation in the news media. McDonald’s most original contribution is his analysis of “Israel” as an Orwellian language in which “words like security, equality, defensive, peace, authority, rights, voluntary, and illegal,” as well as democracy, terrorism, and retaliation, do not mean what they seem to, but must be translated into “plain English” before readers can exercise independent judgment.”

Editor of Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism:
Stories of Personal Transformation


“Alex McDonald’s book How I Learned to Speak Israel attracts our attention to the importance of words in the struggle for justice in Palestine. This attention to discourses and narratives is quite often underrated. This book exposes methodically how texts and images help to produce and perpetuate the perceptions and framing of Israel and Palestine within the American public. And although there has been a dramatic shift in certain sections of civil society in support of the Palestinians, the continued twisted perceptions still dominate, unchallenged, and provide a crucial layer in Israel’s shield of immunity.”

Professor of History
Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies
University of Exeter
Author of: Ten Myths About Israel, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples,
The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel,
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, The Biggest Prison on Earth, among others.

Bethlehem wall

About the Author

Alex McDonald has researched and worked on the Israel/Palestine issue since the early 2000s. He is a founder of the Texas Coalition for Human Rights and has been an education advocate for teaching about the history and conflict in the region.