|Image is of the cover of Yossi Klein Halevi’s book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.”|
If timing is everything, Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi picked the perfect moment to release his new book “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.” It has come out as the US has moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem and Hamas has orchestrated a hostile invasion of Israel’s border with Gaza.
Halevi’s book, written as a letter to a fictionalized Palestinian neighbor, attempts to explain the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis from a Jewish point of view. And also provide Jewish reaction to what Halevi interprets as the Palestinian point of view.
A little over a year ago, I was in Israel with a group of Federation directors and Halevi spoke to our group. He is thoughtful, challenging and has the ability to deepen one’s understanding of complex issues as he has done in this book.
In “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” he maintains that Israelis and Palestinians, whether they like it or not, are joined at the hip — and each must make painful concessions if they want to resolve the ongoing conflict. What Halevi also does is skillfully take the discussion beyond the typical hot button issues — such as Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian claims of a right of return, terror attacks against Israelis, Israel’s security barrier and checkpoints, and if and how Jerusalem should be divided.
These issues, as emotionally charged and important as they are, in Halevi’s judgment are secondary to the core of the conflict: the inability of each side to accept the other’s narrative.
Both Jews and Palestinians, Halevi contends, have legitimate claims — historic, religious and political — when it comes to controlling this disputed land. The dilemma though is that to accept the other side’s claim requires diminishing your own claim — in effect, abandoning sacred religious beliefs and compromising your historical and national identity.
Halevi acknowledges that as a Jew and Israeli such thoughts are anathema to him, but so is the continued violence, killing and bloodshed.
The greatest achievement of this book, for me, is two things.
The first is that it made me even more sensitive to the Palestinian position and plight, and helped me better understand what drives their rejection of Israel and why they refuse to accept the presence of a Jewish state on any portion of this disputed land.
The second achievement of the book is that it reminded me of the just nature of Israel’s case, the factors that led up to the miraculous rebirth of Jewish independence and sovereignty in our Biblical homeland, and the compromises Israel has tried to make with the Palestinians which, sadly, continue to be rejected.
TV coverage of the embassy ceremony and attempted Gaza border infiltration at one point aired side by side on a split screen. Split screen also is a good metaphor to describe the book “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.” Halevi probes two parallel yet intersecting realities laden with complexity and emotion. By doing so, he becomes an effective GPS for helping readers better understand the seeming intractability of this tragic conflict.