Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor
By Yossi Klein Halevi
To read Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor is to explore in depth the greatest concern preoccupying the Jewish people in our time. The relationship of the Jewish People to the State of Israel is constantly under scrutiny, as is every action taken by Israel’s government and armed forces. It seems like every day we read accounts of Jews who no longer see Israel as their country and of foreign governments, churches, unions and global organizations singling out the State of Israel for opprobrium.
For some, the easiest response is to turn away in disgust or despair. However, in Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, Klein Halevi does the opposite. He confronts the seemingly intractable issues that make up the conflict head-on, with honesty and a faith in the human capacity for empathy and mutual respect. In so doing, he has produced an uplifting, hopeful and compassionate volume that addresses many of the central issues that arise from the unresolved conflict between the State of Israel and its neighbours.
The book is organized into 10 letters addressed to an unknown Palestinian neighbour living in the territory beyond the separation wall. Each letter addresses a core issue that explains, from a Jewish perspective, why the State of Israel is a legitimate state and why the return of the Jews to their ancestral homeland was a development that bends the arc of history toward justice. Its intended audience is an as-yet-unknown Palestinian who is seeking to bridge the gulf of hatred and misunderstanding that separates him or her from Israelis. It is also a valuable and uplifting read for a Diaspora Jew who is confounded by the seemingly endless conflict.
Klein Halevi is an uncompromising defender of Zionism and the claims of the Jewish people to their homeland. But, he is also cognizant and respectful of the equally firm beliefs of his Palestinian neighbour that the presence of the Jews in Israel, their military control over the Arab population of the territories captured in 1967, and the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to defend Israel’s people, serves to prevent the Arabs of Palestine from fulfilling their own heartfelt aspiration to self-determination. He acknowledges that Palestinians’ emotional attachment to their cause, and to the land, is every bit as strong as that of the Jewish people. In short, while insisting that Zionism is just, he recognizes that the Palestinian Arabs’ own claim to the land is also just. He tackles the conundrum of resolving these incompatible visions in the sixth letter, aptly titled “The Partition of Justice.”
Klein Halevi is serious about engaging in dialogue with his neighbours. He has released the book as a free download in Arabic translation from the Times of Israel website. He has a long history of bridging seemingly incompatible perspectives. In the 1990s, in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, he spent time learning the ways of Christians and Muslims in the territories and explained what he learned to Israeli and Jewish readers in his book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. He tells us that the present volume is a sequel to that earlier effort in which he seeks to explain the complexities and conundrums of the Jewish people to an interested Palestinian interlocutor.
In his eighth letter, “The Israeli Paradox,” Klein Halevi describes the messy compromises of Israel between the religious and the secular, between Jewish traditions from every corner of the world, and above all, how Israelis of all stripes react to the messages they hear coming from the other side of the separation wall.
Klein Halevi presents himself as a proud Jew and a committed Zionist with a genuine yearning for peaceful coexistence and mutual respect toward Israel’s adversaries. Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor is an act of faith that he will find counterparts on the other side who likewise wish to begin the process of reaching across the divide.