Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, Yossi Klein Halevi 2018

This was a thoughtful, reasoned, and useful addition to my pre-Israel trip reading.  Halevi, a Brooklyn-born Israeli citizen since 1982, is a prominent teacher at the Hartman Institute and works to establish Jewish/Muslim understanding and collaboration.  He develops the case that the Jewish homeland is not the product of world guilt over the Holocaust, but the just and right return of Jews to their homeland from which they have been exiled for 2000 years.  He states that Israel exists not because of the UN Resolution of 1947 but because it has always existed.  He points out that a majority of Israelis are, in fact, originally from countries in the Middle East where Jews had been exiled and makes the strong case for Zionism as a way of renewing Jewish sovereignty in the place of origin.  Because they are returning to their homeland, he insists that Zionists are not colonialists.  Like Shavit, he uses the term ‘invisible’ to describe the Israeli attitude towards Palestinians and their claims, and while trying hard to be even-handed, it is clear that he blames Arafat and Abas for refusing Israeli attempts to establish a two state solution with ‘land for peace’ as the basis.  He urges both sides to ‘forfeit’ their iron-hold on their respective narratives and find a middle ground where neither gets the whole of what they want:  Israel gives up claims to Judea and Sumeria and the Palestinians give up the right of return.  His primary characterization of today’s Israel is one of ‘paradox’–secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Mizrahim, normal Western democracy and Jewish exceptionalism. Citing Justice as the primary teaching of the Torah, Halevi urges Israelis to continue to reach out their hand in peace, but realistically says that to do so without the Arab nations recognizing Israel’s right to exist is foolhardy and invites yet another Holocaust.  A book worth reading, but don’t expect to be comforted.

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