“Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” by Yossi Klein Halevi— Through Israeli Eyes

Halevi, Yossi Klein. “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”, Harper, 2018.

Through Israeli Eyes

Amos Lassen

Writer Yossi Klein Halevi makes an attempt to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians in “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”. We are immediately aware that he with Palestinian suffering and longing for reconciliation and he explores how the conflict looks through Israeli eyes.

In a series of letters, Halevi explains what motivated him to leave his native New York in his twenties and move to Israel and take part in the renewal of a Jewish homeland. He committed himself to see Israel “succeed as a morally responsible, democratic state in the Middle East.”

This is the first time this has been done by an Israeli author. Halevi directly addresses his Palestinian neighbors and describes how the conflict appears through Israeli eyes. Halevi looks carefully at the ideological and emotional stalemate that has defined the conflict for nearly a century. He is both provocative and lyrical and as he brings together the ideas of faith, pride, anger and anguish that he feels as a Jew living in Israel and he uses history and personal experience as his guide.

Halevi’s letters speak to his Palestinian neighbor and to all concerned global citizens, hopefully helping us understand the painful choices confronting Israelis and Palestinians that will help determine the fate of the Middle East. He does not shy away from the difficult questions and these include the ideas of people hood and choseness the Holocaust while at the same time acknowledging his neighbor’s “darkest biases.” The letters are filled with faith as expressed through sincerity, humility and gorgeous prose. We do not have to agree with any thing that is written here but we must allow ourselves to disagree when feeling necessary to do so. Halevi demonstrates that there are those who are willing to listen, “if only we’d talk.” It is important, of course, to understand why we returned home to Israel after the proclamation of the State.

Halevi lives with the hope that one day both sides come together in peace. He wants us to better understand the Israeli side and therefore perhaps humanize Israelis in their minds and convince them of his arguments of the necessity for peace. This is a wonderful idea that is not new and the real problem is in the execution. The letters primarily give a short history of the State of Israel and a number of arguments to justify her existence and actions over the years.

We go back to the story of Israel that we are all familiar with— the same story that Jewish children have learned in religious school— the centuries old connection to the land, the exile and the return. Halevi admits that the haganah expelled and massacred a handful of Arabs during the independence war, and he laments the Hebron massacre in the early 90s. Each concession he makes is always carefully rationalized in a way that leaves the basic Israeli narrative intact. It is as if he was saying that he Jews may have a few bad players but they are generally good while the Arabs are intransigent and even their children are bloodthirsty for Israeli blood.

Halevi is brutally honest about Israel’s obstacles to peace with its Palestinian neighbors. Jews have yearned to return to Zion for two millennia and now here, they’re staying.

I call you “neighbor” because I don’t know your name, or anything personal about you. Given our circumstances, “neighbor” might be too casual a word to describe our relationship. We are intruders into each other’s dream, violators of each other’s sense of home. We are incarnations of each other’s worst historical nightmares. Neighbors?

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