It is not easy to challenge Yossi Klein Halevi, whose writing invariably offers compelling insights into Israel, its Arab neighbors and, not least, himself. His “search for hope” in the Holy Land – the focus of his first book – presaged the arc of his journey. Hope, for Halevi, means “sharing the land” between Muslims and Jews.

His recently published Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor is a valiant attempt to find common ground that will enable the fulfillment of his yearning for a two-state solution. He wonders: can “two traumatized peoples, each clinging to the same sliver of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, . . . make our peace with the other’s claim to justice?” Especially Israelis, when “the stranger whom we are occupying is the enemy who intends to dispossess us.”

Growing up in an Orthodox community in Brooklyn, Halevi left the Diaspora behind, “without looking back,” in search of “the nuances of the Jewish return” to their promised land. Along the way he realized that “the historic claims and religious longings that connect me to this land cannot justify my possessing all of it at another people’s expense.” For Halevi, Israelis and Palestinians are “trapped” in “a cycle of denial”: Palestinians deny “my people’s legitimacy” and Israelis deny Palestinians national sovereignty. The result is “an impossible intimacy of violence, suppression, rage, despair” for which both sides share responsibility.

Halevi and his unidentified “Palestinian neighbor” live across from each other in Jerusalem, separated by the security wall just east of his French Hill neighborhood. He is tormented because his neighbor “is denied the rights of citizenship that I enjoy.” That disparity challenges Halevi’s “deepest self-understanding and moral commitments as a Jew and an Israeli.” It feeds his conviction that Israelis “could not remain a democratic state with ethical Jewish values if we became a permanent occupier” of another people.

At the core of his moral and ethical quest is the belief that “no people can really own holy land,” a principle that “offers a religious basis for sharing the land” between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians. That inevitably led him to the morality – or immorality – of Jewish settlements. Feeling “like a returning son” on a pilgrimage to Hebron after the Six-Day War, he wondered: “How could Jews not live in Hebron? . . . If we didn’t belong here, we didn’t belong anywhere.” (I think he was right.) But “the corruption of occupation” haunts Halevi. It overrides the miracle of return and restoration in Hebron, burial site of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs and the ancient capital city of Israel during King David’s reign.

Halevi is too astute not to recognize that “when your enemy says he intends to destroy you, believe him.” But his personal trajectory – from the conviction that the Oslo Accords were “a breakthrough to peace” to an understanding that Israeli concessions only “led to more terror” – has not deterred him from the belief in a two-state solution. It is necessary to end “an impossible intimacy of violence, suppression, rage, despair” reciprocated by Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Partition is Halevi’s solution. As he writes: “For the sake of allowing the other side to achieve some measure of justice, each side needs to impose on itself some measure of injustice.” So far, so good – except for the enduring Palestinian inability to do exactly that.

But partition where? At this point in his analysis, the intrusion of moral equivalence reveals the fundamental flaw of his ideal peace deal: Israel “contracts settlements” and Palestinians contract “refugee return.” For some 30,000 genuine Palestine refugees still living (and their millions of claimed descendants?), Halevi will “give up most of the territorial gains of 1967” – Judea and Samaria, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Is he also prepared to relinquish his own neighborhood of French Hill, which Palestinians consider occupied territory?

The solution lies elsewhere – in history. “Palestine,” as originally defined by the League of Nations Mandate, comprised present-day Jordan, the West Bank and Israel. But Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill bestowed Trans-Jordan, comprising two-thirds of Mandatory Palestine (where two million Palestinians now live), on England’s wartime ally Abdullah. Historically and geographically, Jordan has  been Palestine ever since.  “Close settlement” by Jews west of the Jordan River was explicitly protected. That international legal guarantee has never been rescinded or superseded.

Halevi is prepared to be exceedingly generous to Palestinians, allotting to them the biblical homeland of the Jewish people while placing nearly half a million Jews living in Judea and Samaria in perpetual danger. In the end, his laudable compassion for the plight of Palestinians – whose first signs of a national identity did not appear until the 1930s, then and ever since in emulation of Zionism and Israel – threatens the Jewish and Israeli commitments that he holds dear. That is the dilemma that his eloquent letters to his Palestinian neighbor fail to resolve.

Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Fit to Print, The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, to be published this summer by Academic Studies Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is not easy to challenge Yossi Klein Halevi, whose writing invariably offers compelling insights into Israel, its Arab neighbors and, not least, himself. His “search for hope” in the Holy Land – the focus of his first book – presaged the arc of his journey. Hope, for Halevi, means “sharing the land” between Muslims and Jews.

 

His recently published Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor is a valiant attempt to find common ground that will enable the fulfillment of his yearning for a two-state solution. He wonders: can “two traumatized peoples, each clinging to the same sliver of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, . . . make our peace with the other’s claim to justice?” Especially Israelis, when “the stranger whom we are occupying is the enemy who intends to dispossess us.”

 

Growing up in an Orthodox community in Brooklyn, Halevi left the Diaspora behind, “without looking back,” in search of “the nuances of the Jewish return” to their promised land. Along the way he realized that “the historic claims and religious longings that connect me to this land cannot justify my possessing all of it at another people’s expense.” For Halevi, Israelis and Palestinians are “trapped” in “a cycle of denial”: Palestinians deny “my people’s legitimacy” and Israelis deny Palestinians national sovereignty. The result is “an impossible intimacy of violence, suppression, rage, despair” for which both sides share responsibility.

 

Halevi and his unidentified “Palestinian neighbor” live across from each other in Jerusalem, separated by the security wall just east of his French Hill neighborhood. He is tormented because his neighbor “is denied the rights of citizenship that I enjoy.” That disparity challenges Halevi’s “deepest self-understanding and moral commitments as a Jew and an Israeli.” It feeds his conviction that Israelis “could not remain a democratic state with ethical Jewish values if we became a permanent occupier” of another people.

 

At the core of his moral and ethical quest is the belief that “no people can really own holy land,” a principle that “offers a religious basis for sharing the land” between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians. That inevitably led him to the morality – or immorality – of Jewish settlements. Feeling “like a returning son” on a pilgrimage to Hebron after the Six-Day War, he wondered: “How could Jews not live in Hebron? . . . If we didn’t belong here, we didn’t belong anywhere.” (I think he was right.) But “the corruption of occupation” haunts Halevi. It overrides the miracle of return and restoration in Hebron, burial site of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs and the ancient capital city of Israel during King David’s reign.

 

Halevi is too astute not to recognize that “when your enemy says he intends to destroy you, believe him.” But his personal trajectory – from the conviction that the Oslo Accords were “a breakthrough to peace” to an understanding that Israeli concessions only “led to more terror” – has not deterred him from the belief in a two-state solution. It is necessary to end “an impossible intimacy of violence, suppression, rage, despair” reciprocated by Israelis and Palestinians alike.

 

Partition is Halevi’s solution for “the necessary recognition of the borders to our dreams.” As he writes: “For the sake of allowing the other side to achieve some measure of justice, each side needs to impose on itself some measure of injustice.” So far, so good – except for the enduring Palestinian inability to do exactly that.

 

But partition where? At this point in his analysis, the intrusion of moral equivalence reveals the fundamental flaw of his ideal peace deal: Israel “contracts settlements” and Palestinians contract “refugee return.” For some 30,000 genuine Palestine refugees still living (and their millions of claimed descendants?), Halevi will “give up most of the territorial gains of 1967” – Judea and Samaria, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Is he also prepared to relinquish his own neighborhood of French Hill, which Palestinians consider occupied territory?

 

The solution lies elsewhere – in history. “Palestine,” as originally defined by the League of Nations Mandate, comprised present-day Jordan, the West Bank and Israel. But Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill bestowed Trans-Jordan, comprising two-thirds of Mandatory Palestine (where two million Palestinians now live), on England’s wartime ally Abdullah. And “close settlement” by Jews west of the Jordan River was explicitly protected. That international legal guarantee has never been rescinded or superseded. Historically and geographically, Jordan has long been Palestine.

 

Halevi is prepared to be exceedingly generous to Palestinians, allotting to them the biblical homeland of the Jewish people while placing nearly half a million Jews living in Judea and Samaria in perpetual danger. In the end, his laudable compassion for the plight of Palestinians – whose first signs of a national identity did not appear until the 1930s, then and ever since in emulation of Zionism and Israel – threatens the Jewish and Israeli commitments that he holds dear. That is the dilemma that his eloquent letters to his Palestinian neighbor fail to resolve.

 

Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Fit to Print, The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, to be published this summer by Academic Studies Press.