Yossi Klein Halevi has taken on several roles in the Israeli-Palestinian drama since he made aliyah in 1982. He's been a protagonist in the conflict--"I chose a side when I became an immigrant"--and served in the army during the first intifada. Later, he became a journalist, trying to understand both sides' complexity in the 2001 book At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. Now he calls himself a "reconciliation activist." In Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, published in May, he reaches for that reconciliation through the simplest and most difficult means: talking and listening.
Appearing simultaneously in English and in a free Arabic download from The Times of Israel, the book is constructed as a series of meditations addressed to an unseen but imagined "neighbor," a Palestinian who lives across the separation wall from Halevi's East Jerusalem apartment. Halevi seeks to tell this potential reader his story in a way the other might conceivably be able to hear. This is not his first experience with such dialogue. Several years ago, he and an imam friend founded the Hartman Institute's Muslim Leadership Institute, which brings young North American Muslim leaders to Jerusalem to engage with the Jewish story. Now, Halevi wants those to whom he's been listening to listen in their turn.
The letters are personal and conversational, trying to convey how it feels to be a Jew who believes implicitly in the Jews' right to be in Israel but who also wants to avoid "the fatal flaw of the settlement movement: the sin of not seeing, of becoming so enraptured with one's own story, the justice and poetry of one's national epic, that you can't acknowledge the consequences to another people." In them, he promises he would engage Arabic readers directly and respond to any non-abusive feedback, no matter how negative. Moment's Amy E. Schwartz spoke with Halevi about the responses he received and his hopes for the future.
How have Arabic-language readers responded to the book? Responses so far have ranged from the predictable--anger, hatred, threats--to gratitude and curiosity. I've been invited for coffee in Nablus and Jenin. I've also been told I'm a Zionist colonialist who'll be expelled from the land when there is peace.
One young man who grew up in a refugee camp near Bethlehem, who now lives in the United States, is writing back to me a series of "letters to my future Israeli neighbor."...