“I don’t believe that peace without at least some attempt at mutual understanding can endure.” So writes Yossi Klein Halevi, a wonderful Israeli author and my friend, in his new book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.
In ten “letters” addressed to a fictitious Palestinian living on the other side of the security fence that separates his neighborhood in Jerusalem from a nearby Palestinian village, Yossi attempts to get his Palestinian neighbors to listen to, and hopefully understand, Israelis – their hopes, their aspirations, their vision for their country.
He does so through an honest exploration of the meaning of Jewish belief, custom, and history, on both a personal and national level. Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor eschews the oversimplified narratives that tend to dominate conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; having lived in Israel nearly 40 years, Yossi knows there are no easy solutions.
Throughout the book, Yossi presents a robust, positive view of Israeli and Jewish identity, identity based not on grievance or victimhood, but on faith, strength, and resilience. As he puts it when trying to communicate both the trauma and the spirit of defiance that are legacies of the Holocaust, “I am among the most privileged of Israelis, scarred mostly by inherited memories. I came to Israel to be among those who refuse to be defeated by history.”
Personal and historical, tough-minded yet thoroughly open-hearted, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor is a beautiful, readable, remarkably insightful book. It does not propose to solve the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it approaches it from the right direction, opening a door to a place of possibility where mutual understanding might – just might – begin.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein