Yossi Klein Halevi yearns for a meaningful conversation with a Palestinian counterpart who is willing to read, listen respectfully, and respond. He hopes to determine whether two peoples can share a land while maintaining their separate contiguous states. Halevi understands that his overture must be rooted in his own willingness to listen. With some admitted reluctance, he has accepted the two-state solution as the only way to move forward.
Halevi makes this overture with the utmost sincerity and a fully nuanced understanding of modern Israel’s evolution and challenges. He seeks a Palestinian partner whose desire for peace is equally fervent, a person whose vision of the past includes the understanding that neither party can afford to be stuck in that past. The voice in the letters is filled with empathy, hope, and a bit of despair. It has an inviting, embracing, and winsome lyricism, as well as dignity and resolve—the perfect pitch for its colossal purpose.
Halevi has crafted a sequence of ten letters, imagined for a reader whose dwelling is nearby but who he hasn’t yet encountered. The letters have overlapping concerns, with undulating shifts in emphasis. These concerns include the functions of Holocaust memory, the need to pursue justice, and the many profound parallels in Jewish and Islamic holy texts and religious practices.
Halevi meets difficult issues head-on, including the Israeli penchant for settlement building, which he understands in all its multivalent complexity. He has come prepared; he seems to have anticipated the likely responses and rejoinders from a Palestinian heart, soul, and mind.
Halevi’s experiment will, no doubt, reach many more Jews than Palestinians and Muslims. His effort is exemplary: many other passionate Jewish minds need to see the promise of such dialogue, create similar opportunities, and move the process forward. The Palestinian on the nearby hill may answer full-heartedly. Let’s hope so.
With intelligence and an essential, human consideration for “the Other” across the way, Halevi argues a new direction to be taken by individuals, communities, and governments in the Middle East and across the globe. To this end, this modestly-sized volume is a blessing, and may serve as a vehicle for dialogue and peace.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.