Friday, June 22, 2012

My response to Dr. Denis MacEoin's plea to Alice Walker to reconsider her embargo of Israeli readers

Dear Dr. MacEoin,

I read your letter to Alice Walker, to which my specific responses are interspersed in red. I'm an American immigrant to Israel, having moved here in 1981. I love my country fiercely. I raised three children here, the second of whom is now serving in the IDF. The first finished her IDF service (both did a year of volunteer work with under-served populations before their IDF service) and next month is going abroad to work with Jewish youth and get them excited about Israel. And there's lots to be excited about! I love it here, and have zero regrets about coming. Yet I regret what we've become.

I won't go into all of Israel's ills here; instead, I'll take a different tack: Walker's refusal to publish TCP in Hebrew is a huge, shortsighted pity, yet not for the reasons you set forth below. It's indefensible for the simple reason that she's an acclaimed writer who writes about victimhood and bigotry. She has opened readers' eyes and brought light into the world. How then, can she "in the same breath" refuse to bring that same light and enlightenment to Israeli readers, whom she accuses of darkness? How can a writer, who's raison d'etre is to disseminate ideas, act to block the dissemination of ideas -- her own ideas? She's erecting a checkpoint more disgraceful than any checkpoint in the West Bank. And that's the beginning and the end of it.

Before you read my interspersed comments below, I want to say that I made a point of visiting not only Ireland, but Northern Ireland, six years ago, where I was nothing less than humbled at the progress that's been made peace-wise, not to mention the prosperity. I came back "preaching" to everyone I know that Israelis, especially, should visit your incredible land and see with their own eyes the fruits of peace. You are an example to us. Bless you for your support. Please read below (scroll all the way down). Best, Yám Erez

Dr. Denis MacEoin writes:

["You may know that the American writer Alice Walker [The Colour Purple] has refused to allow a Hebrew translation of her best-known work, has expressed ugly feelings about Israel, previously wanted to go on the Gaza flotilla, and sides with the Palestinian position. Given that she has a reputation for open-mindedness and courage when confronting prejudice, her attitude is shocking. I have just sent her a letter in the hope of shaking her complacency a little. It’s reproduced below."]

"Dear Ms Walker,

This is not a fan mail, though I wish it were. It is, equally, not a criticism of any of your books, which have said so much to so many. It is that very simple thing: a request to reconsider. I am, like yourself, a writer, having published (mainly with Harper Collins UK and US) over 25 novels under two different names. I am also a former academic in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a former editor of the Middle East Quarterly. I know the Middle East well, having lived in Iran and Morocco.I was, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked to the core to find that the sensitive author of The Color Purple and so many other books that speak to the heart has refused to allow a Hebrew translation of that first, classic story to be published. Nor was I less shocked to discover that an individual of your merit and generally sound political judgement had joined forces with groups and individuals who campaign against the state of Israel and treat it with the sort of contempt that would be better reserved for the countries that surround it.

You have spoken out against racism, yet you accuse a country that is visibly anti-racist [to me it appears visibly racist] to be the opposite of what it is. Please don’t dismiss what I say without further thought. It appears that you condemn Israel because it practices apartheid. Have you ever been to Israel? Have you ever walked Israeli streets, how about Hebron streets? spoken to Jewish and Arab Israelis, sought out clear signs of the apartheid you’ve been told you will find there? I do not think you have, for had you done so you would have been surprised by the absolute absence - do you mean Beitar Jerusalem fans' chants of "Death to the Arabs" and attacking Arabs in a mall? of any of the features of apartheid as it was applied by the South African government. That apartheid had as its principal aim the separation of blacks and whites and was hell for black people for decades. Though it pains me to say so, I find it offensive that you and other anti-Israel activists feel it necessary to indulge in an outright falsehood.

Think of South African apartheid and all its ramifications. Did blacks have the vote outside their ‘homelands’? Did they serve in parliament or as government ministers [who are regularly the objects of public mocking and bigotry]? Were they sent abroad as diplomats? Did they serve as judges?In Israel today, every Arab citizen has exactly the same right to vote and be elected as any Jewish citizen. There are Arab members of parliament. Arab members of the Cabinet. Arabs serving on the Supreme Court. Arab diplomats.

Beyond that, not one place is forbidden to Arab Israelis. They can sit in the same cinemas as Jews, swim in the same pools, run on the same beaches Except they face regular threats and harassment if they visit certain beaches, for just one example, eat in the same restaurants, attend the same universities where certain events are barred, such as Nakba Day memorials, lecture at those universities, lie on adjacent beds in the same wards in the same hospitals about the only place where there's pure equality. Palestinian children attend special educational courses alongside their Jewish peers and are taught the virtues of co-existence.

And speaking of Palestinian children, an Israeli charity called Save a Child’s Heart brings well over 200 pediatric cardiac cases and operates on them to save their lives. 40% of the SACH's beneficiaries are from Africa, 49% are from the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Iraq and Morocco, 4% are from Eastern Europe and the Americas, and 7% are from Asia. And you call this an apartheid state well apparently doing good and apartheid can coexist. After all, where was the first heart transplant? The PA, Jordan, Iraq and Morocco are all sworn enemies of Israel who regularly call for its destruction and for the genocide of all Jews living there. Would an apartheid state save the lives of its enemies’ children or allow Palestinian women to give birth in its hospitals the lucky ones who manage to get through the checkpoints, side by side with Jewish women? Am I completely insane for thinking you have it all back to front?

You may well say to me, "What about Gaza? What about the West Bank?" Those are the places where apartheid takes place. But does it? Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and in doing so exposed itself to year after year of rocket and mortar fire from Islamic Jihad and Hamas. The territory is currently under the control of Hamas, one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist entities. Israel has two functions there: to exercise a wholly legal legal does not equal moral sea and land blockade in order to prevent Hamas acquiring (mainly through tunneling) advanced weaponry, most of it supplied by Iran, another country that openly calls for genocide in Israel. To mitigate the impact of the blockade, Israel has set up a border control station, through which tons of goods pass into Gaza every week and through which Gazans are not allowed to go abroad to study or visit spouses in the West Bank. While life is not easy in Gaza, it is controlled by an armed group whose charter calls for the killing of Jews and rejects peace-making of any kind. This is many things, but it’s not apartheid.

The West Bank has nothing I would call apartheid. nothing? Taking over springs, roads, water sources, land for Jewish-only use? 96% of Palestinians live under the Palestinian Authority administration. Overall, Israel is responsible for security. For a period of many years, wave after wave of terror attacks have come out of the West Bank, most in the form of suicide bombings. To this day, Palestinian streets bear posters bearing the faces of suicide bombers; schools, streets, and squares are named after them, schoolchildren are taught to admire them, to write poems for them, and to aspire to martyrdom themselves. Are Palestinians on the West Bank treated badly? Probably. But how badly is badly? There is a war going on, a quiet war that nonetheless exposes civilians on both sides to constant danger. But the Palestinians have for over 60 years refused to take up the very fair deal offered them by the United Nations in 1947, and until they do so and establish a state that does not dream of the destruction of its neighbour simply because it is a Jewish state, there cannot be peace, there cannot be honest dialogue, and there cannot be a full programme of mutual assistance. So easy to shut the door, isn't it? *trach*! We're done!

Terrorism and war are the twin contexts within which all today’s problems lie. I'd add greed. It has been said, "If the Palestinians laid down their weapons, there would be peace tomorrow. If the Israelis laid down their weapons, there would be no Israel." I am writing to you because I believe you have shown yourself to be open-minded and attuned to context. You have taken a stand for gays, yet seem unaware that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuals enjoy full rights except to marry. And where venues are threatened with loss of kashrut certification if they host gays' events. and can celebrate their status in public in Tel Aviv and sometimes Eilat. Tel Aviv is rightly considered a "gay capital". Surely this is important to you. It's all important. Does it not go a long way toward refining your image of the Jewish state?I am a liberal (in the British sense at least), and Israel is the only country in the Middle East that pays more than lip service to the human rights in which we both believe. That's not hard. Are our neighbors the standard by which we want to measure ourselves? It bewilders me that someone as open-minded and open-hearted as yourself should choose to support the side of violence, of prejudice, of outright hatred. I don't see her as supporting violence and hatred. But withholding knowledge...that's bad. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that you must be – as are so many of those who hate Israel – simply ignorant of the realities of life there. I do not say that to blame you; ignorance of the Middle East runs right through Western societies, from media pundits to presidents and prime ministers.

I could write pages more in an attempt to help you see reason, but I don’t think that would, in itself, achieve very much. You don’t want to be preached to, I’m certain of that – and I’ve already preached more than I intended at the outset of this letter. But we do share one thing and that is the power of imagination. It takes imagination to see beyond the dogmas on either side of an argument like this. Yes, exactly. Nuance. Shades of gray. And that is what I want you to do: use your imagination to see past the lies and obfuscations that have blinded many to what has really been going on between the Jews and the Arabs.

It is still not uncommon – particularly in Arabic writing and speech-making – for Israel’s enemies to refer to it as a Nazi state. This is commonplace. It occurs as often as not along with a deep ignorance of the genuinely unfathomable evil the Nazis wrought, with denial of the Holocaust, with street banners reading "Why didn’t Hitler finish the job?" and "God Bless Hitler". You will not need prompting from me to agree that this modern attempt to turn the tables on a people who suffered the Holocaust and now carry it in their genes is worthy of the strongest condemnation. But it is the Palestinians and their allies who voice these gruesome sentiments, and it is the Israelis who run charities to save children’s hearts, who send out aid missions to Haiti and Japan and Mali and throughout the world because they believe in humanity, who have helped feed most of Africa, who have produced one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, who save lives everywhere with their medicines and medical devices. And don't forget drip irrigation. And Bamba. But good and evil are not mutually exclusive -- obviously. Ditto barbarism and civility. Read the Torah.

Please take this opportunity to revise your thoughts about Israel. If it should ever be destroyed – as its enemies fantasize it will be – it will be a disaster for us all. Find books, watch videos, cast your mind about to discover what Israel really is. Talk to some Jews, and not just those who are opposed to Israeli policy. Israel is not what you think it is, of that you can be sure. And if you would like to visit Israel and probe into things yourself, just let me know and I will help arrange it.Thank you for reading this far. If you take what I say seriously, you will be surprised by what you find, bright against what you thought you knew but did not.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin"

1 comment:

  1. Really nice piece, Yam. I liked your commentary on MacEoin's off-putting diatribe and particularly your intro.