Clif Hostetler's Reviews > Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi
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This book consists of ten open letters addressed to anonymous Palestinian neighbor(s) asking for empathy and understanding of the aspirations for Jewish peoplehood represented by the nation of Israel. The author pauses from time to time in his writing to acknowledge similar aspirations on the part of the Palestinians.

Each of the ten chapters (a.k.a. letters) takes on a different aspect of the centuries-long discord between Arabs and Jews. The book's narrative moves from personal reflections and memories to larger existential issues and historical overviews. One repeated theme is the "need to challenge the stories we tell about each other, which have taken hold in our societies." The Israeli story of faith, exile and redemption through Zion clashes with and the Arabic "counter-story of invasions, occupation, and expulsion." "To you we are colonialists, Crusaders," and to us you are the latest genocidal enemy seeking to destroy the Jewish people."

The author calls for all sides to to listen to the dueling narratives of "two traumatized peoples." It's a call also directed to the Israeli side and to which he suggests they should feel compelled to understand because, “The insistence on empathy with the stranger appears with greater frequency in the Torah than any other verse—including commandments to observe the Sabbath and keep kosher.” (view spoiler) But the book's narrative isn't all theology—political realities are named and acknowledged.

The author deserves some credit for expressions of interest and understanding of religious faiths other than his own as expressed in his previously written a book titled “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope With Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.” Thus as he delves into the emotional aspects of being Jewish, he also tries to demonstrate reciprocal empathy of the Palestinians being addressed.

The message of this book carries an authentic tone of sincerity. However, any message coming from the Israeli side may be interpreted by some as condescension since it's coming from the side that possesses political and military power. Thus I have provided the following link in which a Palestinian responds to "His Israeli Neighbor."
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Reading Progress

February 23, 2020 – Started Reading
February 23, 2020 – Shelved
February 28, 2020 – Finished Reading

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Clif Hostetler The following excerpts and discussion questions were handed out at a meeting of the Vital Conversations book discussion group regarding this book:

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi “Given our circumstances, ‘neighbor’ may be too casual a word to describe our relationship. We are intruders into each other’s dreams, violators of each other’s sense of home. We are living incarnations of each other’s worst historical nightmares. Neighbors?” In this taut and provocative book, Halevi endeavors to untangle the ideological and emotional knot that has defined the conflict for nearly a century. Using history and personal experience as his guides, he unravels the complex strands of faith, pride, anger, and anguish he feels as a Jew living in Israel.

Releasing conversation: Share your name and identify your home community.

1. “As the Qur’an so powerfully notes, despair is equivalent to disbelief in God. To doubt the possibility of reconciliation is to limit God’s power, the possibility of miracle – especially in this land. The Torah commands me, ‘Seek peace and pursue it’ ---even when peace appears impossible, perhaps especially the.” (18-19). Why is the author writing this as letters to a Palestinian neighbor?

2. “Israel exists because it never stopped existing, even if only in prayer…Need gave Zionism its urgency, but longing gave Zionism its spiritual substance.” (p. 34-35). What is Zionism? Did this book add any to your understanding of Zionism?

3. “So long as Palestinian leaders insist on defining the Jews as a religion rather than allowing us to define ourselves as we have since ancient times – as a people with a particular faith – then Israel will continue to be seen as illegitimate, its existence an open question” (52). How do you understand this distinction? Why does it make a difference?

4. “We live in such intimacy, we can almost hear each other breathing. What choice do we have but to share this land? And by that, I mean share conceptually as well as tangibly. We must learn to accommodate each other’s narratives. That is why I persist in writing to you why I am trying to reach out across the small space and vast abyss that separates your hill from mine.” (89). Can you imagine or have you experienced living in such proximity to people that so often see each other as “the enemy”? What does it mean to “accommodate each other’s narratives? How can the USA and other nations be allies to both sides?

5. “Sustaining the tension between the particular and the universal is one of the great challenges facing Jewish people today.” (61). What does this mean to you?

6. “The enemy of justice for both sides is absolute justice for either side.” (124). What does the author mean by this statement?

7. “Perhaps we can help restore each other to balance. Jews, I feel, need something of the Muslim prayer mat; my Muslim friends say that need something of the Jewish study hall. Can we inspire each other to renew our spiritual greatness? (152). How can we benefit from both the prayer mat and the study hall?

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