An Open Letter to Alice Walker.
A must-read letter by the editor of Middle East Quarterly.
To Alice Walker
c/o Wendy Weil Literary Agency
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, and have 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 let a Hebrew translation of that first, classic story to be published. Nor was I less shocked to discover that a woman of your merit and generally sound political judgment 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 accuse a country that is visibly anti-racist to be the opposite of what it is.
You have spoken out against racism, yet you accuse a country that is visibly anti-racist to be the opposite of what it is. Please don’t dismiss what I say without further thought. It seems that you condemn Israel because it practices apartheid. Have you ever been to Israel? Have you ever walked Israeli 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 in Israel of any of the features of apartheid, as it was applied by the South African government years ago. That apartheid had as its principal aim the separation of blacks and whites and was hell for black people for many, many years. 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? 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 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, eat in the same restaurants, attend the same universities, lecture at those universities, lie on adjacent beds in the same wards in the same hospitals. Palestinian children attend special educational courses alongside their Jewish coevals and are taught the virtues of co-existence.
And thinking of Palestinian children, an Israeli charity called Save a Child’s Heart brings well over 200 children suffering serious heart conditions and operates to save their lives. Forty percent of the children who underwent cardiac surgeries 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’?
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, side by side with Jewish women? Am I completely insane for thinking you have it all back to front?
Israel withdrew from Gaza, exposing itself to years of rocket fire from Hamas.
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 sea and land blockade in order to prevent Hamas acquiring (mainly through tunneling) advanced weaponry, most of it supplied by Iran, another country which openly calls for genocide in Israel. To mitigate the impact of the blockade, Israel has set up an important border control station, through which thousands of tons of goods pass into Gaza every week. Life is not easy for Gaza, but 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. Ninety-six percent of Palestinians live under the Palestinian Authority administration. Overall, Israel is responsible for security. For a period of many years, wave after wave of terrorist attacks have come out of the West Bank, especially in the form of suicide bombings. To this day, Palestinian streets boast posters bearing the faces of suicide bombers, buildings, including schools, are named after them, schoolchildren are taught to admire them, to write poems for them, and to hanker after 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 innocent 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 neighbor simply because it is a Jewish state, there cannot be peace, there cannot be honest dialogue, and there cannot be a full program of mutual assistance.
Terrorism and war are the twin contexts within which all today’s problems lie. It has been said that "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 a liberal (in the British sense at least), and Israel is the only country I know in the Middle East that pays more than lip service to the human rights in which we both believe. 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. 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 sure 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. And that is what I want you to do, to use your imagination to see past the innumerable lies and obfuscations that have blinded people’s eyes to what has really been going on between the Jews and the Arabs.
Use your imagination to see past the lies and obfuscations that have blinded people to what's really going on between Jews and Arabs.
It is still not uncommon – particularly in Arabic writing and speech-making – for Israel’s enemies to speak of it as a "Nazi state." This is commonplace. It occurs as often as not along with a deep ignorance of the very great real evil the Nazis did, 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 blood 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.
Please take this opportunity to revise your thoughts about Israel. If it should ever be destroyed – as its enemies fervently hope it will be – it will be a disaster for the Middle East and for the world. 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 Israel. It 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.
Dr. Denis MacEoin