The writer Ayelet Waldman and her husband novelist Michael Chabon have gotten a lot of attention for their outcry against the occupation in the Israeli press, the English press, the anti-Zionist press, the Iranian press, and the Zionist press. But they haven’t gotten much attention from the US mainstream. That is sure to change.
Haaretz has published a big piece on their forthcoming book project about the occupation. “The power couple of American literature wants to save Israel from itself. ” Waldman and Chabon have enlisted a group of “world-famous writers to document life under occupation.”
In that article, Waldman says things about Israel that for an American Jew are combative and rare. Born in Israel, she went back there for a writers’ festival in 2014 and needed to see the occupation for her conscience’s sake. She went on a Breaking the Silence tour of Hebron. And what she saw with her own eyes changed her life:
“I thought I’d see a few miserable people, a few settlers, some pressure between them and the Palestinians,” she recalls now (speaking Hebrew). “But when I got to Hebron, I went into shock. Literally. Totally. I couldn’t believe it. To see a road on which I was allowed to travel because I am a Jew and hold an Israeli passport, and opposite me a person who lives there and whose family has lived there for generations but who is forbidden to set foot on that road – that was a shock to me. I returned brokenhearted and furious. That evening I said that I would never come back here again, that I couldn’t understand how people can stand to live here.”
Here are more quotes from the bestselling writer in Haaretz:
“A war has two sides, but the occupation doesn’t have two sides. There is occupier and there are the occupied, and this book will be about the people who are occupied… We didn’t talk to the settlers in Susya. Why? Because that’s a false dichotomy. There’s a village whose homes were stolen and there are the thieves. I’m not interested in the thieves.“Bibi Netanyahu has the biggest stage in the world. He spoke before a joint session of Congress in the United States – that is unheard of… If the day comes when Bibi feels that his voice isn’t heard, like he doesn’t have enough of a spokesperson, he can come to me and I will write a book for him, an entire book. I promise to make his silenced words heard. But Nasser, the father of unfortunate children in Susya whose house has been demolished time and again – Nasser has no stage, he has no way to get people to listen to his story. So we will be his stage in the form of this book. We will tell his story.”
Waldman is a liberal Jew who has done what liberal American Jews do, stuck up for prisoners and women and other causes. And the news here is: If you saw what I saw in the occupation, your life would change. Look at the picture Haaretz runs with the article– above– of Palestinians waiting at the checkpoint to go to their jobs.
Waldman is saying, This is going on in the name of Jews, and it blew my mind. This is what the Palestinians’ life is like– because of Jews! She is not “anti Israel” like a lot of the people that say the things she says. But she shows no deference to any of the pro Israel shibboleths. She talks about Israel the way it is without anger or hyperbole. Almost matter of fact about the situation in Israel and American Jews. You can’t read her without knowing it’s honest on her part.
Chabon makes it clear that their book won’t allow people to escape to the minutia and nuance of every aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or an argument about two states or one state. Because this is simple: “It’s about human rights that are guaranteed.” Chabon:
You know what that means, and you know what you would not accept for yourself in terms of treatment. And you know that means the right to decent housing, freedom of movement, access to water, the right to earn a livelihood for your family, education. You just need to say to yourself: Are Palestinians getting all these things? And the answer is obvious: They’re not getting any of them.
It’s pretty obvious what needs to be done, and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether you have a right be here, if they have a right to be here, how are we both going to be here at the same time? All those questions that everyone is always talking about and fighting over – they’re irrelevant to this. This is about human rights, freedom, civil rights, civil liberties, all of those things. That’s what has to happen first, before anything else.
This is a big deal. Think about this book that’s coming out in a year. And think about the poor Israel propagandists. They will have to smear the contributors of that book as they tried to smear Waldman when this story first came out: all these moral busybodies who went to the occupied territory to call attention to what the world is ignoring. They will have to twist what they’re doing into something unholy and hate filled and anti Jewish. Who is going to be on the propagandists’ side of the defamation of Waldman and Chabon?