I salute the brilliant humanistic speech about the Palestinian people that you made on your most recent trip to Israel. The fact that it was delivered to an audience of Jewish students in Jerusalem made it all the more groundbreaking and important. You said, “Put yourself in their shoes — look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents, every single day.”
I, myself, am Jewish and care deeply for my people. But, many of us have forgotten our history. We have forgotten that the Nazis said evil was in our blood. They took our houses, arrested our fathers, killed our children, and ghettoized our families. They wanted to purify their land by ridding it of our kind. Our crime? We were Jewish! In order to put ourselves in The Palestinians’ shoes, all we have to do is remember our past. We were in their shoes and we asked, Where are our oppressors’ hearts? Have they no mercy? Where are the objectors among them?
These are the lessons the Holocaust taught me: We must never be bystanders to human suffering. “Never again” means never again for any people ever again. When the horrors of the Holocaust were uncovered, there was a need to find a place for the survivors to go. The west, didn’t want us so they were happy to give us Palestine. And they were happy to buy the fallacy that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”, and that we made the desert bloom. Let’s be honest, Palestine already had a people, the Palestinians, and the vast majority of whom were not Jewish. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa and many more cities were already well-developed. These cities were made of stone and contained universities, hospitals, schools tea houses and hotels. There were trains, sea ports and international trade and travel. The desert we brought to bloom was the land on which we built Tel Aviv in 1909, and that’s it.
In 1947, when the UN proposed to partition Palestine into a Jewish and a Palestinian state, the Palestinians objected to the partition plan and instead argued for the creation of a secular democracy where Jews, Christians and Muslims would live together with equal rights. As you know, the west rejected their proposal for democracy.
In November, 1947 we began to execute our Plan Dalet to ethnically cleanse Palestine of the non-Jewish majority. We took, by force of arms, the cities of Haifa and Jaffa, creating hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the process. Having seen the devastation and injustice caused by Plan Dalet, five Arab countries decided on military intervention, but the 60,000 poorly armed and trained Arab soldiers were no match for the 90,000 heavily armed and well trained Zionist soldiers. When we won the war and took even more Palestinian land than the UN gave us, we told the world that David beat Goliath and the west was happy to believe it.
But we need to be honest. The Palestinians have paid the price for the Holocaust. We ethnically cleansed as many as we could, which is well-documented by Israeli historians, including from the left Ilan Pappe to the right Benny Morris. We kicked them out and refused to let them back in. We looted their houses, we took the beautiful ones for ourselves and then we razed 500 of their villages so they wouldn’t have a place to come home to. We were once made refugees in Europe and now we have immigrated to Palestine and made the Palestinians refugees. When we wouldn’t let them return, they resorted to violence, so we called them terrorists and made it stick.
Only awareness can set us free, because awareness leads to understanding, and understanding leads to change. We cannot turn a blind eye to the truth. We have the power now, but that won’t last if we don’t give others what we want for ourselves. The greatest lesson I learned from Judaism was articulated by Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”
We cannot keep repeating our same history: We are persecuted, we overcome, we abuse and we are persecuted again. The Palestinians’ crime is that they are not Jewish; because if they were, we would accept them with open arms. I lived in Israel for seven years. It’s easy to live there and never notice anything. We were segregated from the Palestinians and taught that they are evil and violent and less than human, that their lives don’t matter.
We managed to convince the US that we, with one of the strongest militaries in the world, a nuclear regional superpower are threatened by an unarmed population that has no army, no navy, no airplanes, no tanks, and no nuclear weapons, where the majority of them are children.
Mr. President, I want you to know that I saw the way the Palestinians were treated, and I felt embarrassed to be both American and Jewish. You’re no doubt aware, Zionism is secular nationalism, and couldn’t be further from Judaism. I wanted to help. I did my BA at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and my MA at Harvard both in Middle Eastern studies. I’m also a lawyer trained in human rights. But there was little that could be done until I read The Kite Runner, and realized a writer could reach into readers’ hearts and change them forever. I wrote The Almond Tree in the voice of a Palestinian Muslim. I became him in an attempt to reach my people. I don’t try to say who is right and who is wrong, I just appeal to our values of democracy and equal rights for all. All sides of the conflict are embracing my book, as well as people who have no interest in the subject, because I tell a very human story about a boy who, against all odds, is able to achieve what others have only dreamed.
I know that our government has the power to help the Israeli government to do the right thing. You will remember that not long ago the United States had a similar relationship with South Africa. The Reagan administration considered Nelson Mandela a dangerous terrorist, and the white Afrikaner government a close ally. The Apartheid government of South Africa knew that they would never have to dismantle their Apartheid system of control and discrimination unless the United States told them to do so. For South Africa, it didn’t matter that the rest of the world condemned apartheid and called for democratic reforms to take place because as long as the United States didn’t complain, South Africa felt empowered to ignore the rest of the world. Democracy and equality for all came to South Africa when we changed our policy. If we change our policy now, we can help Israel revisit its core Jewish values and do the right thing for everyone.
David Broza, one of Israel’s greatest singers, and Guillermo Fesser, a Spanish TV and radio host have joined me to form The Almond Tree Project. We held our first event at a theatre in Utica, NY, on April 23rd. The Almond Tree Project entertained a crowd of approximately 500 people with music and discussion about Israel and Palestine. The event also included a presentation by and interview of Miko Peled, Author of The General’s Son. I wanted you to know that we are responding to your call to action.
With best regards,
Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Author of The Almond Tree