Book edited by Jewish authors harnesses literary giants to criticize occupation
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'This book is our brick that we are pulling out of the edifice of the occupation,' says Waldman, an Israeli citizen

Book edited by Jewish authors harnesses literary giants to criticize occupation

Nobel winner among contributors to volume compiled by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman; proceeds to go to controversial left-wing group Breaking the Silence

Author Ayelet Waldman, wife of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon. (Reenie Raschke)
Author Ayelet Waldman, wife of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon. (Reenie Raschke)

AFP — A group of award-winning authors on Sunday launched a book highlighting Israel’s 50-year occupation of the Palestinians, raising money for a group despised by the Israeli government.

Featuring chapters penned by more than two dozen writers including Dave Eggers, Colm Toibin and Geraldine Brooks, “Kingdom of Olives and Ash” was edited by American Jewish husband-and-wife duo Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman.

Chabon, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” said the aim was to start a conversation about the impact of the occupation on both Israelis and Palestinians.

“We felt like we had to find some way of drawing people’s attention, at least some people’s attention, to this,” he told AFP ahead of the launch in Jerusalem Sunday evening.

By using famous authors, including the winners of three Pulitzers and a Nobel, they were aiming to “sort of trick” people “into paying attention to the occupation by baiting the trap, in a way, with the work of a really amazing writer.”

Writer Michael Chabon speaking at The New Yorker Festival 2014 on October 10, 2014, in New York City. (Andrew Toth/Getty Images for The New Yorker Festival via JTA)
Writer Michael Chabon speaking at The New Yorker Festival 2014 on October 10, 2014, in New York City. (Andrew Toth/Getty Images for The New Yorker Festival via JTA)

Proceeds from the book will go to Breaking the Silence, a group that documents alleged abuses by Israeli forces in West Bank and publishes testimonies of soldiers, much to the chagrin of Israeli officials.

In 2016, then defense minister Moshe Ya’alon accused the group of treason and the current right-wing government has sought to curtail its work and ban its activists from speaking in schools. Critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, often based on unverifiable anonymous testimony, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.

The book, which is published in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and Italian, takes the form of individual chapters by the authors, most of which center on their trips to Israel and the West Bank in the past two years.

Chabon’s chapter touches heavily on the “arbitrary” nature of the military regime in the West Bank, with Palestinians often caught up in bureaucracy and subject to the whims of individual soldiers and commanders.

Palestinian women bake bread next to their makeshift home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on April 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian women bake bread next to their makeshift home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on April 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The purpose, he said, was “proving to the people you are conquering that they have absolutely no control over their fate or their destiny.”

Author Dave Eggers, who visited the Gaza Strip in his chapter, details life in the Palestinian enclave and how residents try to survive in the territory.

Two million Palestinians live in Gaza, corralled by a decade-long Israeli blockade, with Egypt also sealing its border, in what the two countries say is a joint effort to prevent the flow of weapons to the terrorist Hamas group, which rules the Strip and is openly committed to the elimination of Israel.

Israel has fought three major rounds of conflict with Hamas since the group seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group in 2007.

UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Eggers details peoples’ frustrations, including with their Hamas rulers, who restricts cultural freedoms.

Palestinians carry a man who was injured in clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Jenin, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinians carry a man who was injured in clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Jenin, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Waldman, who was born in Jerusalem and holds Israeli citizenship, said she had to try to tackle the occupation because it was done in her name as a Jew.

“The occupation is an edifice and those of us who care have to do what we can to chip away at it. This book — this is our brick that we are pulling out of the edifice of the occupation,” she said. “Eventually enough bricks will be gone and it will fall.”

Israel values its relationship with the Diaspora highly, highlighting itself as the home for all Jews from across the globe.

Both Waldman and Chabon said there was a growing gap between young American progressive Jews and Israel.

“Jews of my parents’ generation, even of my generation, had a much easier time being progressive on all issues except Israel,” said Waldman.

US Jews protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside of the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, New York, as he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, March 3, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
US Jews protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside of the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, New York, as he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, March 3, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

“Jews of my children’s generation, Jews in their 40s, 30s, 20s, those Jews are not willing to make an exception for Israel in their world view.

“They are not willing to engage in the same kind of hypocrisy that my generation and generations before us have,” she said.

The Israeli government says its military control of the West Bank is necessary, in part, to protect its citizens from Palestinian terror attacks, which it charges are fueled by officially sanctioned incitement to violence and glorification of terrorist acts. It also claims that Israel and its policies are unfairly and disproportionately singled out for criticism while the world remains silent about human rights abuses in countries such as Sudan.

Israel also asserts a biblical right to the historic Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and cites wider security concerns requiring control of part or all of the territory. Successive Israeli government have engaged in various negotiating efforts with the Palestinians, including offers to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank under a peace accord. These US-brokered negotiating efforts have all failed.

The international community does not recognize Israeli control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this story.

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