Sunday, July 17, 2011

Open Letter to Alice Walker

My friend Bonna Devora Haberman, who lives in Jerusalem, has written a beautiful response to Alice Walker's presentation of her reasons for taking part in the US Boat to Gaza. I post it here with her permission.

Dear Alice Walker,

Though your riggings are tied, your heart has set sail. Your desire to deliver audacious hope to our region and your caring about children inspire many. As a person who lives in Jerusalem and dedicates many of my waking hours to Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, may I float some ideas that might advance commitments we share?

I co-direct an Israeli-Palestinian activist community theater project in Jerusalem together with my Palestinian partner, Kader Herini. YTheater—housed at the International Jerusalem YMCA. We work in those languages you cannot decipher—in Arabic and Hebrew, and in English. Our theater arises from shared exploration. We strive for an artistic language to express and respect our differences and to develop our joint potential for betterment. We train leaders in our process to inspire more collaboration. Our audiences, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, laugh and cry together; they participate in the enactment of joyous tolerance and creativity, where women and men, gay and straight, yearn and strive together.

I also parent Jewish children who risk at least three of their prime years to protect us. History proves that defend ourselves we must—today there are so many armed to harm us. My children have done National Service—caring for needy school children from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, and served in elite units of the Israel Defense Forces. My sons persevered through grueling training, navigating hundreds of miles by maps they memorized, plodding on without sleep in the black of night with more than 100 pounds of equipment on their backs. When our son Bezalel completed his training as a medic in his combat unit, the commanding officer emphasized to his class their obligations. Their oath to treat the injured with justice—saving friend and enemy equally—brought tears to our eyes.

The IDF ethics of engagement often expose our children to extra danger in order to avoid harming non-combatants, searching door-to-door for terrorists rather than bombing from above. In Gaza, Israel electronically relayed tens of thousands of phone messages and dropped harmless “knock on the roof” sound bombs to advise civilians to evacuate their homes where Hamas stashed weapons and hid military operators. The US army learns from our methods in their war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though their opponents pose no imminent threat to your life or your family and friends, your soldiers inevitably wound and kill women, men, and children far from your home.

After Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians were free to choose their leaders. Hoping for less corruption and dysfunction, and better social services, many Palestinians voted for the only alternative to Fatah, Hamas. The Hamas covenant seeks not only the destruction of Israel. Citing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hamas seeks to murder Jews.

Similar to the tough sanctions imposed on the South African apartheid regime, The Quartet—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia—imposed sanctions on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade. The goal is to pressure Hamas to meet three conditions:
  • recognize Israel,
  • accept agreements made by the previous Fatah-led Administration, and
  • denounce violence.
Refusing all of these, Hamas waged civil war, ousted Fatah, broke apart the Palestinian Legislative Council in June 2007, and rained rockets down on southern Israel. 3,278 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza into Israel in 2008 aborted normal life—kindergarten, school, and work, and caused trauma, death, and destruction daily. My daughter's medical school held class underground. While she was doing her rotations, the pediatric intensive care unit was treating children from Gaza. In all Israeli hospitals, Arabs and Jews routinely receive the same medical care together. Meanwhile, the university dorm of one of our sons in Beer Sheva took a direct hit—students were, thankfully, in class.

Israel launched operation Cast Lead in January 2009. Shortly after my son, Bezalel was mobilized during Sabbath, I wrote the following journal entry,
We spent an hour before he left reading poetry together, Coleridge and Blake, Wordsworth—romantics who defied social institutions with their embodied eros, and Mary Wollstonecraft's introduction to Vindication of the Rights of Women. He napped until it was time to go. We packed food—vegetarian rations for a gentle soldier. I shiver with our embrace at the threshold of our home, at the threshold of Shabbat and desecration, at the seam of peace and war.

We have not yet heard from him. It is impossible to imagine this, the most difficult thing that I have ever faced.

There are no words to describe the anguish and vulnerability, the fusion of Zionist conviction with empathy. The sheer fear for the life that we birth, nurture, raise, and cherish is beyond any comprehension. There is no safety for innocence.

Not for Israelis.

Not for Palestinians.

My son Bezalel is an artist. He spins wood and metal into sacred vessels, paints on canvas, welds, builds tools and furniture.

May he and all dear ones speedily return to their true passions, bodies and souls intact. Our life force could be so much better spent.

I write of love in the midst of blood.

May we enable peace.
Thank God, Bezalel completed his compulsory army service. He has undertaken a course of study that will prepare him to design new limbs and organs that communicate with the nerves and mind.

The Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza operation documents blood-curdling accounts of how Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank persecute their political rivals. At the same time as retracting the central and unsubstantiated claim of his Report that condemned Israel for intentionally targeting civilians during the operation, Judge Richard Goldstone maintains that, “the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.”(1) The Goldstone Report comments about Hamas strategy,
In July 2009, Hamas declared that it was entering a period of “cultural resistance”, stating that it was suspending its use of rockets and shifting its focus to winning support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives and public relations. (2)
In spite of this statement, the rocket bombardment of Sederot, the town where Bezalel goes to college, and the south of Israel has not ended; he is on the medic volunteer roster. On April 7, 2011, Hamas fired a laser-guided Kornet anti-tank missile at an Israeli school bus near Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

Willingly or not, Alice, you are participating in the Hamas cultural initiative and public relations campaign, a fusion of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

I share your desire to improve conditions for people in Gaza—they and we all suffer from Hamas policies. In June, 2010, Israel loosened restrictions to relieve the hardship by allowing all strictly civilian goods to enter; in May 2011, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing to women and to men under 18 and above 40 without a visa.

This brief sojourn in Greece is not a set-back, but preparation to make hope and love a daily routine, a way of life. As you re-group, please make plans to deliver love letters that arouse desire for a civil society in Gaza that denounces violence, recognizes Israel, and makes peace. Please long to deliver a love letter to Gilad Shalit who Hamas has held captive for more than 5 years, and please plan to unearth the love in Gaza to release this child to his parents, Noam and Aviva who ache for him. Please plan to deliver love letters to Palestinians in Gaza to support their choice of new leaders who will invest in cultivating and contributing to humanity.

With humility and hope, I offer these tenets of Israeli society as an agenda to share with the people of Gaza. Most Israelis accept Palestinian statehood—flourishing side-by-side with us in peace, with dignity and security. Israelis will surely open all ports to support the people of Gaza pursuing this building work:
  • sustainable economic development
  • universal education for civic responsibility and respect for all peoples
  • women's liberation from systemic oppression and full participation in public life and leadership
  • a comprehensive, high quality universal health care system
  • academic institutions that promote open, critical thinking and innovation
  • technology, scientific and medical research and development
  • vibrant and uncensored media, culture, and arts
I close with a few lines of hope that I wrote after our soldiers came home from Gaza—a love letter to Palestinians in Gaza and everywhere, to Israelis, and to all who care.
Let us conceive
a new covenant with life
incise in our broken hearts
to open to one another
to give and to receive
to fix
to build and
to love
With blessings,
Bonna Devora Haberman

Jerusalem, Israel

(1) “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes,” Washington Post, April 2, 2011, retrieved May 3, 2011,

(2) “Goldstone Report,” of the “United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” headed by Richard Goldstone, p. 523, 1680.


  1. Thanks for posting this! Bonna speaks for many Israeli mothers. Bonna speaks for me.

  2. This is what a true peace activist sounds like.