Award-winning authors take on Israeli occupation

Israeli-American novelist Ayelet Waldman and her spouse, American novelist Michael Chabon, edited the book 'Kingdom of Olives and Ash'. Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

JERUSALEM - A group of award-winning authors on Sunday launched a book highlighting Israel's 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, raising money for an NGO hated by the Israeli government.

Kingdom of Olives and Ash featured chapters penned by more than two dozen writers, including Dave Eggers, Colm Toibin and Geraldine Brooks.

It 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."

READ: Israel's David Grossman wins Man Booker International Prize

Proceeds from the book would go to Breaking the Silence, an NGO that documented alleged abuses by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories and published testimonies of soldiers, much to the chagrin of Israeli officials.

In 2016, the then-defence minister accused the NGO of treason and the current government - the most right-wing in Israel's history - sought to curtail their work and ban them from speaking in schools.

The book, which was published in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and Italian, took the form of individual chapters by the authors, most of which centred around their trips to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in the past two years.

Chabon's chapter touched heavily on the "arbitrary" nature of the occupation in the West Bank, with Palestinians often caught up in bureaucracy and subjected to the whims of individual soldiers and commanders.

'Our brick'

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 Gaza in his chapter, detailed life in the Palestinian enclave and how residents tried to survive in the territory, often labelled the world's largest prison.

Two million Palestinians lived in the Gaza Strip, corralled by a decade-long Israeli blockade, with Egypt also sealing its border.

Israel said the occupation was necessary to protect its citizens, with Palestinians often carrying out attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Eggers detailed people's frustrations with their lives, including with the Islamist Hamas group, which ran the strip and restricted cultural freedoms.

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

READ: Palestinians in Israeli jails launch mass hunger strike

"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.

"Eventually enough bricks will be gone and it will fall."

Israel valued 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.

Seventy-one percent of US Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election compared with just 24 percent for Donald Trump, despite the latter promising to be the most pro-Israel president ever.

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

"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."


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