Jimmy Carter Issues Letter to Jewish Community on
Palestine Peace Not Apartheid
15 December 2006
A letter to Jewish citizens of America
During my recent book tour I signed more than 10,000 books and was interviewed on 100 news media outlets.* The high point for me was a meeting with leaders of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, who announced before my arrival that they would demonstrate against my book. When they invited me to meet with them, I accepted immediately. The six rabbis (three men and three women) and I were the only ones present except for a camera crew under the direction of Jonathan Demme, who was making a documentary about me and the work of The Carter Center. Demme reported that there was an equally large group of Jewish citizens demonstrating in support of the book and its call for a path to peace.
We first discussed the peace treaty I negotiated between Israel and Egypt in 1979, and the Holocaust Commission I announced on Israel's 30th birthday. Five of them had read my book completely and one partially, and I answered their questions about the text and title of PALESTINE PEACE NOT APARTHEID. I emphasized, as I had throughout the tour, that the book was about conditions and events in the Palestinian territories and not in Israel, where a democracy exists with all the freedoms we enjoy in our country and Israeli Jews and Arabs are legally guaranteed the same rights as citizens.
We discussed the word "apartheid," which I defined as the forced segregation of two peoples living in the same land, with one of them dominating and persecuting the other. I made clear in the book's text and in my response to the rabbis that the system of apartheid in Palestine is not based on racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land and the resulting suppression of protests that involve violence. Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and prominent Israelis, including former attorney general Ben Yair, who served under both Labor and Likud prime ministers, have used and explained the appellation in harsher terms than I, pointing out that this cruel oppression is contrary to the tenets of the Jewish faith and the basic principles of the nation of Israel.
Having traveled throughout the Holy Land during the past 33 years, especially within the occupied areas, I was qualified to describe the situation from my own personal observations. In addition, The Carter Center has monitored the Palestinian elections of 1996, 2005, and 2006, which required a thorough and intimate involvement with Palestinian citizens, candidates, public officials, and also the top political leaders of Israel who controlled checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza and all facets of the elections in East Jerusalem.
I made it clear that I have never claimed that American Jews control the news media, but reiterated that the overwhelming bias for Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught since childhood to honor and protect God's chosen people from among whom came our own savior, Jesus Christ. An additional factor, especially in the political arena, is the powerful influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is exercising its legitimate goal of explaining the current policies of Israel's government and arousing maximum support in our country. There are no significant countervailing voices.
I am familiar with the extreme acts of violence that have been perpetrated against innocent civilians, and understand the fear among many Israelis that threats against their safety and even their existence as a nation still exist. I reiterated my strong condemnation of any such acts of terrorism.
When asked my proposals for peace in the Middle East, I summarized by calling for Hamas members and all other Palestinians to renounce violence and adopt the same commitment made by the Arab nations in 2002: the full recognition of Israel's right to exist in peace within its legally recognized 1967 borders (to be modified by mutual agreement by land swaps). This would comply with U.N. Resolutions, the official policy of the United States, commitments made at Camp David in 1978 and in Oslo in 1993, and the premises of the International Quartet's "Roadmap for Peace." An immediate step would be the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, now absent for six years. President Mahmoud Abbas is the official spokesman for the Palestinians, as head of the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and has repeatedly called for peace talks. I asked the rabbis to join in an effort to induce the Israeli government to comply with this proposal.
In addition, I pointed out that the Palestinian people were being deprived of the necessities of life by economic restrictions imposed on them by Israel and the United States because 42% had voted for Hamas candidates in the most recent election. Teachers, nurses, policemen, firemen, and other employees are not being paid, and the U.N. has reported that food supplies in Gaza are equivalent to those among the poorest families in sub-Sahara Africa with half the families surviving on one meal a day. My other request was that American Jewish citizens help to alleviate their plight.
The chairman of the group, Rabbi Andrew Straus, then suggested that I make clear to all American Jews that my use of "apartheid" does not apply to circumstances within Israel, that I acknowledge the deep concern of Israelis about the threat of terrorism and other acts of violence from some Palestinians, and that the majority of Israelis sincerely want a peaceful existence with their neighbors. The purpose of this letter is to reiterate these points.
We then held hands in a circle while one of the rabbis prayed, I autographed copies of my book as requested, and Chaplain (Colonel) Rabbi Bonnie Koppell gave me a prayer book.
I have spent a great deal of my adult life trying to bring peace to Israel, and my own prayer is that all of us who want to see Israelis enjoy permanent peace with their neighbors join in this common effort.
* A list may be obtained from Simon & Schuster