An interview conducted by the Moroccan journalist Fernane Mohamed for Lesiteinfo

Yossi Klein Halevi: Israelis perceive Morocco as a special country

Yossi Klein Halevi’s bestseller, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, is a book that has certainly prompted much discussion and debate in Morocco, evoking a variety of reactions from different sectors of the Moroccan public. Yossi, who is an Israeli journalist and well-established author, has other published books under his belt such as At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden, Like Dreamers and Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist.


It is important to note that the discourse in Morocco has been reinvigorated ever since December 2020, when, during a joint Israeli-American delegatory visit to Morocco, the Moroccan Prime Minister, Saad El-Din Elothmani, announced the news of a peace treaty between Morocco and the State of Israel in the presence of King Mohammed VI. Morocco has since signed four agreements pertaining to various areas of cooperation with the State of Israel.

In light of these events, Lesiteinfo interviewed the American-born Israeli writer, Yossi Klein Halevi, in order to discuss a number of issues related to the resumption of ties between Morocco and Israel, including the cultural affinity of the Moroccan community in Israel and the responses to his book, Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor.

1- Morocco and Israel have recently officially resumed relations through the Abraham Accords. As a journalist and as an Israeli citizen how do you view this development?

This is an answer to many Jewish prayers. I have been hoping for this day for years, since Yitzhak Rabin visited Morocco immediately after the signing of the Oslo accords in September 1993. I felt it was deeply symbolic that his first stop, even before flying home, was to see the King. This was a confirmation of the deep relationship between the Jewish people and the Moroccan people, and it was a sign of hope for the future. I thank God that we have reached this moment and see this a sign of hope and blessing for the whole region.


2- More than a million Jews living in Israel are of Moroccan origin and are very attached to certain aspects of Moroccan culture. How can we explain this deep attachment and how could we take advantage of their integration into Israeli society as a means of culturally bridging the gap between Arabs and Israel? 

The Jewish experience in the Arab world goes back at least two thousand years, since the Romans exiled the Jewish people from their land. That experience on the whole was much better than the experience of Jews under Christianity, though it varied from country to country. On the spectrum, Morocco was one of the most positive historical experiences for Jews (not always but much of the time); Yemen was one of the least positive (and we’ve just seen the expulsion of the last two dozen Jews from Yemen, ending a three-thousand year history). Even though there were some bitter moments for Moroccan Jews in the 20th century, on the whole their memories are warm. Those memories have been transmitted to the Israeli-born children and grandchildren of Moroccan immigrants, and to Israeli society generally. Israelis have always felt that Morocco is a special country; its place in Jewish history is secure.


3- Now a number of years have passed since publishing your book, Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor, do you think the ice between the two peoples has been broken? 

I’m only a writer, not a politician or a diplomat; I won’t be able to make peace. But as a writer I do have a responsibility to help create a language of reconciliation, and that’s what I’ve tried to do in this book. My book is written from the perspective of a religious Jew, writing to a religious Muslim. That spiritual approach has definitely resonated with Palestinian readers, and with readers throughout the region. We need a language that isn’t just political to help us solve this conflict. That’s what I tried to offer in “ Letters.”


4- There are voices from some quarters that criticize the fact that you have aligned with Israel’s position. How do you respond to this? 

I’m proud to be an Israeli and  a Jew. I love my country and our story. It is an extraordinary story of Jews coming from a hundred countries, back to our ancient point of origin. There is no story like this in all of human history. In writing my book, it was important for me to tell my neighbor who the Jews are and why we came back to this land that we share with the Palestinian people.

But loving my story doesn’t mean that I can’t make place in my heart for the Palestinian story. We Palestinians and Israelis obviously disagree about many details from our difficult shared history. But just as I am asking Palestinians (and others in the Arab world) to hear my story, I want to hear the Palestinian story, no matter how hard it is for me as an Israeli. It is not a zero sum game. We need to accommodate each other’s stories. This is the only way that we will achieve peace and mutual respect.


5- Are there any ideas that you plan to revisit in future editions of your book, particularly regarding the matter of a Federal State that has been floated as a solution by some readers in their comments? 

I support a two-state solution and I hope that that will be possible. But there are other solutions, as you mention, and we may at some point need to consider alternatives. I can tell you that any solution must take into account both Israeli and Palestinian aspirations for national sovereignty. Each side needs its own country in which to develop and grow. The Jewish people waited two thousand years to come home; now the Palestinians are waiting for their state. Whatever solution happens must accommodate the longings and needs of both peoples.