A letter to Jewish citizens of
by Jimmy Carter, December 2006
During my recent book tour I signed more than 100,000 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
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.