Ayelet Waldman Evokes 'Shame' of Hebron in Major U.S. Magazine

Noted Israeli-born writer's essay in The Atlantic was based on a tour of the West Bank city by Israeli soldiers from anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence.

Emil Salman

Ayelet Waldman, a well-known Israel-born, American Jewish novelist, published a scathing attack on Israel's policy toward Palestinians in the prestigious U.S. magazine The Atlantic on Thursday.

Describing her tour of Hebron late last month, which was led by Israeli soldiers from the anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence, Waldman writes of visiting Shuhada Street, which is effectively off-limits to Palestinians, and fearing for the lives of a few Palestinian boys daring to enter the street.

"I watched these Shuhada Street boys risk death for the sake of a liberty so rudimentary and fundamental that my own children are not even aware of its existence, or its importance, or its simple human beauty: the right to walk down the street," she writes in an essay titled "The Shame of Shuhada Street."

Waldman notes that days before her visit, two Palestinian teenagers had been killed during a Nakba Day protest in the West Bank. "Video of the killings had surfaced on the Internet, and in my hotel room in Jerusalem I had watched as another Arab boy my son’s age, carrying the kind of backpack my son carries, doing nothing more than crossing a street — crumpled and pitched forward, motionless," she writes.

At Baruch Goldstein's grave

Waldman's tour began at the grave of Baruch Goldstein, who shot to death 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 more in Hebron's main mosque in 1994 before being killed by the crowd.

"The grave has become a site of pilgrimage and ecstatic veneration for some religious Israelis and sympathetic foreigners despite the Israeli government’s prohibition on monuments to terrorists," she writes. "The massive slab of marble is inscribed with the words, 'He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land.' On the day I visited, the gravestone was littered with small stones, placed there in homage in accordance with Jewish tradition. After puzzling over the epitaph (I was born in Jerusalem but my family emigrated to Canada before I learned to read), I brushed away the commemorative stones. A mass-murderer deserves no such honor."

She continues: "An Israeli army jeep rumbled alongside the park and I stepped back, nervous that I would be harassed for my action. The Israeli military presence in Hebron is intense … and its role is very clear: The security forces are there to protect the settlers, regardless of how brutal or inflammatory the latter’s actions may be, and regardless of the fact that, as Goldstein’s homicidal cowardice makes clear, it is the Palestinians who often need protection against settlers who, sure of support from the Netanyahu government, seek to make permanent their incursion into the city."

Waldman, the wife of famed American Jewish novelist Michael Chabon, was in Israel for the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem. Interviewed in Haaretz, she was asked if she thought the country could still serve as a refuge for Diaspora Jews facing anti-Semitism.

“If you don’t ruin everything," she replied. "If something is left once Netanyahu and all his friends are done. The road is getting more and more nationalist, and I don’t see any way that the end will be anything but a disaster."