About seven years ago, not long after I'd completed the writing of Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars, an idea for the next book began germinating. Jerusalem, it occurred to me, hosts either the headquarters or a branch of just about any significant grouping within the Jewish world; a book that would describe these many threads would effectively present the full tapestry that is the Jewish people in our generation. It would also demonstrate that Jerusalem has become the true capital of the Jews, to a degree unprecedented since 2,000 years ago.
Yet about one third of the people of Jerusalem are Palestinians. Clearly, it would be intellectually dishonest to tell the story of the city and not relate to them. So I set out to find a Palestinian partner. There already are books written together by Palestinians and Israelis, but the Israelis always seem to be apologizing for everything their country does wrong. The book I had in mind would be different: I'm a proud Zionist with no intention to beg forgiveness of the Palestinians for the fact of our existence, nor for our insistence on regarding Jerusalem as the center of our world. Yet I was (am) quite open to hearing the Palestinian side of the story; indeed, I was eager to co-author a bi-national book, and thus sign onto and and take responsibility for all of its content, the pleasant and the less pleasant parts, both.
The act of sharing, I mused, might itself be a demonstration of both sides seeking a way towards some sort of mutually respecting resolution. Indeed, all I requested of the Palestinian partner was that he (or she) respect my side of the story as I was offering to respect his.
Ah, well. No-one ever volunteered to join me. I turned to all sorts of people I know who've got strong connections with Palestinians and requested assistance in finding the right partner. Some of them told me there'd be no chance, others told me there'd be no problem; none of them ever got back to me with any potential partners. None. So much for the usefulness of our so-called peace activists.
About three months ago I found the man on my own. Abed - I'll call him that because it isn't his name nor does it resemble his name - was eager to talk, and very open to collaborating. We set off on a series of meetings and tours, all of which we found mutually fascinating; we also became good friends.
As the moment of truth approached, however, Abed began having doubts. He remained eager to continue our dialogue, and we continue to regard each other as friends, as well as valuable sources of information. Yet he began to fear that his society would not accept his co-authoring a book with an unrepentant Zionist, even one who was willing to present the Palestinian narrative in a book with his name. Abed never detailed precisely what he was afraid of, but then the details weren't particularly important. The principle was: A Palestinian cannot participate in a joint project that recognizes the Jewish claim to Jerusalem, even if the project also presents the Palestinian claims in an equally legitimate manner. Can't.
As things stand, I'm accepting failure. I may still attempt to write a book about Jerusalem, a city which becomes ever more fascinating the more I look; Abed assures me he'll find the way to help me understand the viewpoint of his people, and I expect he'll introduce me to others whenever I wish, but it can't be a joint project.
If anyone out there can think of someone I don't know of who would be willing, I'll be eager to meet them. Alas, I fear - as I've been told all along - that such a person doesn't exist.