cream and purple book cover that reads: What Jews and Palestians don't know about each other. The Wall Between"
Raja G. Khouri is a Palestinian Lebanese Canadian and Jeffrey J. Wilkinson is a Jewish American. (Photograph courtesy of Interlink Books)

Topics: Ethical Living | Human Rights

A new book by Palestinian and Jewish community leaders encourages meaningful dialogue on Israel-Palestine

Raja G. Khouri and Jeffrey J. Wilkinson's book, "The Wall Between," was published a few days before the Israel-Hamas War began


Five days before the start of the Israel-Hamas War on Oct. 7, 2023, Raja G. Khouri and Jeffrey J. Wilkinson published The Wall Between: What Jews and Palestinians Don’t Want to Know About Each Other, which explores the social and psychological barriers that keep each community closed off from one another. Its authors are no strangers to searching for solutions: Khouri, a Palestinian Lebanese Canadian who lives in Toronto, is the co-founder of the Canadian Arab/Jewish Leadership Dialogue Group, while Wilkinson, an American Jew now living in Guelph, Ont., works actively in the Jewish community. Very Rev. David Giuliano, who was the 39th Moderator of The United Church of Canada and who has made several visits to Israel and Palestine, spoke to Khouri and Wilkinson on Zoom.

David Giuliano: How did you meet one another?

Jeffrey Wilkinson: I became interested in Israel-Palestine as a Jew from a German Jewish mother and family in the Holocaust, and as a human rights and social justice advocate. I brought a group of Palestinians and Jews together to listen to each other’s stories. Raja was one of the participants. I was struck by his candour, his openness. We talked three to four times a week for four and a half years. We endured a great deal of outside pressure, but we could always rely on each other. When one of us was struggling, the other could support.

Raja Khouri: Once we set out to do this work, there was no stopping. Not for one second did we ever doubt that we would finish it. I wanted other Palestinians and Arabs to learn what I learned in my 16 years of dialogue with Jewish colleagues. Do we really have to hate each other? To be so fearful and suspicious of each other? 

DG: What has the response to The Wall Between been like in your communities?

JW: Before the events of October 7 or after? Because it has changed completely. I had a relatively solid base of progressive Zionist Jews. I have empathy for Zionism. There’s always been some tension, but since October 7, Jewish people who worked with us quite closely have said, “We don’t want anything to do with you.”

RK: On October 1, we had a reception in Toronto. It was a celebration of our book, with everybody commending us on it. There were Jews, Zionists, Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, Christians — you name it. I said to the Palestinians that they were mistaken to see all Zionists as the same. We have a common cause with progressive Zionists. After October 7, all the progressive Zionists went back into what Jeff calls their “tribal caves.” My friends were sending me messages: “See, their true colours have shown.”

DG: The Wall Between is about what Jews and Palestinians don’t want to know about each other. What didn’t you want to know about each other when you started?

RK: I had already crossed that bridge and wanted to know. But in talking with the average Palestinian, they will tell you: “Well, let them take their boots off my neck first, and then I can get to know them.”

JW: We didn’t write the book until we not only wanted to know about the other but knew about the other. The key nugget was that for me, Israel is a place of relief and refuge, but that sense of home and safety is gained at Palestinians’ expense. That was the change for me.

DG: We keep hearing that Israel has a right to defend itself and that Palestinians also have a right to justice, protection and human necessities. How do you hold those in tension?

JW: The first part of the question is the toughest for my community. Defending yourself against those you are oppressing — who are fighting their oppression — is not self-defence. There’s a complete misunderstanding of the term “defence.” The only possible self-defence for Israel is to make peace with Palestinians. Palestinians have a right to resist.

RK: Compare how we react to Ukraine versus Palestine. We are 100 percent with Ukraine because they’re defending themselves. Israel is the oppressor. Jews look at Israel and see it as this little country surrounded by 50 Arab Muslim countries that all want to destroy it. Israel took over the entirety of Palestine with the support of the West and the United States. Jews see it as a victim trying to survive, facing existential threats every day. It boggles my mind.

DG: Do you try to provide a balance between these two perspectives?

JW: Imagine you’re speaking to a Jew or an Israeli, and they’re talking about this little country that is under constant threat. And then you’re speaking to a Palestinian and they’re asking, “Why does a country with nuclear arms and F16s need protection from my criticism?” They’re coming from entirely different places. When people accuse us of leaning toward the Palestinian side, we say, “It’s not about leaning to one side or the other — how are you going to evaluate the two narratives and come up with your own truth if you only know one of them?”

DG: The United Church of Canada has called on the Prime Minister to recognize what is happening in Gaza as genocide. Is it helpful to use this language?

RK: Yes. You have to call it what it is. When civilians — children, babies — are being killed in the thousands, what else would you call it? There’s also the fact that Israeli ministers and generals have been using genocidal language.

JW: Every single reliable scholar that I read says that if it’s not genocide, it’s headed there.

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DG: What about calling what is happening in Israel-Palestine apartheid?

JW: Apartheid has a much broader acceptance in North America. You kind of have to live in denial to say that the Israeli system is not an apartheid system. I just don’t think it’s up for debate anymore.

RK: Israeli law clearly distinguishes between two classes of citizens — there are many laws that intentionally differentiate Jews and non-Jews. For example, any Jew from anywhere in the world can go to Israel and become a citizen, whereas people who are born there cannot.

DG: What contributions can Canadians who aren’t Jewish or Palestinian make toward peace grounded in justice?

JW: We need to start with our treatment of Indigenous people and enter Palestine from that perspective. We have a genocidal history. If that is wrong, it’s not that big a leap to apply that to the indigenous people of Palestine. The only way to create true safety in Israel is to create safety and rights for Palestinians.

RK: The position Canadians take matters. We have a reputation in the world for being protectors of international and humanitarian law. These are the principles we’ve always stood for and when our government erodes them, we are implicated.

DG: What do these contributions look like on a personal level?

JW: It doesn’t preclude you from reaching out to a Jewish friend or colleague and saying, “I know you’re hurting and I’m sorry,” or reaching out to a Muslim or Arab or Palestinian and saying, “What’s happening over there is wrong, and I’m really sorry you’re going through this.”

RK: I spoke at a peace rally organized by a Jewish group. I said, “I feel for your losses; I feel for the hostages. If we want to have this shared humanity, it means getting the hostages out without flattening Gaza.” And I got applause from them. So, it can happen.

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DG: Right. And the book, after all, is about relationship-building.

JW: We feel strongly about the injustices in Israel-Palestine. But the lane we’ve chosen is to bring people together. When we bring people together, the ultimate goal of justice and human rights for all happens.

DG: Is there a special role — given the history of settler colonialism — that Indigenous people in Canada might be able to play?

RK: We’re seeing Indigenous folks participate in pro-Palestinian rallies. All kinds of marginalized groups have learned to work together, to stand up for each other. And that’s a good thing.

DG: You offer seven “transforming” questions at the end of The Wall Between. Is there one that seems especially poignant, given what’s happening now in Gaza and the West Bank?

JW: The one that always hits me is number six: “Can you break the cycle of everlasting victimhood?” Until we begin to undo that victim mentality, I don’t see a way forward.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Correction: In a previous version of this story, Broadview reported that Raja G. Khouri is a Canadian who is originally from Lebanon. However, Khouri identifies as Palestinian and is known as a Palestinian Lebanese Canadian.  


David Giuliano is a writer and lives in Marathon, Ont. He was the 39th moderator of The United Church of Canada. 

This article will appear in Broadview’s March 2024 issue with the title “Necessary Conversations.”

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David Giuliano is a writer and lives in Marathon, Ont. He was the 39th moderator of The United Church of Canada.


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  • says:

    I long for more journalism like this that brings hope to the Israeli-Palestinian issue through dialogue and deep relationships