Alice Walker is refusing to allow her book “The Color Purple” to be published in Hebrew by an Israeli publisher, saying in a letter that she will not allow it to happen because of her feelings about the country’s government.
The letter was sent to the publisher, Yediot Books, but also posted online. In it, Walker described her experiences as a juror for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a group which met in South Africa last year and determined that Israel was guilty of persecuting the Palestinian people as well as apartheid. The group is a private body originally brought together by philosopher Bertrand Russell which met for the first time in 1967.
“I grew up under American apartheid,” Walker wrote in her letter of the testimony she heard during the tribunal. “And this was far worse.”
Walker, who was a juror for the tribunal, wrote of that “many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.”
In her letter, the author recalled that she had not allowed the film version of “The Color Purple” to be shown in South Africa while it was still under apartheid rule.
“It was not a particularly difficult position to hold on my part,” Walker wrote of the decision. “I believe deeply in non-violent methods of social change though they sometimes seem to take forever…. We decided to wait. How happy we all were when the apartheid regime was dismantled and Nelson Mandela became the first president of color of South Africa.”
Walker added that she hoped she would be able to allow “The Color Purple” to be published in Israel in the future.
“I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside,” she wrote. “I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time.”
The author took part last June in one of the flotillas that tried to bring aid to Gaza through a maritime blockade enacted by Israel.
“I think Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world,” Walker told Foreign Policy Magazine at the time. “And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves.”
Walker said during the same interview that she thinks many Americans feel a connection to Israel because of Americans’ familiarity with the Bible.
“We think that we are sort of akin to these people and whatever they're saying must be true – their God is giving them land and that is just the reality,” she said. “But actually the land had people living on it. The people were in their own homes, their own towns and cities. So, the battle has been about them trying to reclaim what was taken from them.
Netta Gurevich, the chief editor at Yediot Books, told the Associated Press she was sorry to hear about Walker’s decision.
“[Arts and culture] are so important to bridging differences, presenting ‘the other’ and generating a climate of tolerance and compassion,” Gurevich said.