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Local author seeks to unpick Israel/Palestine dilemma


By Mike Scialom


Ben White, Cambridge resident and author of Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel (Pluto Press)
Ben White, Cambridge resident and author of Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel (Pluto Press)

Ben White in conversation with Dr Priyamvada Gopal at Heffers

Kate Fleet, Heffers events manager
Kate Fleet, Heffers events manager

Heffers is set to welcome Ben White, who will speak at the Trinity Street bookstore on November 8.

Ben will be in conversation with Cambridge academic Dr Priyamvada Gopal from 6.30 to 8pm about his book Cracks in the Wall, and how a peaceful, just relationship could be achieved for Israel/Palestine.

A Cambridge-based journalist and analyst, Ben has also authored Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, and has written for The Guardian, The Independent and Newsweek Middle East, among others. He is a frequent guest on Al Jazeera. Dr Priyamvada Gopal is Reader in Anglophone and Related Literature at Churchill College. Her work has appeared in titles including the Times Literary Supplement and New Statesman.

Cracks in the Wall is my fourth book, and my third on Palestine with Pluto Press – I also did an eBook on the 2014 Gaza war,” Ben told the Cambridge Independent. “With my latest book, I wanted to make an intervention that reflects the grim, apartheid reality on the ground, but that also points to and encourages some positive developments happening in the US and Europe, such as growing opposition to Israeli policies among American Jews, and the growth in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The book concludes with an argument to transform today’s apartheid reality into a single democratic state for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian.”

Beyond Apartheid in Palestine and Israel, by Ben White
Beyond Apartheid in Palestine and Israel, by Ben White

How did the connection with Dr Gopal come about?

“Dr Gopal was one of my supervisors during my undergraduate degree at Cambridge – I was at Churchill College.”

And your work on Israel?

“When I went for the first time in 2003 I was 20 years old and still at university. I went on that first occasion to see something of the reality on the ground for myself, and to express some kind of solidarity with the Palestinians. I’d always wanted to write and do journalism, and as I returned to Palestine over subsequent years, I began writing more and more about the situation there. I don’t go there much in recent years, because of having young children – since 2003, I’ve been able to visit Palestine around 10 times or so.”

Brief Answers to Big Questions, by Prof Stephen Hawking
Brief Answers to Big Questions, by Prof Stephen Hawking

What’s the current state of play with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

“Netanyahu is battling on a lot of fronts domestically, including with respect to corruption allegations. However, whether or not he survives as prime minister, neither his current coalition, nor the main opposition parties, are willing to recognise basic Palestinian rights, including to self-determination.

“The Palestinian call for BDS has three demands – an end to occupation, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In other words, the struggle for Palestinian rights goes much broader than Netanyahu’s premiership. I’d also add that, unfortunately, there are no current sanctions in place, since the international community continues to reward Israeli violations with total impunity. The civil society boycott, however, goes from strength to strength – grassroots activism which ultimately aims to influence government policy.”

Authorial evenings are a great way of bringing readers into contact with writers. Heffers hosts around 150 events a year, from author talks to book launches, board game nights to children’s activities, and bands downstairs in the music department. Kate Fleet, Heffers’ events and marketing manager, says the retailer is often approached by publicists to consider an author.

“Sometimes the author – usually someone based locally – gets in touch directly, hoping to launch their book at the shop,” says Kate. “More than once I’ve been told they’ve always dreamed of one day having a book on Heffers’ famous shelves!

“General non-fiction is doing well,” adds Kate. “Some really great have recently been published and our customer want to be informed about a whole range of things, from politics and environmental issues to traditional subjects like history. Biography does consistently well.”

Tickets for the event are priced at £5 in advance or £7 on the door. Call 01223 463200 or in person for details.

Meanwhile, the top selling books this month at Heffers are:

1. Milkman by Anna Burns

2. Normal People by Sally Rooney

3. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

On the non-fiction side the top three current top sellers are:

1. Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

2. Gene Machine by Venki Ramakrishnan

3. Educated by Tara Westover, which has just been published in paperback.



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