Poet Yonatan Berg’s thoughts on Israel, Palestine, and BDS

A bookseller recently asked us for “proof of the author’s opposition to oppression of West Bank Palestinians.” This prompted us to ask poet Yonatan Berg’s about his views. His response follows here.

Yehuda Amichai, one of our greatest poets, wrote: “From the place where we are right flowers will never grow in the spring. The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard. But doubts and loves dig up the world like a mole, a plow.”

At heart, the Palestinians are right. They deserve the right of self-determination, to live without humiliation, they deserve freedom of movement and expression, to live without the constant presence of the military fist, they deserve to live.

Also, the Israelis, the Jews, are right. The world has taught them the harshest lessons. The world told them to live by the sword, fortified and strong, or don’t exist at all. And they learned—they learned too well.

The international community is right, both the Israelis and the Palestinians need to be pushed towards a peace agreement. The Israelis need to retreat, and the Palestinians need to acknowledge the Jewish presence in the Middle East. Even the BDS movement is right, although in a minor way. Pressure is indeed needed, but they are pushing in all the wrong places.

Everyone is right, and so, as Amichai wrote, everyone is also wrong. The Palestinians are wrong, because freedom cannot be birthed by terror. The Israelis are wrong, since force spawns only more force. The international community is wrong, because the region can only move towards peace when more resources are invested in education and culture, and not in meetings between politicians hosted in lavish vacation sites. And the BDS movement is wrong, for if you boycott culture, art and academia, you help laying the groundwork for extremism, populism and closedmindedness. Eventually, there won’t be anyone left to boycott, because the BDS movement harms precisely the parts of Israeli society which are interested in intercultural exchange.

Change is possible, change is crucial. Yet, it will only happen once Mahmoud Darwish will be taught in Israeli schools, and Yehuda Amichai in Palestinian schools. The exact opposite of boycotting. FRAYED LIGHT is my attempt at nurturing this point of view. It is a book filled with doubts and loves, begging the world to be dug up like a field, ready for cultivation.

-Yonatan Berg

from Yonatan Berg’s first English-language collection, Frayed Light,  translated by Joanna Chen.


The thorny bush of these hills
is utter sadness, a stubborn blast
that rises up in the face of youth.
Tin shacks paint the sun:
a bonfire of copper rags.

The evening descends with animal pain,
the wadi rolls it to the doors of our homes.
Children gaze over the fence at the hot throat of Ramallah,
the green pupils of their eyes journeying toward heaven,
signs of prayer that echo the moon.

Gathered into the night, we ask the fig
of distances, knowing that in purple there are secrets,
and that resin tortures the fingers.
Our ears fill with the sound of lead bullets bouncing
off blue doors, ricocheting across the wadi.

We ask to go there, to hear
their stories. We wake up for synagogue,
stained glass playing with the sun,
lighting birds on bare walls, creating shapes.

We wrap skin on skin, we cover our eyes
with one hand. We cannot understand
how our parents ignore the noise that ascends
the wadi, hot with the same memory,
olives dancing fruit into the ground.

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Read a short essay by translator, Joanna Chen.