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Up Against The Wall

04/06/2013 16:10 | Updated 03 August 2013

William Sutcliffe burns with passion when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing his belief that 'it's time for Jews to stand up and say something' about the decades-old occupation of the West Bank. Wilful ignorance of the brutal effects of the colonisation of Palestinian land has created a 'dangerous mindset' among much of Diaspora Jewry, he says, resulting in little to no condemnation of even the most egregious Israeli excesses.

His emotions are seared across every page of his latest novel, 'The Wall', set in an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian village either side of the notorious separation barrier snaking through the heart of the West Bank. Fast-moving and packed with highly-charged imagery and allusions, the book is both a quick-paced adventure and the trigger for a sobering, chilling pause for thought.

With this twin-track style, Sutcliffe - who describes himself as a Jewish atheist - has managed to make the book accessible to teens and adults alike, painting a starkly true-to-life picture of both the absurdity and viciousness of the status quo in today's West Bank. While he hopes the book appeals to a wide a range of readers, he 'particularly want[s] it to be read by Jews', to help expose the reality of the occupation to those supporters of Israel who still prefer to bury their heads in the sand. 'The door needs to creep open', he says. 'When you look at our history, it's Jews who should know more than anyone else the effects of turning a blind eye to oppression'.

He believes that 'criticising the occupation isn't putting yourself out on an intellectual limb', asserting that the facts on the ground conclusively prove the malevolence and malice of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians under their dominion. He says he would have no problem taking on the Israeli right and its Diaspora cheerleaders in debates on the subject, having travelled extensively through the region and experienced first-hand the conditions on either side of the wall.

He may find, however, that standing up to such opponents is a far more daunting task than he thinks, given the nature of the beast. The vituperative attacks on his politics have come thick and fast ever since the book was launched last month, despite the brilliance of his prose and observations throughout the novel. Not that many of his critics have even troubled themselves to read the book before training their sights on the author and letting him have it both barrels.

A standard response begins thus: "I don't know how this fable ends because I haven't read William Sutcliffe's 'The Wall', but...", before launching into a scathing critique of the author simply on the basis of assumptions about his political views, and what therefore might or might not be contained within the book's pages. Playing the man, not the ball, is a classic tactic of the most staunch defenders of Israel's policies, with its practitioners attempting to drown out each and every honest criticism in a deafening barrage of ad hominem attacks.

Simply for calling a spade a spade, Sutcliffe is dismissively labelled 'a good little kumbaya type leftist', a 'guilt ridden Westerner', and his work branded 'one of those Soviet-era "educational" books, designed to brainwash impressionable young minds'. And yet, as anyone knows who has spent time staying with settlers, heard the murderous rhetoric emanating from their number, and witnessed the violence they mete out against their Palestinian neighbours, Sutcliffe's description of life in the settlements is spot on.

Likewise, those who have ventured to the other side of the wall and seen the devastating impact of the sealing-off of entire villages and towns can attest to the veracity of the descriptions Sutcliffe uses to such powerful effect in 'The Wall'. But to yield even an inch to a critic of Israeli policy is total anathema to the die-hard ranks of the Israel-right-or-wrong brigade, and so they will persist in their tried and tested method of demonisation in their quest to silence Sutcliffe like so many before him.

That Sutcliffe has waded eyes wide open into a political minefield is in no doubt, and he should be applauded for having the courage in his convictions to do so. But it is the strength of the book itself, and the hugely powerful impact it has on the reader, that deserves most praise - for it is no mean feat to so vividly capture both the extremities and nuances of the situation in the West Bank with such style and poise. And by doing so, and despite the slings and arrows already heading his way, Sutcliffe's aim of helping the door 'creep open' is assuredly achieved.