Former President Jimmy Carter denounced Israel’s plan to build a fence in Palestinian territories as a land grab rather than a security measure at a Tempe book signing Tuesday, as protesters with ethnic ties to the Middle East conflict squared off outside.
They were separated not by a wall, but a driveway into the parking lot. On one side, about 50 people waved a mix of American and Palestinian flags chanting the title of Carter’s controversial new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
Lining the sidewalk across the driveway, a like number of demonstrators waving Israeli flags and pro-Israel placards shouted in unison “We want peace.
How about you?”
Carter’s new book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with its conclusion that Israel imposes apartheid-like conditions inside Palestinian territories, has triggered accusations from leading Jewish scholars that the 39th president has developed a pro-Palestinian bias, misstated facts and plagiarized portions of his writings.
Carter defended his conclusions during a brief news conference at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, where he signed about 1,600 copies of the book Tuesday evening. About 2,000 people stood in a line that wrapped around the building, some for hours to wait for Carter’s signature.
“What’s happening in Palestine is a vivid and very disturbing situation where people are forcibly kept apart and where one group is persecuting or oppressing the other,” Carter said in defending his conclusions.
Carter said his use of the word “apartheid” in his title applies only to what is happening in Palestinian lands long controlled by Israelis, not to the democracy in Israel itself.
The reason for writing the book was not to pick sides, but to stimulate discussion that will lead to peace in Israel, Carter said. He then added that many leaders in the Jewish community have supported him.
After the book signing, Carter was to meet with a group of local Jewish leaders.
Carter was particularly critical of Israel’s decision to proceed with a security fence, which will be built on Palestinian land to protect Israelis from terrorist attacks.
“The wall is horrible,” Carter said. “The wall is an illegal and unwarranted intrusion on the Palestinian land. The wall is not primarily designed for any sort of security thing. It’s designed to take land and to keep it.”
That kind of talk is what riled the pro-Israel demonstrators outside. Howard Smigel of Scottsdale called Carter a “serial meddler” who has a long history of being anti-Israel.
Richard Hippner of Sun Lakes said Carter fails to understand that Israel is the nation under attack and has a right to defend itself.
“If the Arabs put down their guns today, there would be peace,” Hippner said. “If the Jews put down their guns today, there would be no Israel. He’s fallen for the revisionist theory of history over there. He never mentions terrorism. He never mentions suicide bombers.”
But Hafez Turk of Tempe, an American of Palestinian descent who was born in Jerusalem, said he respects Carter for having the courage to speak bluntly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We support his courage,” Turk said. “He is a man of integrity, and he is one of the few who is able to speak to the Americans and tell them and the world what Zionism is and what Israel is doing. The wall is not to divide Palestine from
Israel. It was to divide Palestinian families from each other.”