A book review – Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor – by Hisham from Egypt


I had the honor to be invited to read the book  “Letters to my Palestinian neighbor” by the Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi. In fact, I did not intend to read it right away but when I had some spare time and read the introduction I eventually found myself devouring the book and finished it in several hours.

The truth is that when one of Yossi’s staff members approached me, asking me to read the book and write a review that would provide my thoughts and analysis, I felt so confused. I did not know how and where to begin and where to stop. The book is not long but it is so deep to the point that I could write 10 pages commenting on each letter, which could easily make a new book. But I decided to be as brief as possible by focusing on some of Yossi’s letters, not all of them.

First, the book is written as a diary of an Israeli citizen, in the form of 10 letters. Throughout the book, the author mentions the celebration of some Jewish holidays and recalls the events that accompanied and coincided with those holidays, whether in Jewish history itself or in the history of the Arab-Israeli/ Palestinian-Israeli relations. The writer emphasizes the influence of these events on the Jewish mindset and how they affected the conflict.

The book is divided into ten letters in addition to the introduction. These letters address the current situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians in all aspects as an attempt to sort out the agreements and the disagreements between the two sides.
The author is trying to understand the conflict in order to find solutions through the monotheistic religions – and perhaps this is where my first criticism to the letters begins:

As the religious aspect is so dominant and is clearly demonstrated in the first letter “The Wall that Separates Us”, the writer begins by talking about the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank. He addresses the issue of the discrimination that the Palestinian citizen is being subjected to compared to his Israeli neighbor.

Soon after, the author moves to another aspect which is the psychological wall/barrier that separates  Palestinians and Israelis and this should have been extended not to the barrier between the entire Arab community and Israel: a wall that is much more difficult to remove than the physical wall. The message of the psychological wall between both sides is transferred implicitly to the readers between the lines of the first letter through the author’s serious attempts to understand the psychological aspect of the conflict from the Palestinian perspective.

The writer builds his own understanding of the psychological aspect based on his own experience in the Palestinian community through his journey there: He probes deep into the spiritual life of his neighbors by trying to understand the Islamic perspective and its role in this conflict and we can clearly see that the language that is being used in the book is of a spiritual nature. The author seeks to find a shared language that brings people together. He states that the differences between the three Abrahamic sects are in the language through which we speak with God, as he puts it “I cherish Judaism as my language of intimacy with God; but God speaks many languages”

The writer also refers to the legitimate right of all of these sects to exist in the Holy Land. I share and completely agree with his point of view. A while ago I wrote a post on my wall which said:
“If God had a city – it could only be Jerusalem’. The one and only distinguished place on earth that fits the three Abrahamic religions is Jerusalem with its divine and brilliant geometry; with its alleys where Jesus walked in and was buried; where the prophet of Islam ascended to heaven on visit, met God and returned on the same day, as Islam puts it. Jerusalem is a paradox where none has the right to own it but at the same time everybody belongs to it.


Hisham from Egypt