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


I was honored to be invited to read Letters to my Palestinian neighbor by the Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi. In fact, I did not intend to read it right away, electing to simply read the introduction during some spare time. However, I soon found myself devouring the book, finishing it in a matter of 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 present my thoughts and analysis, I was somewhat 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 extent that I could write ten pages commenting on each letter, which would in itself constitute a new book. Nonetheless, 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 in the form of a diary of an Israeli citizen, in the form of ten 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 historical framework of 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 an introduction and a subsequent ten letters which holistically address the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians in an attempt to lay out the agreements and disagreements between the two sides. The author endeavors to understand the conflict in order to find solutions which can be found in the monotheistic religions – and this is, perhaps, where my first criticism of the letters lies.

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

The author then moves seamlessly onto the notion of the psychological wall/barrier that separates Palestinians and Israelis which in turn can be extended to the barrier between the entire Arab community and Israel. This is a wall that is much more difficult to remove than its physical counterpart. The message of the psychological wall between both sides is conveyed between the lines of the first letter in the author’s serious attempt to understand the Palestinians’ psychological perspective of the conflict.

The writer formulates his own understanding of the psychology of the conflict based on his own experience in the Palestinian community, probing deep into the spiritual life of his neighbors in order to understand the Islamic perspective and its role in this conflict. Consequently, the language deployed in the book is overtly spiritual in nature. The author seeks to find a shared language that brings people together. He states that the differences between the three Abrahamic religions lie in the language through which we speak with God, or 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 religions to exist in the Holy Land. I share and completely agree with this 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 in which Jesus walked and was buried; where, according to Muslim tradition, the prophet of Islam ascended to visit heaven, met God and returned the very same day.

Jerusalem is a paradox in which none possess the right to own it, but to which everybody belongs.


Hisham from Egypt 


To read Yossi’s response check this link