The name of this book attracted me immensely but I didn’t imagine that I would finish reading it within a few hours from the minute I started reading the first letter.

I have had the honour to be invited to read the book “Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor” written by Yossi Klein Halevi, and ever since I received this invitation I added it to my reading list. To be honest, there were several other books waiting for me to read them before it was this book’s turn. But the minute I had some free time I read both the introduction and the first letter and before I knew it I found myself so immersed in the book that I finished reading it in a few hours.

It was the religious, humane discourse aiming to find a reasonable, just solution to the conflict between Arabs and Israel which drew me in, motivated me to want to know more and continue reading the entire book.

The book contains an introduction, ten letters and acknowledgments. These ten letters address issues regarding the situation between Palestinians and Israelis and discuss them in detail. The book sheds light on the similarities and differences between the two sides and tries to create a better understanding of the conflict in order to solve it through a religious, humane approach as explained in the first letter “The Wall between us”.

The author begins by talking about the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank. Then he continues smoothly to describe another wall, which is, to my understanding, a psychological separation wall. I think that taking down the latter is more difficult than removing the first one. This idea was delivered implicitly in between the lines of the first letter, but it became clear later on in the book when the author probed deeper into the psychology of this conflict. The author’s understanding of the complexity of the psychological barrier stems from his journey into the Palestinian society that gave him a glimpse of  the Islamic aspect in this conflict.

The religious discourse in the book focuses on monotheism as a way of bringing the two sides closer together. It stresses the idea that the only difference between the three Abrahamic religions is in the language/manner of addressing God. I loved it when the author wrote “I cherish Judaism as my language of intimacy with God; but God speaks many languages”.  He acknowledges the legitimate right of the three monotheistic religions in the holy land.

In the first letter the author invites his dear neighbor to his spiritual world until they can meet face to face. However, in the second letter, “Need and Longing”, when he explains about the destruction of the Temple and its annual commemoration day Tisha b’ Av, I sensed a justifying tone regarding the Israeli presence on this land. Then Yossi goes further to describe his sorrow over the need to be protected by Israeli soldiers from the never-ending dangers and threats posed by the other side. Here I found myself baffled: is this a justifying tone or rather an attempt to shed light on a reality in order to bring Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians and Jews close together in a spiritual manner?

There were several other things that gave me the feeling that the author was finding excuses or justifying, for example: the manner in which he introduced Israeli events and narrated them to the reader, such as Jerusalem Day (as discussed in the fifth letter “Six Days and Fifty Years” which focuses on the 1967 War) and the celebrations that accompany it.

As I continued reading, I changed my mind regarding this justifying tone because I realized that the author was not in a position of having to defend or justify his arguments because he had a just historical right. He was genuinely trying to find meeting points between the various conflicting arguments via a serious dialogue that would lead to acceptance of each other.

I was hesitant to mention my thoughts regarding the “justifying tone”, especially once things became clearer to me, but I decided to share this with my readers for two reasons:
1- My responsibility and credibility as a writer and therefore, commitment to honesty.
2- My wish to share the transformation process of reading that I went through, knowing that other readers, just like me, will probably go through: in the beginning I was an exploratory reader and then I realized that I had to probe deeper and become an analytical reader.

This book is an invitation to an intellectual challenge of bringing conflicting viewpoints close together based on the monotheism of the three Abrahamic religions. The author attempts to find a solution to a conflict by exploring the similar reasons shared by both sides that contributed to and created this conflict. Through this understanding, he tries to find meeting points that can create a dialogue and will eventually lead to peace.

The letters in this book present the historical right of the Jewish presence on this land. They also discuss a lot of current Israeli issues and challenges that introduce the reader to the unique characteristics of the State of Israel and whether it is founded on secular or religious tenets. Furthermore, the book addresses the catastrophe of the Holocaust in a distinguished analytical manner.

I must admit that the book carries an intense humane sentiment which, in my opinion, can start paving the road towards breaking the ice between the two sides. However, this first step must be followed by continuous efforts of intellectual dialogue between the conflicting sides in order to find reasonable solutions accepted by all sides.

Finally, reading this book was a wonderful experience and I chose not to go into too many details describing the content of the letters in order to give readers the opportunity to enjoy reading, analyse and form their own opinions and thoughts so that they hopefully take part in this intellectual dialogue.

Best regards

The writer Ali Alayed from Saudi Arabia

—————————————————————————————————————–

Mr. Ali Alayed published this response in Arabic on AlKhaleej Saudi online newspaper. Click here if you want to read the response on Alkhaleej online newspaper.