The name of this book grabbed my attention immediately but I didn’t foresee finishing the book within a mere few hours from the minute I started reading the first letter.

I received the honor of being invited to read the book “Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor” written by Yossi Klein Halevi, and ever since I received this invitation, I have added it to my reading list. To be honest, there were several other books waiting to be read before this book. However, the minute I had some free time, I read both the introduction and the first letter; before I knew it I found myself so immersed in the book that I finished reading it within 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 they 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 slides seamlessly into describing 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. This idea was delivered implicitly in between the lines of the first letter, but it was more overtly crystalised later in the book when the author probed deeper into the psychology of this conflict. The author’s comprehension of the complexity of the psychological barrier stems from his journey into Palestinian society which gave him a glimpse of the Islamic aspect of 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 lies in the language and 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 defensive 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 defensive tone or rather an attempt to shed light on a reality that could bring Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians and Jews close together through religion?

There were several other things that gave me the feeling that the author was seeking excuses or forcing justifications, such as the manner in which he introduced Israeli events and narrated them to the reader; 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 about this defensive tone when I realized that the author neither had 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 mutual acceptance.

I was hesitant to mention my thoughts regarding the “defensive 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 that I underwent in reading the book, knowing that other readers, just like me, would likely undergo something similar. In the beginning I was an exploratory reader before I realized that I had to probe deeper and become an analytical reader.

This book seeks to instigate an intellectual challenge in which conflicting viewpoints based on the monotheism of the three Abrahamic religions are brought together. The author attempts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by exploring the contributing factors shared on both sides. Through such understanding, he tries to find meeting points to create a dialogue which may eventually lead to peace.

The letters in this book present the historical right of the Jewish presence on this land. They also discuss a number of contemporary Israeli issues and challenges which introduce the reader to the unique characteristics of the State of Israel as well as some of its core tensions, not least regarding the competing roles of secularism and religion. The book also 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 to promote intellectual dialogue between the conflicting sides so as to find reasonable solutions acceptable to all.

I would like to finish by stressing that reading this book was a wonderful experience. I opted not to delve into too many of the details of the letters so as to give readers the opportunity to enjoy reading, analyzing and forming their own opinions and thoughts. My hope is that, in so doing, they too will engage  in this intellectual dialogue.

Best regards

The writer Ali Alayed from Saudi Arabia