A letter to my Jewish Neighbor

When I first heard/read on one of the websites online (I can’t remember if it were a Palestinian or an Israeli one) about the book, it stuck in my mind and I knew that I had to read it and send you my own response in the form of “letters to my Jewish-Israeli Neighbor”.  The days passed but life works in a way that brought your book back to my attention and I happened to find a link to a website under the name of your book. I couldn’t wait to click on the link and get the rare opportunity of downloading the book because I was sure that I would not be able to find a hard-copy in Palestinian bookstores, not to mention that Amazon doesn’t deliver its products to Palestine.   

I pressed on the “download” button and to my amazement I found it available in Arabic for free ! To be honest, I like reading the hard-copy so I asked some of my Israeli friends if they could send me the original hard-copy in English, even though, for environmental reasons, I would have rather saved a tree that was cut in order to print another book. At the same time, I didn’t want to harm my eyes by reading an entire book on an electrical device because I love seeing the beauty of trees. 

I am going to start reading the book in Arabic on the laptop that I have just fixed and later on I will, hopefully, borrow a hard-copy from a friend. The book is short but it contains valuable letters (much more valuable than all the ink and paper that is being used for the printing of books). 

The moment I read, in the book’s introduction, your invitation to submit a letter of response, the following words immediately came to my mind: 

A neighbor or a cousin?

 To be honest, I don’t know, dear brother, whether in our case we can describe each other as neighbors or as cousins, as some like to put it sarcastically. But, if we decide to refer to each other as neighbors, we can find many similarities, such as: genes, shared history, Semitic origins of both our languages, Arabic and Hebrew, and the Middle Eastern customs (which I hope we will be able to sustain in these times of globalization). In addition, we have a lot of things in common when it comes to our monotheistic religions and I keep discovering these similarities every time I meet a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian who observe their religion or whenever I read texts from the holy scriptures of the Tanakh, the new testament and the Quran. 

On each corner, wherever you go in this region, you can find a story underneath every stone you turn, just like Jesus said in Matthew, 3, 9 “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham”. 

If each stone could tell us the story beneath it, it would tell us the stories of Abraham and the altar that he built, king David to whom God bestowed strength as a fighter, the same king David who dreamt of building a holy Temple for God but God was with him at the tabernacle that fell down and was still strong enough to protect them from harm; the tabernacle with the Ark of covenant that was taken from the Israelites but was still able to guide them while they themselves were lost.

Is the tabernacle stronger than the Temple or is the Temple weaker than the tabernacle? 

or is God the strongest when we are weak and we draw strength from his power?

From my hell in Ramallah, which some Israelis, politicians and religious people refer to as Beit El, I see Al-Quds, or Urshalim, or Urusalem, or Roshalumim, or however you want to call it. From my balcony in Ramallah or Bethlehem or Beit Jala or Beit Sahour, where the Shepherd’s field and Boaz’ field witnessed the stories of love and peace between Ruth and Naomi and between the chosen people and the other chosen peoples. 

I see in Jerusalem a lot of contradictions: peace vs. war, submissiveness/quietness vs. noise, solitude on Shabbat versus the overcrowdedness (of weekdays), religious devotion vs. moral deterioration. In Jerusalem I also see the restrictions of fear and anger, strength in the midst of weakness; I  see the manifestation of weakness and fear on the security guard who is equipped with full gear of ammunition; I see the weakness within a youngster who has nothing but frustration and anger in life, frustration and anger that result from life circumstances that also caused them to feel disappointed and broken. 

I see a city that every Palestinian youngster longs to visit on the other side of the wall but at the same time feels reluctant. This youngster would love to visit this city for various reasons: on one hand he would love to pray there due to what he believes in, what he doesn’t believe in or what he wants to believe. He would love to visit in order to find those things that he only hears about regarding the spirituality of this holy place, either in Al Aqsa mosque or at the Western wall. On the other hand he would be curious to visit the bars and clubs in West Jerusalem, some of which are open even on Friday nights. 

He is conflicted: he wants to visit but there is a part inside of him that doesn’t want to because he feels emotionally and physically exhausted the minute he recalls the long lines at the checkpoint accompanied by all the security checks, the kids’ cries and people’s complaints, not to mention the difficulty of receiving that piece of paper, the entry permit, that would allow him to cross the checkpoint but wouldn’t necessarily allow him to cross the emotional barrier within himself or any other barriers that he may encounter on the way.

On the way to the Dome of the Rock there is another checkpoint: the Israeli policeman will ask you about your religion because the same area is divided in both time and place between Muslims, Jews and tourists. Sometimes, when the policeman has a doubt, he will call an Arab security guard to verify your religion. They don’t understand that nobody can know my real faith and beliefs. I could be an atheist and fool them. 

The checkpoints that one can encounter later on are the ones imposed on him by the religious figures from various sects who may criticize the clothes he wears and the manner in which he prays. 

Would this young man be able to deal with what he is subjected to by religious people from both sides, Muslims and Jews?

The youngster is again conflicted: on one hand he feels that he’s not religious enough but on the other hand he doesn’t want to become strict and too radical and follow how  those overly conservative religious figures want him to look and act, for example: grow a long beard, get rid of the mustache, not wear immodest/short clothes, clean the teeth with siwak/Miswak (a twig) and have the zabeebah – a mark on the forehead that is believed to appear only in those who pray a lot and bow down many times a day and wear a head cover that both unifies and separates Jews and Muslims at the same time.

How can this young man enter Jerusalem while he has mixed feelings of astonishment, anger and fear of the unknown;  he tries to explore Jewish neighborhoods and sees a Jewish family that originates from Poland and whose women dress similarly to some Arab women. But, when it comes to people’s identities – all similarities vanish. 

Let me explain to you, dear Yossi, about some of the things that you see on the other hill right across your window:

The white smoke that you see isn’t necessarily the result of burning tires during protests against the big jail that those people live in; it could be the result of burning loads of garbage, which is the only way that five neighborhoods of Jerusalem can get rid of their trash. The residents of those neighborhoods, more than 100,000 people, pay taxes but do not receive any services from Jerusalem’s municipality because they were excluded from the city and thrown outside the wall. They cross the checkpoint that you see from your window in order to get to their work, their schools and to their homeland every day. 

The Ramallah municipality is prohibited from collecting the trash from these neighborhoods because they are still under the jurisdiction of Jerusalem’s municipality but at the same time Israel treats them as illegitimate sons. These neighborhoods are like a stone that no builder wants to use. The question here is: will the stone demolish the entire building or should we use it as a cornerstone for a well fortified house that is based on strong foundations? A house that neither a strong wind nor floods can demolish.

Best Regards

M.G from Bethlehem