Dear Yossi

Your book is a lyrical, valiant, well-written, faith-based attempt to set out the case for Israel. For Jews these are well-rehearsed arguments, but I thought your idea of addressing a Palestinian audience is inspiring. Congratulations!

As the daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees, I was pleased to see that you stressed Israel’s Middle Eastern nature. You made the point, not heard as much as it should be, that most Israelis are Mizrahim  indigenous to the region.

You did say that most came to Israel as refugees.  But you should have emphasized that the Jewish refugees from Arab countries were non-combatants, unfairly scapegoated for sharing the same religion and ethnicity as the Israelis. They were displaced over thousands of miles (not thirty)  and had to learn a new language and culture.  You should have pointed out that an irrevocable exchange of roughly equal refugee populations took place. It is the Arab side’s responsibility  to absorb their refugees, whether in a Palestinian state or host Arab countries. This argument could be the key to peace and reconciliation.

In my view you are too generous  to the other side’s ‘narrative’. Arab aggression and violence is lost in a pall of moral equivalence. Who started the conflict? There is no doubt that the Arab side did by rejecting the Partition Plan and declaring war on the new state of Israel in 1948.  One narrative is historical truth,  the other – despite omission and obfuscation – is a lie, or at best – wishful thinking. Given the terrorist war against Israel, the wall is not an insult. It has saved thousands of lives. It is a symbol of survival.

I was disappointed by the responses you received from Palestinians (with the possible exception of Khalil Sayegh). They were mired in refugee victimhood  and kept repeating the same old tired propaganda points. They say they recognize Israel, but have a problem with Zionism. So they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. I thought Mohamed Dajani might bring a refreshingly sensible perspective to the discussion when he talked of moderates and extremists. (Ah, at last, some self-criticism and introspection from the Palestinian side, I thought. ) But he put Israeli and Palestinian maximalists in the same basket, without clarifying that the maximalists on the Arab side, (especially Hamas) actually wield power and intimidate or imprison the moderates into silence.

Moral equivalence will not help identify the problem.

Your departure point is that of a religious Jew. However, I do not believe that the conflict is basically about the religion you perceive to represent Islam: the pacifist, Sufi variety which you seem to have most contact with. As far as I can tell, nowhere do you you get to grips with jihadist Islamic fundamentalism, the real  problem here. The anonymous Jordanian who wrote ‘we are a people who have done you no wrong’ is in denial about Palestinian pro-Nazi antisemitism. He should have been given a history lesson about the antisemitism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the  wartime Palestinian Mufti.

So my overall impression is the lopsidedness of  dialogue – the Jew, continually trying to reach out and ‘understand’ the other side, while the Arab side hardly moves an inch. Yes, there are reasons for it – the shame-honor and bullying culture, peer group pressure against normalization, the lack of democracy. We still have a very long road to travel towards peace.

Yours sincerely

Lyn Julius

Author of ‘Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world Vanished Overnight’ (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018)