Greetings,

I am writing these letters as I read the book. I sent them to the team while I was still in the process of reading. Here is a response to the book’s first letter.

 

    Introduction:

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First of all I would like to send my greetings to Michal, the lady who introduced herself to me and taught me about the origins of her beautiful Biblical name. I would also like to thank her for granting me the opportunity to read this wonderful book. She insisted on inviting me to read the book and sent it to me via email after I had been struggling with some technical issues in downloading the book from the website .

I also want to send my greetings to Yossi for dedicating the time and effort to write such a wonderful book. His values manifest themselves in his understanding of the other side’s struggle as a part of his humanity. In my eyes, Yossi is a man who deserves the utmost respect. He has expressed his thoughts sincerely while describing each phase that he had witnessed in this conflict with its ups and downs. He discussed a lot of complicated and controversial issues such as the separation wall, how he hated it but at the same time how he desperately needed it.

Regarding the translation to Arabic – it is like a work of art. The book was beautifully translated, the same way it was beautifully written. The translator presented Yossi’s thoughts and perspectives so clearly that nothing could be misunderstood. The syntax and the semantics demonstrated Yossi’s wonderful writing style. He managed to choose an excellent translator who was successful in transferring Yossi’s exact feelings to the readers; Actually, not only Yossi’s but rather both sides’ feelings with their happiness and sadness.

The book demonstrates Yossi’s fears and concerns for his own state. Yossi explains to his readers about the old and the current security threats that Israel faces. He also manges to make his readers feel the Israelis’ fears, how they are struggling to survive in this region and how this struggle affects the way they are thinking and perceiving the conflict they are a part of.

Some believe that they can protect themselves by ignoring and disregarding the other while others believe that they can survive in this region only by reconciling with the other side. These views are similar to the ones in the Arab World as well. But only the ones in positions of power can take decisions for us.

As part of our Islamic teachings we believe that God never supports oppressors, so we, as human beings, must be fair and just to each other if we want to receive God’s support.

These were my general impressions in brief and now I will start sharing my perspectives in detail regarding each and every letter separately.

But again, before doing that I must express my deep respect and appreciation for Yossi, for the lady who invited me to read this book and for the translator.

 

Dear Yossi,

I would like to apologize in advance if my constructive criticism upsets you. I wrote everything I had in my mind while reading the book and you probably notice the differences between the book reviews in Arabic and those in English but I guess you are already used to disagreements and to hearing different perspectives from readers so I hope you understand my point of view.

 

***My thoughts about the first letter:

     “The wall between us” 

This letter addressed so many emotional issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it focused mainly on the Palestinians’ emotions since they are the ones on the defeated side. I felt that Yossi was addressing them in a triumphant manner as the one who represents the strong side. This difference/gap between the two sides triggered Yossi’s humane instinct and awakened him to finally notice the Palestinian suffering. As Yossi puts it, there are Israelis like him whose guilt motivated them to address the Palestinian suffering that is caused by the Israeli occupation.

At the same time, this letter illustrated and emphasized the Israeli right on this land. I did not feel that Yossi emphasized the Palestinian right to live on this land as much as he did when it came to his own people. He showed sympathy with the Palestinians but also admitted that he did not have much of a say when it came to changing the politics of his own state. He would never disobey his army, for instance, if they called him to serve in the Palestinian territories. He explained that this was a result of the survival mode that Israelis lived in and therefore must protect their country.

Yossi Should have elaborated more regarding the Jewish right on this land and how this land should have been divided fairly. Furthermore, Yossi should have defined some important terms from a spiritual perspective regarding Judaism, Israel, Zionism and the concept of the Jewish Nation. We, the Arabs, should understand and learn these concepts from the Jews themselves, not from others. Unfortunately and due to the current reality, we know about Jews only from non-Jews. The ones who educate us about you, Jews, are usually biased and influenced by their intellectual, nationalistic, political and religious perspectives and backgrounds.

 As stated in the book, the Palestinians paid the price of the Arab denial of the Jewish right:

“For many years we in Israel ignored you, treated you as invisible, transparent. Just as the Arab world denied the right of the Jews to define themselves as a people deserving national sovereignty, so we denied the Palestinians the right to define themselves as a distinct people within the Arab nation, and likewise deserving national sovereignty” 

But since Yossi spoke about the concept of the Israeli State and how he himself opposed a state which extended from the river to the sea, it would have been great if he elaborated more about the idea of establishing an Israeli State from the Nile to the Euphrates as part of the Israeli aspirations in this region.


Yossi, 

We hear a lot about this idea of a greater Israel and it would be great if you could personally elaborate on that. I am also hoping to hear more about the Israeli Anthem. Does it really have these brutal lines that we, Arabs, were told about? Because when it is translated to Arabic – the translation reveals a deep sense of brutality and revenge in its words. Is this true?

Explaining these issues could perhaps be a good start to understanding each other and opening a new page in a book that educates and promotes better knowledge.

From my general knowledge I know that Israel is a highly developed country and very advanced in research and conducting statistics. Yossi, you are a writer and a researcher so how could you miss the real or at least the approximate number regarding what you wrote on page 11 in the Arabic translation: “And then, in September 2000, came the second intifada. Thousands of Israelis were killed or wounded in our streets – and thousands more in your streets”.

Thousands? Can you share the numbers of the Israeli victims of the second intifada?

You said in this first letter “It was then I knew that nothing would ever uproot the Jewish people from this land again”. At this point I, as a reader, was expecting you to elaborate regarding the first time the Jewish people were uprooted from this land so that the entire picture would be clear to non-Jewish readers. This is a major event in your history and we would like to learn more about it.

Saying good-bye to your family every morning when the person who leaves his house doesn’t know whether he will return or not is a very ordinary and typical Iraqi scene as well. We, Iraqis, know exactly what you are talking about because we experienced the suicide bombings. But who committed the suicide bombings in Israel? Is it the average Palestinian or his leadership? Who committed the suicide bombings in Iraq – is it ISIS or its leadership? 

I sometimes feel like there is a secret room where an evil leadership meets up to plan all these terror attacks and gambles on people’s lives. They target everybody without differentiating between the chosen people of God: the people of Moses, the people of Jesus and the people of Muhammad, peace be upon them all.

I feel that this evil leadership plays with people’s destinies as if they were playing chess. In addition, those people deepen and broaden the gaps between conflicting peoples, just like in the case of the Israelis and Palestinians.

They incite people against each other and get them to the point that they don’t want to even read any letters such as yours, from their neighbours, in order to not soften their hearts and end this long conflict.  To prove this idea of the evil leadership that wants to deepen the mistrust among Israelis and Palestinians alike I will use the examples that you have mentioned in your book regarding the peace offers. There was someone who had to say “NO” no matter what. Both sides were around the negotiating table, and when the Israeli leadership said yes – the Palestinian leadership said “No”, and vice versa.

You asked a very important question in this letter:  “And how do you see me? Am I, in your eyes, part of a colonialist invasion that was a historic crime and a religious violation?”.  I believe that the answer to this question always lies in the hands of the strong side.

I don’t think it is important for the Palestinians to believe or to not believe in what happened in the Holocaust and its circumstances. No matter how much Palestinians and Arabs know about it – it was still a global human crisis that brought tremendous sadness and deep sorrow to our hearts. I could not understand why you, Yossi, considered the lack of Palestinian and Arab acknowledgment of the Holocaust to be one of the major obstacles between you and your neighbours.

You spoke about the second Intifada that caused bloodshed on the Israeli side, which nobody denies and we all feel sorry about what happened in this tragic period of time. But you did not mention the first intifada and how the stone throwing was confronted by exaggerated Israeli force, which caused bloodshed on the Palestinian side. We all feel sorry for victims on both sides, but as you put it in the first letter: “I wanted to shout at your hill: it could have been different ! Partner with us, and negotiate a compromise! And look at me, acknowledge my existence ! I’ve got a story, too”. If we just paused to think how many victims would pay the price of violence on both sides.  

At the end of my notes regarding the first letter, I just want to say that peace genuinely happens when conflicting people shake hands and throw their weapons aside.

And here I want you to think about this question, Yossi: How can peace be achieved with the Israeli side when the Palestinians see how the Israelis insist on occupying the Palestinian territories? You said: “I fear that withdrawal to the nine-mile-wide borders that defined Israel before the 1967 war… ”. This is exactly what makes the Palestinians feel that you will never withdraw from the Palestinian territories: justifying this continuous occupation by your endless fears.

Furthermore, we have been hearing about the Israeli attacks on some neighbouring countries such as Iraq. And here I’m asking you Yossi: Do you think such attacks would attract more friends or more foes? 

I believe that Israel’s friendly actions in this region are the only way to make sure that there are no more existential threats towards Israel. This way your fears would be comforted, Yossi. This way would draw us a lot closer to the solution and to genuine peace.  

Yossi, you made it very clear and expressed your honest intentions regarding creating genuine peace and coexistence with your neighbour in exchange for your security in this region. But, what your neighbours demand is to feel that there is no deception or conning in any peace agreement with you since you are the strong side in this conflict. They need to trust you. 

The last question for you, Yossi: if there is a two-state-solution will Jerusalem include Palestinians and Muslims, leave their holy sites intact and grant them freedom to worship God in those holy places?

 

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Here are my noes on the second letter:Need and Longing;

 

Yossi has succeeded in keeping a balanced discourse while addressing his

neighbor, even though he belongs to the strong side of this conflict. If the

strong side changed its attitudes towards the weak side, the Palestinians, this

would contribute a lot to changing the reality. Had Israel done so – it could

have benefitted much more; A lot more than what Israel gains from merely

maintaining and managing the status quo.

-The Roman Era begins in the year 63 B.C and lasts until the year of 673 A.D,

a total of about 700 years. This means that the Roman impact on Jerusalem

ends when the Roman rule ends. So practically, Jews were longing to go back

to the land of Israel for only 700 years, not for 2000 years. So I think Yossi

was calculating it emotionally rather than mathematically.

-I felt something unique in Yossi’s writing. I could sense that he was genuine

when he expressed his longing for the Land of Israel. There are so many

American writers who express their longing for their original homelands such

as France or Germany (since the Americans immigrated to this continent from

many different countries). I read their writings and never felt the same way I

felt while reading Yossi’s words.

Yossi expresses his genuine feelings of longing to his land in a way that

touches the soul of the reader even though he was born and raised in

America. He successfully managed to deliver that feeling of longing even

though he learned about this land, the Land of Israel, only through his

religious traditions and holy book. He was not born or raised on this land and

he did not even know how it looked like, but he successfully delivered that

deep feeling he had had towards this land. I believe that this is a unique talent

and only skilled writers can succeed in delivering such deep feelings to their

readers.

-I liked how Yossi made an attempt to focus on the good parts in

Jewish–Muslim History. I believe that Yossi and even the Israeli governments

appreciate those parts in our joint history. I liked it when he spoke about the

Caliph Umar Ibn AlKhatab who allowed Jews to go back to Jerusalem in 638

A.D. ("It was, after all, the caliph Umar who, upon conquering Jerusalem in

638 CE, allowed some Jews to return to the city. That kindness is part of the

history we share") 

-Yossi was straight forward when he spoke about the Jewish dreams of

establishing a Jewish state on the land of Israel. He objectively discussed the

phases of this dream and Hertzl’s attempts to reach an agreement with the

Ottomans and the Vatican in order to fulfill this dream. 

But I think that this dream was not fulfilled in a way that fit the Jewish morals. I

believe that cooperating with the British colonizers in order to establish the

current state of Israel was a grave mistake that contradict the Jewish morals

and the concepts that the Jewish leaders followed back then. 

This is similar to the manner in which the Kurds are attempting to establish

their own state by cooperating with the Americans. I believe that the

perception of Israel as a colonizing power will change in the Arab mind if the

Israeli Government implemented Yossi’s vision and message of peace the

way he delivered in this great book.

-Yossi continued explaining thoroughly how the historical right on the land of

Israel was such a basic and important part of the Jewish identity and how it

played a major role in the Jews' return to the land of Israel; I think it is, indeed,

highly important to explain this to the readers.

Yossi did not claim that he returned to his homeland just because of being

persecuted as a Jew. Had it been only due to persecution Jews would have

looked for any other place that was safer. He did not focus on persecution as

the reason for this return to the land. He mentioned some of the ordeals that

Jews went through in the Arab World, for example: in Iraq and Egypt, but he

did not focus on it as the main reason for the Jewish return. Yossi said in this

letter that “Zionism came full circle by the end of the twentieth century, with

the mass immigration to Israel”. Indeed, they returned to Israel but they also

kept the love and longing to their homes in the Arab World as well. You can

see this clearly when talking to Iraqi Jews who kept their love and longing to

Iraq.

-I feel that Yossi is trying to send a message to the Israeli politicians as well,

not only to his Palestinian neighbors.

He wrote: “I was admitted under the "Law of Return", which grants citizenship

to any Jew requesting it. I imagine that the first law that the state of Palestine

will pass will be your own law of return, granting automatic citizenship to any

Palestinian in your diasporah who wants to come home. That is the duty of a

state whose existence is meant to undo exile"

I think he was telling Israeli politicians to work towards ending other people’s

exile so that Jews could feel safe in their homeland.

Yossi has also expresses his deep gratitude for the blessing of living safely in

Israel and he wishes the same for his neighbors: to finally live in safety in their

own homeland.

-Yossi spoke about his feelings as he lands at the Israeli airport after returning

from a trip, “every time I land at Ben-Gurion Airport after a trip abroad…I

experience something of the thrill I felt as a new immigrant", and this was a

very touching statement. If I were him I would end the second letter with this

moving statement because it is a testimony of safety and what safety means

to Jews.

I liked how the translator had described Yossi's feelings of appreciation and

gratitude for this blessing of living in Israel . He delivered it in Arabic in a way

that made me understand the importance of this blessing and why you, Jews,

appreciate Israel so much.

It also made me realize that we should all appreciate the blessings that Allah

had granted us by following what the scriptures – the Torah, the Bible and the

Quran – teach us and how they guide us to appreciate these blessings. We

must use our humanity in order to show appreciation and by doing so satisfy

Allah and show him that we are his righteous servants. 

I am continuing to read the book and will send you my thoughts regarding the

third letter right after I finish reading it.

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Here are my notes on the third letter: Fate and Destiny
 
The third letter was not only Jewish in its sentiment; it was a letter full of ideology that revealed how the concepts of rabbinical teachings had developed and evolved over time. Yossi took Judaism beyond theology and the Ten Commandments to the world of politics, where the end justifies the means.

 I see that the writer traces the beginning of the Jewish religion back to our great father Ibrahim, peace be upon him, but I think Judaism should historically be traced back to the prophet Moses, peace be upon him, and not to Ibrahim.

The connection between Judaism and our Great Father Ibrahim is merely spiritual because he was the first prophet who carried out the monotheistic message. Jews should be spiritually connected to the Prophet Jacob because they were named after him as the sons of Jacob – Israel, peace be upon him.

Regarding the definition of Judaism and the manner in which Jews define themselves – whether as a nation or merely as a religion – I believe that they are considered both a nation and a religion. I believe that Jews are a people because they follow a non-missionary religion. If Judaism were missionary this would have made the concept of Jewish peoplehood more controversial. The definition of a nation, as we know it, is the following:
“A group of people who live on a piece of land and are bonded by mutual aspirations for a shared life. They have other mutual things that bond them together, such as religion, race and language.”

The Jewish religion is a non-missionary religion and the current teachings of Judaism do not allow others to join this religion. The Jewish people believe that they serve God in prayer and observance of biblical commandments and they are the only people who carry and spread the divine message, while others have no right to do so.

The Israeli law of return clearly states that a Jew is one who was born to a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism. As for the husband of the Jewish woman, his children and grandchildren will enjoy the rights which are mentioned in the “Law of Return” even if they are not considered Jews, in case they follow another religion. The Israeli law recognizes all types of conversion to Judaism, including converting to Judaism through the Reform movement, even though this conversion is rejected by Orthodox rabbis.

When two Jews wish to get married, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel requests documents proving that the mother and her mother, that is: the maternal grandmother, the great grandmother and her mother were all Jewish. The Jewish Chief Rabbinate emphasizes the fact that nobody will recognize the children as Jews if the mothers were not Jewish. 

 I see the positivity in Yossi’s letters to his Palestinian neighbours. Yossi wants his neighbours to feel that Jews are extending their hands in peace. At the same time the Israelis, who are the stronger side, impose conditions for peace which do not demonstrate any flexibility and understanding.

Yossi provides many examples in this letter of the turmoil and instability, the ups and downs, that Jews had gone through in the past and how they were desperately trying to return to their homeland.  I think Yossi wants to send a clear message here: He wants to say that flexibility on both sides and non-violent means are the keys to opening the door for the two sides to coexist and live in peace. He wants this coexistence to mimic another type  of “coexistence” which he described in this letter by saying: “ Sustaining the tension between the particular and the universal is one of the great challenges facing the Jewish people today. One part has barricaded itself within the most constricted and triumphalist aspects of our tradition, while another part is so open to the rest of the world that it risks fading out of the Jewish story altogether…In my Jewish Jewish identity, the particular and the universal coexist. One commitment reinforces the other”.