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

 

Introduction:

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 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 he witnessed in this conflict with its ups and downs. He discussed a lot of complicated and controversial issues such as the separation wall and explained how he hated it, but at the same time 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; their happiness and sadness.

The book demonstrates Yossi’s fears and concerns for his own country. Yossi explains to his readers about the old and the current security threats that Israel faces. He also manages to express the fears of Israelis, how they are struggling to survive in this region, and how this struggle affects the way they think about and perceive the conflict of which they are a part.

 

Some believe that they can protect themselves by ignoring and disregarding the other; others believe that they can only survive in this region by reconciling with the other side. These views are similar to those in the Arab World. But only those in positions of power can make 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 are my general impressions in brief. I will share my detailed perspectives 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 mind while reading the book and you will probably notice differences between the book review formats of Arabic and English readers. I guess you are already used to disagreements and hearing different perspectives from readers, so I hope you understand my point of view.

 

My thoughts about the first letterThe wall between us 

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

That said, this letter illustrated and emphasized the Israeli right to 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’s. He showed sympathy toward 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 in which Israelis live in order to protect their country.

Yossi should have elaborated more regarding the Jewish right to 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, Arabs, should understand and learn about these concepts from Jews themselves, not from others. Unfortunately, and due to the current reality, we only know about Jews 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 have paid the price for 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 that extends from the river to the sea, it would have been great if he had elaborated more regarding the Israeli aspiration of establishing an Israeli state from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Yossi, we hear a lot about the 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 include these brutal lines that we, Arabs, were told about? Because when it is translated to Arabic the translation reveals words that carry deep brutality and revenge. Is this true?

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

From my general understanding, 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 not mention the real, or at least the approximate, number of casualties when 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 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 one’s family every morning when the person leaving his house doesn’t know if he will return is a very ordinary and typical scene in Iraq, as well. We Iraqis know exactly what you are talking about because we experienced 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 various 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. Another job these people are doing is deepening and broadening the divisions between conflicting peoples, just as in the case of Israelis and Palestinians.

They incite people against each other and get them to the point that they don’t even want to read any letters, such as yours, from their neighbors, in order not to soften their hearts and end this long conflict.

To prove the idea of an evil leadership that wants to deepen the mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians, I cite the examples of the peace offers you mentioned in your book. There was someone who had to say “NO” no matter what. Both sides were at 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 whether Palestinians believe in what happened in the Holocaust or not; No matter what Palestinians and Arabs know or think about this topic – it was undoubtedly 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 neighbors.

You spoke about the Second Intifada that caused bloodshed on the Israeli side, which nobody denies. We all feel sorry about what happened in this tragic period of time. But you did not mention the First Intifada and how stone throwing was confronted with 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 only we paused to think how many victims have paid 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 people from conflicting sides 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 wrote: “I fear that withdrawal to the nine-mile-wide borders that defined Israel before the 1967 war could fatally undermine my ability to defend myself in a disintegrating Middle East.” This is exactly what makes Palestinians feel that you will never withdraw from the Palestinian territories: justifying this continuous occupation with your endless fears.

Furthermore, we have been hearing about Israeli attacks on neighboring 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 to 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 your intentions clear regarding genuine peace and coexistence with your neighbour in exchange for your security in this region. But, what your neighbors demand is to feel that there is no deception or cunning in any peace agreement with you, since you are the strong side in this conflict. They also need to trust you.

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

 

==============================================================

My response to 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 benefited 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 Roman influence on Jerusalem ended when the Roman rule ended. So practically, Jews were longing to go back to the land of Israel for only 700 years, not 2000 years. I think Yossi was calculating it emotionally rather than mathematically.

-I felt something unique in Yossi’s way of 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 Americans immigrated to that 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 for 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, but he successfully delivered the 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 government appreciate those parts of our joint history. I liked it when he spoke about the Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khatab who allowed Jews to return 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 straightforward when he spoke about the Jewish dreams of establishing a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. He objectively discussed the phases of this dream and Herzl’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 fulfilled in a way that didn’t fit Jewish morals. I believe that cooperating with the British colonizers in order to establish the current state of Israel was a grave mistake that contradicted the Jewish morals and concepts that 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 to the Land of Israel has been such a basic and important part of 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 readers.

Yossi did not claim that he returned to his homeland just because he was persecuted as a Jew. Had it only been due to persecution, Jews could have looked for any other safer place. He did not focus on persecution as the reason for this return to the land. He mentioned some of the ordeals that Jews underwent in the Arab World, like in Iraq and in Egypt, but he did not focus on it as the main reason for the Jewish return. Yossi wrote in this letter, “Zionism came full circle by the end of the twentieth century, with the mass immigration to Israel”.

Indeed, they returned to Israel but they kept the love and longing for their homes in the Arab World as well. You can see this clearly when talking to Iraqi Jews who kept their love and longing for Iraq.

-I feel that Yossi is trying to send a message to 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 Diaspora 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 expressed his deep gratitude for the blessing of living safely in Israel and wished the same for his neighbors: to finally live in safety in their own homeland.

-Yossi spoke about his feelings landing at Israel’s international airport after returning from abroad, “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 like how the translator 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 has 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 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 as soon as I finish reading it.

 

Greetings,

Ali from Iraq

 

=============================================================

My response to 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 benefited 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 Roman influence on Jerusalem ended when the Roman rule ended. So practically, Jews were longing to go back to the land of Israel for only 700 years, not 2000 years. I think Yossi was calculating it emotionally rather than mathematically.

-I felt something unique in Yossi’s way of 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 Americans immigrated to that 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 for 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, but he successfully delivered the 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 government appreciate those parts of our joint history. I liked it when he spoke about the Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khatab who allowed Jews to return 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 straightforward when he spoke about the Jewish dreams of establishing a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. He objectively discussed the phases of this dream and Herzl’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 fulfilled in a way that didn’t fit Jewish morals. I believe that cooperating with the British colonizers in order to establish the current state of Israel was a grave mistake that contradicted the Jewish morals and concepts that 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 to the Land of Israel has been such a basic and important part of 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 readers.

Yossi did not claim that he returned to his homeland just because he was persecuted as a Jew. Had it only been due to persecution, Jews could have looked for any other safer place. He did not focus on persecution as the reason for this return to the land. He mentioned some of the ordeals that Jews underwent in the Arab World, like in Iraq and in Egypt, but he did not focus on it as the main reason for the Jewish return. Yossi wrote in this letter, “Zionism came full circle by the end of the twentieth century, with the mass immigration to Israel”.

Indeed, they returned to Israel but they kept the love and longing for their homes in the Arab World as well. You can see this clearly when talking to Iraqi Jews who kept their love and longing for Iraq.

-I feel that Yossi is trying to send a message to 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 Diaspora 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 expressed his deep gratitude for the blessing of living safely in Israel and wished the same for his neighbors: to finally live in safety in their own homeland.

-Yossi spoke about his feelings landing at Israel’s international airport after returning from abroad, “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 like how the translator 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 has 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 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 as soon as I finish reading it.

 

Greetings,

Ali from Iraq

=============================================================

My notes on the fourth letter: Narrative and Presence

In the beginning of the fourth letter, the Author, Yossi Klein Halevi, was praising Israel for its achievements, not only in comparison to Palestinian society but also with regards to the wage differential in Western countries. Yossi also praised Israel’s demographic, social and scientific achievements. 

He was also excessively proud of the Jewish sense of unity and its commitment to the concept of family while in almost the same breath spoke about the low demographics of his Palestinian neighbor in a condescending way, overlooking all its causal factors.

The reader was taken by surprise when the author, whose style of writing was poetic, emotional and comprehensive, started mourning the Jewish people’s fate of suffering thousands of years ago: their weakness in the face of the Romans at a time when Jerusalem was at its peak as the Jewish capital and the great loss of Jewish life induced by Rome.

What I fear the most, as a person who is interested in the building of civilizations rather than in the conflicts that lie between them, is the destruction of civilizations that today’s conflict could result in. The consequences could send us back to the undeveloped era when agriculture was humanity’s main source of income. The offensive force is gradually drained by the presently weaker defensive one. Any historian or analyst will admit the fact that joy and sadness will keep alternating on both sides, just like Yossi wrote: “My protection is your vulnerability, my celebration is your defeat. The inverse can also be true. Sometimes my misfortune evokes joy among some of my Palestinian neighbors”.
This reminds me of the animation series “Tom & Jerry” and while reading the book I sense Yossi Klein Halevi’s attempt at changing this endless cycle of enmity between the cat and the mouse. The responsibility to create dialogue and bring about change falls on the shoulders of the intellectuals, politicians and philosophers on the stronger side of the conflict in order to prepare for the day when there is a shift in the balance of power. Such a dialogue can prevent vengeful acts and brutal wars that tear down the pillars of humanity’s civilized triumphs which would take us back to square one. I see that the author aims to bring peace and rejects his state’s expansion through more settlement construction.

In this letter Yossi kept talking about events that reminded his neighbor that he (Yossi) was on the victorious side. Each time, right after mentioning a specific event, Yossi showed pity towards his Palestinian neighbor.  Even though Yossi’s descriptions were beautifully written, his words which express pity may stir some hateful and negative emotions on the other side. The Arab reader may perceive Yossi’s pity as an indirect threat; if my pity does not resonate with the Palestinians, I will lose my sympathy for you.

The human being is a physical entity which carries both positive and negative feelings, and I did my best to be as neutral as possible in my response. Having said that, as an Arab Muslim I would like to ask the Jewish people a question the way a cousin would ask cousins who share the same monotheistic belief in one God, the God of justice: who can ever benefit from oppressing the other?      

I would like to thank Mr Yossi and his skilled translator again, and I would love to borrow this next sentence that was translated from your book and use it as an ending for my letter:

 

“My future is inseparable from yours” 

Greetings, 

 

Ali from Iraq

 

=============================================================

My response to the fifth letter – Six Days and Fifty years


First of all, before I start discussing the topics raised in this letter, I would like to note that I loved how the fifth letter’s title made use of numbers, unlike the rest of the letters. This conveyed an interesting technique of grabbing the reader as well as Yossi’s skill in creating a good dynamic for the dialogue he attempts to conduct. As Yossi did in his previous letters, here, too, he started in a calm manner in order to soothe emotions and thoughts before addressing and discussing the difficult topics. 

I would like to thank Yossi again for creating this interesting dynamic which is similar to making Arabic coffee, the process of which starts calmly, simmers gradually and then boils for a tasty finish.


The fifth letter continues what Yossi had attempted to deliver in the second, third and fourth letters. I believe that he was genuine in his intentions and willingness to end the conflict with his Palestinian neighbor. Yossi expressed his genuine feelings of sorrow due to the current widening gap of denial among the two peoples. 

He was saddened that the Palestinian neighbor neither understands nor recognizes the 2000-year-long Jewish exile.
At the same time Yossi seems to be understanding towards the Palestinians’ pain. He feels the Palestinian pain and suffering and recalls this even during his happiest moments. I believe that Yossi’s education and childhood in Brooklyn played a major role in deepening this feeling of solidarity and sympathy towards others.

I believe that people like you, Yossi, who are understanding and have a sense of sympathy towards others, who see how people on the other side of this conflict fight for their dignity in response to that with which they are confronted, should implement these morals and values and help the other side maintain their dignity. The strong side of this conflict must act this way. The strong side must work out a way to achieve a win-win situation for both sides.

If you continue to believe that Abraham and Sarah were Jewish, the fight will not stop at the borders of 1967, because you basically demand the entire land, not only a part of it. This will put you in a situation where you are going to be God’s opponent and you will be unable to find the red heifer/young cow. 

And [recall] when Moses said to his people, “Indeed, Allah commands you to slaughter a cow.” They said, “Do you take us in ridicule?” 

He said, “I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant.”


They said, “Call upon your Lord to make clear to us what it is.” [Moses] said, “[ Allah ] says, ‘It is a cow which is neither old nor virgin, but median between that,’ so do what you are commanded.

They said, “Call upon your Lord to show us what is her color.” He said, “He says, ‘It is a yellow cow, bright in color – pleasing to the observers.’ “

They said, “Call upon your Lord to make clear to us what it is. Indeed, [all] cows look alike to us. And indeed we, if Allah wills, will be guided.”

He said, “He says, ‘It is a cow neither trained to plow the earth nor to irrigate the field, one free from fault with no spot upon her.’ ” They said, “Now you have come with the truth.” So they slaughtered her, but they could hardly do it.

sura 2 (al-Baqara), ayat 67-71

This demonstrates the stubbornness of the Children of Israel who kept asking unnecessary questions without readily following any of God’s commandments; had they slaughtered a cow, any cow, it would have been sufficient for them; but instead they complicated the matter and in return God made the task even more difficult for them.

(In Arabic Ali recites is a poem but it is very difficult to translate)I support you in your work, Yossi.  May we overcome our sorrows. May we uncover the truth and be clear about what is true and what is false on matters of history and legitimate rights.You are leading the boat with a rudder which is steered by your left hand and powered by your right. You need to move forward, Yossi. You need to further your initiative; do not stop here but rather implement it in politics. You need to learn from the lesson of the exile and how it was imperative to end it in order to solve the conflict. My response to this letter was based on some stories from the Arabic heritage, but mostly on your own letters and some other Jewish stories which were presented to us in films, such as the 1959 production of Ben Hur.
 
Yossi, I perceive you as someone who is determined when it comes to presenting your own narrative in which you wholeheartedly believe. 

I hope that you understand my words and accept the parts that may anger you (my critical points) before turning to those that will put a smile on your face. I want you to know that I cherish you a lot. 

 

Greetings

Ali from Iraq

 

=============================================================

My thoughts on the sixth letter: The Partition of Justice

 

A thousand years ago Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha fled Iraq in fear of the Abbasid caliphate’s persecution and settled in Mash’had, Iran, where he was buried in a shrine (<added by the translator: Imam Reza shrine called “the place of martyrdom”>) which many people still visit to this day and is considered one of Shiite Islam’s monuments. 

Taking into account the fact that Imam al-Ridha lived in Mash’had for the rest of his life, after fleeing Iraq, and all the years that had passed since then until his death, does this give any of his offspring the right to conquer that city and make it their own just because they are his descendants? It is important to note that his followers don’t conquer but rather purchase the land.

If we compare the demographic growth of the Jewish people over the last couple of millennia, which amount to 15 million, with that of the Palestinian population growth, we will find that the numbers are almost the same, unlike the case of Imam Al-Ridha’s followers where the numbers are much larger.

Let’s imagine these scenarios: the Native Americans claim ownership over their land, after having accumulated weapons or any other sort of means of asserting power, kicking out anyone who’s considered nowadays to be an American, including American Jews; the Irish people had won the battle against the kingdom of Queen Elizabeth; the Kurds had the opportunity to reclaim their land from the Turks. How would you expect the Palestinian mind to ignore his current situation under the Israeli oppression, even if the Jewish side is convinced of its truth and its right to the land?

Claim over land is an illogical concept when it comes to real life, where control is gained through power and weapons and the logic of “either me or my enemy” prevails, exposing humanity’s real nature. If this is the case, how can Yossi’s sympathy ever benefit his neighbor when Israeli offense and defense forces rule?

I really loved the purity of Yossi’s conflicted soul which hangs between nationalism and humanism. What the author refers to as “the destruction of the Jewish dream” can be renamed “Jewish reality”; the exile that the author fears can be re-evaluated based on the current situation and renamed “the past exile – never again”. What the author has described as a “deep historical pain of the Jewish nation” can be perceived as cautery treatment which generates “the emergence of life from death”, because sometimes the death of something or someone can generate new wishes and desires that may create a new life, just like the one found in retribution (referring to surat albaqara, 179).

I would have never thought of getting involved in such discussions unless I felt genuine positivity and seriousness from the writer who spoke about a broad segment of the Israeli community that shares the same orientation and openness towards their Palestinian neighbors.

I was both made more hopeful by learning his vision for the future and I enjoyed learning about his deep understanding of his own people’s right to the land while sharing dissatisfaction with the current borders and his wish to change this reality. 

Yossi believes in the emotional right of both Jews and Palestinians to the whole land because the ownership is shared by both peoples and each side has the right to each centimeter on this land. Therefore, the only solution I see here is the consensual territorial division so that each side’s property can be clearly defined before we are confronted with new claims of return from descendants of Romans or Kurdish offspring of Salahaddin Al-Ayubi, claiming their right to this land, especially with their similar expansionist vision.

The author doesn’t consider the Jewish fanaticism/maximalism to be fully justified even if that is the general view of Zionist leaders, especially in this sensitive era when we are witnessing a complete global change and immense challenge in public health and perhaps climate change as well. Under all these tensions and emerging diseases, which might have escaped from a laboratory or may be the start of a biological war, the collapse of the people of Israel could now happen without any intervention from Arabs, Palestinians or Muslims, because if the death rates in Israel reach similar rates as in other countries, it would affect the Jewish people’s population severely due to their small numbers. Quality-wise, on the Palestinian side, if a worker or farmer, a taxi driver or shopkeeper, an unemployed person or a politician, and so on, were to die from the Coronavirus, the loss to their community would not be as great as that of the death of an Israeli nuclear expert. If Israel loses its great minds – what would be the consequences for the next confrontation? 

I am filled with some sort of basic human joy when I read the bold psychological analysis written by the great author Yossi Klein Halevi of the complexity of this long-lasting conflict: “Neither side can relinquish its emotional claim to territorial wholeness. Yet not every claim must be implemented in full”.

In my opinion, such complexity can only be reconciled by both peoples coexisting under a mutual federal government: a federal government that is genuine, unlike the ridiculous Iraqi one.

The author, Yossi Klein Halevi, believes that flexibility and unlimited solutions must come from the Palestinian side, through their president Mahmoud Abbas, who apparently supports bringing the two peoples together, as we could see in an interview conducted by an Israeli journalist who asked the president: 

“What about the northern Israeli town of Safed, from which Abbas’s family fled in 1948?” and Abbas replied: “It’s my right to see it but not to live there”. Abbas gave up on all his emotional ties to his family’s hometown for the sake of creating a better future for his people.

Imagine people hosting a celebratory barbeque; some of the meat was burnt but the rest was edible. Let’s seize the opportunity to prepare the meat in a manner that will allow us to enjoy all of it before it burns. 

There is a unique opportunity that may not return so let’s seize the moment.

 

Greetings

Ali from Iraq

=============================================================

My notes on the Seventh Letter:  Isaac and Ishmael

 

Before reading the seventh chapter, I sat down and gazed at Yossi’s face in one of his photos. Yossi’s face reminded me of many people I had known before, whom I met while I was away from my homeland for forty years. This rekindled both good and bad memories. His dignified white beard – a sign of a man who is overly occupied with his fruitful work – reminded me of many European authors. His beautiful blue eyes reminded me of many Hollywood characters whose names I no longer recall.

At first glimpse, his image conveys the impression of a wise believer, a devout man who never lies or cons; a humanist, whose speech is faithful and lovely, just like the man he is. Yossi has a way of entering people’s hearts easily. 

By this chapter, we have already spent more than half of our journey together. We have covered more than half of all the difficult topics; including the ones I could discuss and the ones I couldn’t due to my limited knowledge of many religious concepts and traditions that may have changed over time since Adam and Eve, through Noah till Abraham and Ishmael, peace be upon them all.

The author has shown his respect to the prophets repeatedly, especially Abraham AlKhalil (the righteous friend of God). He visited their shrines in order to live up to his great grandfather’s legacy.

I was expecting Yossi to mention and elaborate on the miracle that occurred to Abraham when one oppressing king tried to burn him, especially due to the significance of burning in Jewish history. (In Arabic, the Holocaust is called “maHraqah”, the burning) 

This disappointed me and I hope that this will be my last disappointment as I continue reading.

The best way to conclude my response is by quoting from this chapter: “Both our traditions note that Abraham/Ibrahim was buried by Isaac and Ishmael, who overcame their rivalry to honor their father. Along with conflict, that, too, is our legacy. So is our father’s generosity: Perhaps the memory of his hospitality can help us find a way to accommodate each other’s presence in this land”. 

 

Greetings

Ali from Iraq

=============================================================

My response to the eighth letter: The Israeli Paradox

 

Once again, I reiterate my love for Mr. Klein for being both a faithful man and an objective analyst of events.  

Yossi played many difficult roles in this book; roles that would be difficult for even the most professional Hollywood actors. He played a man who embraces peace to please God as well as a man defending himself, his family and his people. As a dual citizen, he provides us with the best of what his experience had taught him about acceptance and rejectionism while growing up in America – the melting pot of communities (for better and for worse). Yossi may have thought that things would go a lot smoother in a bi-national state but…they didn’t.

So, he wrote an academic book titled Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor in which he sometimes plays the role of a radical Western Rabbi. He conveys a strictness that is a deeply rooted characteristic of the Orthodox Jewish Rabbinate. This Rabbi lost his homeland a long time ago and has recently returned home and became stricter and more protective because of his experience. 

Being in a position of power shines like gold and those in power usually don’t know what sacrifice is. So, based on my own understanding of Yossi’s psychology, it wasn’t easy for him to play the role of the one in power.

Yossi attempts to reach a possible solution that would ensure the safety and existence of his Jewish state. For this sake he discussed many possible solutions to the conflict. With the same determination, you see Yossi playing the role of a warrior who’s holding a rifle in one hand and a pen in the other. In doing so, he reminds me of some Arab parliament members who are originally Palestinians.

Later in the book, we see Mr. Klein don a kippah on his head, wear his tallit and pray on the hill right across his Palestinian neighbors; and in so doing, he plays yet another role, namely of one who understands and defends the Palestinians’ demands but does not forget his Jewish identity. 

Yossi is inflicted by two types of pain: one is caused by the Palestinians who can never be satisfied, no matter how sympathetic and understanding he is, and the other is caused by the Israeli radical right which constantly tries to prove that Yossi’s approach towards the Palestinians is futile. This is where Yossi states that the weaker side (the Palestinians) drains the energy of the stronger side (Israel).

Yossi, as a moderate warrior, feels lost and doesn’t know how to find a road map that will solve the conflict in a way that is any different from that of Netanyahu, Abbas and all the politicians who preceded them. Yossi feels stuck like a person who chokes on a piece of food that cannot be swallowed: he can neither swallow nor spit it out. Yossi is exhausted from dwelling on the matter of the identity and loyalty of the Israeli Arabs. On the one hand, they should be fully loyal to their country. But on the other, they are part of a people whose land was occupied and whose olive trees were severed. The Palestinians feel as if they were just guarding the land that the Jews were forced to leave until they returned.

The wounds are numerous and have accumulated in Yossi’s heart. The paradoxes on both sides seem to burden Yossi more and more: for example, the ongoing disputes between the religious and the civil courts when it comes to combining both Jewish law and secularism in the same state. 

Is Israel a state that is based on nationalism?

Or is it a religious state?

Or is it a diverse state like other countries?

These questions constantly spin in Yossi’s mind and fail to land on a conclusive answer.

There is another topic that confuses him even more greatly: the demographic majority. The reality seems trapped in a logic as circular as the famous conundrum of whether the chicken or the egg came first.  Here I must quote from the ending of the eighth letter: “Israel’s Jews are a curious majority: we are a majority in our own country but are acutely aware of being a minority in a hostile region”.

The following questions must be answered;

  • How could one population become a majority while the other became a minority?
  • Was it because one side has more reproductive stamina and the other side used birth control pills?
  • Was it the result of war and displacement?
  • Was it because one side was allowed to return and regroup while at the same time dispersing the other side and not allowing their refugees to return?
  • How could the Palestinians have clear minds and hearts that will permit them to accept solutions which seem like charity or favors from the Israelis?

 

In other words, all solutions are hard for bigots who can’t take the reality and the future into consideration. Both Jews and Arabs feel like minorities and majorities at the same time.

In the midst of all of these inner conflicts, the author states that:

“The fact that a majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel still identify to some extent with the state, even with no end in sight for our conflict, means that there is a basis from which to work toward a shared society and identity, however fraught. As a citizen of Israel, I am committed to this effort”.

In this statement I felt sincerity, a serious will and attempt to solve the conflict and to untangle the Israeli and Palestinian paradoxes. Yossi aspires to find an “anthem” that will satisfy both sides and respect their legitimacy on the land, because the land belongs only to God who created it.

 

Greetings,

 

Ali from Iraq


=============================================================

My response to the ninth letter: Victims and Survivors

To start, I would like to recite Surat Al-Fatiha and pray for the victims and martyrs all over the world.

“In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.
The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Reckoning.
You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help.
Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those who have received your grace;
not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray.
Amen.”  (Translated by Kabir Helminski)

It was a strange coincidence that I started reading this letter on Remembrance Day of this most painful event which has inflicted tremendous pain upon the souls and hearts of Jews for many years. Was the Holocaust a predetermined destiny, planned by some divine angels? Or was it committed by demons who wanted to deepen the sadness and pain in our hearts? I say “our” because no sane human being’s heart can disregard the deep pain of the Holocaust and we, Arabs, should feel it the most because it’s a deep pain inside the hearts of our cousins.

The souls of those innocent people will rise up to God in his heavens while the souls of the evil murderers will sink into hell.

As always, the author explained to us about his own suffering, which stems from this inherited Jewish pain, the pain of the Holocaust that saddens the entire Jewish nation – the grief that both the Arab and non-Arab media have not taken seriously enough and even, all too-often, denied. Yossi taught us and elaborated on this genocide and how the Nazis’ evil mindset invested so much in carrying out these atrocious acts. Their actions exposed their true intentions and the con of Nazism. 

While reading Yossi’s words in this letter I recalled a painful massacre that was committed in Iraq several years ago (in 2014) in which around 2000 Iraqi trainees were murdered in cold blood by ISIS. This massacre is known as the “Camp Speicher Massacre”.

Yossi explained to us about the undeniable historical event that happened to the Jewish people. The author presented the Holocaust from two different perspectives: the Jewish people’s perspective versus the way the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims perceive it. Even when he spoke about the unfortunate denial of the Holocaust, he did it respectfully without offending any party.

Yossi taught us about the Jewish rituals of commemorating this tragic event. He taught us about things that we had never learned about.  Yossi attempted to utilize this opportunity to strengthen the bond with his neighbors. The reader can see clearly how Yossi puts so much effort and so much pressure on himself as a Jew in order to demonstrate his sympathy toward his neighbors. At the same time, he hopes to receive the same understanding from them.

Yossi addresses the other side in a clear language that is strongly needed here; the language of reconciliation which requests his neighbors’ recognition of the Jewish side whilst admitting that the Israeli leadership has had its own faults as well.

Lastly, the author continues to invite his Palestinian neighbor to negotiate and conduct dialogue so that they’ll finally be able to come up with a solution together and rest, without fearing attacks from the other side.

 

As a reader I believe that peace is possible, even if it requires concessions from both sides, especially from the stronger one.

 

Greetings,

 

Ali from Iraq


=============================================================

My response to the tenth (and last) letter: A booth at the edge of the Desert

 

While reading the tenth letter and especially after I read both the Hebrew and the Arabic phrases at the end, “B’ezrat Hashem” and Inshallah (meaning: with G’d’s help), I felt like our journey had come to an end and the ship had stopped sailing. I’m filled with doubt and fear because the captain has just announced that the journey has come to an end and there is nothing left but to say farewell to each other, hoping that we’ll somehow get back in touch on some holiday or at some celebration in the future.

 

The ship of letters, led by Yossi Klein Halevi, the Jewish, American-Israeli of European origin, started sailing with the story of the peaceful and Quran-loving Imam from Gaza, traveled to many countries and historical stations before returning to dock in the tenth letter which is situated in between the two hills.

 

It was a model trip in providing information and demonstrating social reconciliation. It covered more than 90% of both the Israeli and the Palestinian life from different perspectives: sometimes he spoke as a person who has a right to the land while at other times he presented the perspective of an outsider observing the conflict.

 

I loved our long journey because it reminded me of the fragility of our reality and how transient life is.

 

I’ve seen how the author expressed his love for Quranic verses when he included them in his speech, but he never told us whether he believed that they were really sent by God or whether he merely considered them valuable sayings, much like the communists who discussed Quranic verses in debate.

I would like to quote Ayat Al-kursi: “Allah! There is no God but He – the Living, The Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor Sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there that can intercede In His presence except As he permitteth? He knoweth What (appeareth to His creatures as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass Aught of his knowledge Except as He willeth. His throne doth extend Over the heavens And on earth, and He feeleth No fatigue in guarding And preserving them, For He is the Most High. The Supreme (in glory).” [Surah al-Baqarah 2: 255]

Ayat al Kursi reminds me of what Yossi says in his book: “All reinforce the same message of a world in harmony with itself and its creator”.

Does Yossi believe that God entrusts humans with this land which has witnessed the most complicated conflicts in human history on earth? He also didn’t clarify if he believed that God gave humans the power to do whatever they wanted, based on their own beliefs, and whether those living on this land are superior to others.

In short, Yossi made 90% of what he tried to deliver clear but left 10% vague and unclear.

 

Acknowledgments:

The author thanked and expressed appreciation to many people who stood by his side and supported him before this magnificent book was published.

I would love to thank him as well, for opening this topic to public debate on social media and for writing about this from his own Jewish perspective. I had longed to read a book that was written this way by a Jewish author for a long while.

I would also love to thank the team of the beloved Yossi Klein Halevi.

 

Thank you, Brooklyn

 

With my best wishes- Ali from Iraq