I have just finished reading about a quarter of the book Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor which was written by the author Yossi Klein Halevi. This book merits to be considered a distinguished work of literature which explains and focuses on the religious Jewish identity. Based on what I have read so far, Yossi portrays the conflict between the Palestinians and their Israeli neighbors as a confrontation between two religions and here lies my first disagreement with Yossi. Samuel Phillips Huntington, a well-known American intellectual, describes in one of his books the conflicts between nations as a conflict between civilizations. I, too, believe that this is what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about; a conflict between civilizations.

To be honest, after reading the introduction and the first couple of letters (till page 25) it felt to me as if Yossi were addressing his Jewish neighbor, not his Palestinian one. Yossi was focusing on and discussing in length issues related to the religious background of the Jewish people and how the land of Zion was considered to be the promised land based on the Torah. These issues took up most of these chapters.“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy. “

It seems like Yossi may have forgotten that he was addressing his Muslim or Christian neighbors who don’t care much about the Israeli dream and God’s promise to the Israelites after the exile as much as they care about their own part in this story, their future and their own identity (as Yossi described it “the way that Palestinians want to identify themselves”).

The story that Yossi mentioned on page 8 (in the Arabic translation) regarding Sheikh Abdulrahim whom he had met at al Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza proves my point. In this story Yossi explained nicely to the sheikh, who insisted on converting him to Islam, that such conversion was impossible. I fail to understand the point of relaying such stories and events if Yossi wants to focus on and explain about the Jewish historical right in their holy land. What is the importance of telling these stories when you are trying to convince the neighbor on the other side of the ugly wall, as Yossi puts it, of the legitimate Jewish right to the land which is filled with settlements; that huge piece of land that has unclear borders?

Whilst reading the first pages of the book I felt that Yossi was preaching to the choir: he was no different than the Muslim Imams and religious figures who keep preaching about the existence of God to an audience of monotheistic believers!

To be honest, I felt that this book was merely religious and carried a humane and respectful message, but it had nothing to do with reality and the serious issues between Arabs and Israel.

In fact, the current Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and the American president Donald Trump share the same justification for the failure of the peace process. They both claim that Israel and America had offered their peace initiatives, but the Arabs and Palestinians never accepted those offers.

I completely understand the Israeli fears that result from the hate speech and incitement in the Arab world but let me tell you something, my dear Israeli neighbor: Prime Minister Rabin, who was in some ways like any other hardcore right winger, and even Ariel Sharon, were more courageous than Netanyahu. They took decisions that Bibi would never dare take. I am afraid that the current miserable situation in the Arab world is what motivates him to be even more extreme. But one who reads history knows that nothing lasts forever. How many nations and regimes dominated others before they eventually collapsed and the original inhabitants took over? The ones who genuinely love Israel should not cause it to gain more enemies; they should demand Israel to offer justice instead.

I have noticed that my friend, Yossi, did not shed light or discuss in detail the period of time when Jews left Palestine after the Romans had expelled them from the land. I think that talking more about that part of history would bring some understanding to both narratives because both peoples lived in and were expelled from this land.

We are all aware of the humanity that is rooted in Judaism even though Jews had a lot of arguments with God.

I think that Jews consider their military power as the only guarantee for their existence in this region. We understand the Jewish fears, but Yossi did not say anything about the Israeli leaders of Israeli institutions, particularly in the military, who keep inciting and threatening to wage wars.

Again, we understand the Jewish fears but at the same time we must not ignore the Palestinians who have been demanding their right to an independent state, just like any other people who seek this basic right. The current right-wing bloc which is in charge of the Israeli government seems to NOT be committed to any agreement that former Israeli leaders, even from the Israeli right-wing, had signed with the Palestinians. The current Israeli right wing is also adding more sanctions and exploiting the situation in the Arab world; a miserable situation that I believe will change soon.

I will continue reading and will hopefully send you more of my notes.

Best regards,

Muhammad from Egypt


To read Yossi’s response check this link