“Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor “is a book that was published in 2018, is available both in English and in Arabic, and is currently being translated to Hebrew. The Arabic edition has 107 pages and the Author’s name is Yossi Klein Halevi.

Yossi is a writer and a commentator on Jewish and Israeli affairs. He has several published works that have received awards and he writes for several well-known publications. Over the past few years he co-directs an American initiative called The Muslim Leadership Initiative with imam Abdullah Antepli.

Mr Halevi is sending these letters as a serious attempt to explain the Jewish and the Israeli narrative to the Palestinians in specific and the Arabs and Muslims in general. He explains why both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, should respect each other’s historical narrative and legitimate nationalistic aspiration. He further explains to both sides why they have to adapt to the shared existence on this land that is fated to both people by God.

Yossi sends ten letters to his Palestinian neighbor:

The Wall Between us, Need and Longing, Fate and Destiny, Narrative and Presence, Six Days and Fifty Years, The Partition of Justice, Isaac and Ishmael, The Israeli Paradox, Victims and Survivors and A Booth at the Edge of the Desert.

Mr Halevi, a proud religious Jew who loves his homeland Israel, writes on the first letter about the importance of conducting good relations between Palestinians and Israelis. He encourages both sides to meet each other through peaceful encounters instead of wars, fear and destruction. He presents his religious views, believing in the importance of religions as a holy bond that unifies people. He also illustrates the similarities between the two religions, Judaism and Islam, which include a monotheistic message and several other aspects. Mr. Yossi explains that in order for both religions to come together – people from both sides must accept each other and the  similarities between them.

Even though history has proven that a lot of religions were merely tools used in many conflicts and wars, Mr. Yossi Halevi, due to his own faith, still believes in the ability of religions to unify human beings. 

If Mr. Halevi took a closer look at Gaza and the Arab countries surrounding Israel – he would have changed his mind; He would have seen how religions in general and Muslim sects in particular could not reach unity within themselves. Therefore, how does he expect us to believe that the two religions, Islam and Judaism, are capable of creating peace when political agreements, international laws and long term negotiations have failed to achieve this? Not to mention that each religion believes that it is the best and the only one that carries the final divine message. 

I think that addressing and approaching the other side through faith is an attempt that will not succeed in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The religious beliefs were and still are a major source of disagreement, division, quarrels and bloodshed. 

Mr. Halevi presents justifications to the failure of the Oslo Accords by shedding light on the Palestinian side’s responsibility in this failure; He talks in detail about the stages of these peace talks and how the constant rejectionism on the Palestinian side, under Yasser Arafat, contributed to this failure. He also speaks about the Israeli side’s responsibility in this failure by building more settlements while the talks were taking place.

Sometimes Mr. Halevi addresses his Palestinian neighbor through a logical approach while other times he uses emotional sentiments because he probably knows how Arabs are driven by emotions and therefore attempts to use approaches that would appeal to them, such as religion, good neighboring and shared history. At the same time he doesn’t shy away from insisting on the Jews’ right to exist on the land in their own Jewish state and explains to his neighbors that Israel’s right to exist in peace and security does not contradict the themes I’ve mentioned above (religion, good neighboring and shared history). 

The solution that Mr. Halevi envisions will be achieved through continuing to negotiate until both sides calm down and agree on living side by side in two separate states. I personally disagree with the Two-State-Solution and wholeheartedly support one secular, democratic Israeli state that includes everybody. 

The author manages to keep objectivity when he compared the ways Palestinians and Israeli perceive the events that compose this conflict. He spoke about the faults on both sides and how we can learn from them in order to build a new strategy that is based on both peoples’ right to exist within their separate states’ borders.

The topics he addresses in his letters are the well-known, controversial topics that the Israeli-Arab conflict revolves around: Jerusalem, the borders, the right of return, the settlements and coexistence. He believes that “The Key to ending the occupation is giving the Jews some hope that our withdrawal, our willingness to territorially contract, will be reciprocated by a willingness on your side to accept the West Bank and Gaza as the Palestinian State, without trying to undermine the state of Israel” (First letter, “The Wall Between Us”).

Halevi tries reaching out to his neighbor through intellectual, social and political approaches in order to convey how hatred on both sides created new generations that live in an atmosphere filled with revenge, hostility and exclusion of the other. He stresses the fact that such an atmosphere poses a major obstacle that has to be overcome in order to achieve peace and reach a permanent solution that is accepted by both sides. 

The letters end with an invitation to focus on spirituality and religion as a crucial starting point to achieving a lasting peace but in my eyes we must acknowledge and learn from history that these two were usually not a good basis for achieving a long lasting peace. 

Nonetheless, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” is a serious attempt to reading the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict through both humane and emotional perspectives. The context of this book revolves around the existence of both peoples on this land and their attempts to reach peace from the beginning of the conflict till the date of publishing the book.

With regards,

AbdulAziz Alqenaei
@Azizalqenaei

 

This is a translation to Arabic of the book review that was published in Arabic on elsada.net online magazine.