Dear Yossi,

I would love to share my honest opinion with you regarding your letters to your dear neighbor.

From someone who comes from Arab and Islamic origins you’d expect my mind to be filled with pre-judgmental ideas as a result of the education I was brought up on when I was a child and a youngster. Therefore, forgive me if I seem a bit radical.

While reading your book I sensed that I was gradually getting rid of the fear that was deeply engraved in my mind. I found myself reading your words and smiling to myself.

After reading the first letter I told myself: “keep reading the book till the end and see what this sneaky writer has to say”.

We have this phrase in Arabic “to eat a book” which means reading with passion, and I seriously felt that I was devouring your letters and would have finished them in one night had I not had other commitments. So, from this moment on I would like to address you as “my friend”.

My dear friend, you have challenged me to re-evaluate many of my concepts and understandings of so many aspects. 

In your first letter you wrote “Sometimes, in political arguments with Palestinians, I would be told: Why are we arguing about who owns the land, when in the end the land will own us both”. Such a statement raised a lot of questions in my mind. 

Each side has a history and a narrative in this conflict and the world’s history has been filled with blood and wars since Adam and his two sons, Cain and Abel, until this very day. Each and every one of us believes that his narrative is the absolute truth. 

Yossi, you present your narrative eloquently without prejudice against the other side while showing understanding towards their anger when they talk about their narrative. This approach scored you some points, Yossi. 

I started challenging my own thought and asked myself “what about perspectives? Are they changeable?” and the answer that is based on your book is “yes, they are”, or to follow your own words, perspectives can be changed if these two elements exist: curiosity and sympathy, so I would like to thank you for provoking my curiosity. This curiosity pushed me to read more in order to satisfy it and I embarked on a journey of probing deep into Jewish history and learning more about what Jews went through. 

The irony is that I ended up reading about what my Babylonian ancestors did to the Jews and how they persecuted them !

I also read Theodor Hertzl’s writings, “A Jewish State” and watched the movie “The Red Sea Diving Resort” that presents the rescue mission of the Ethiopian Jews on their way through the Sudan to Israel; I was moved by it so much that when they reached the Ben Gurion Airport I was in tears.

This was when I realized how you felt when you wrote about your own immigration to Israel and I wish I could have been there with you at that moment, even though I’m not Jewish.

I would like to thank you again, my dear, successful writer, for helping me take this load, this burden, off my chest; this burden that has occupied my mind for over half a century. At the same time, this new revelation made me feel helpless in contributing to solving this conflict. But your book inspired me to come up with this idea:

Why aren’t you thinking of creating a film based on your book and your experiences, especially since this book carries an important message of peace and reconciliation, not to mention that it has all the components of a successful film. I would love to be the director. 

 As I told your staff in one of our conversations, I am an actor and a director and I play one of the main roles in a Swedish film that’s called “Vernissage hos Gud” / Vernissage with God, which has not been released yet. I have also been working on a play that talks about a friendship between An Iraqi Jew and an Iraqi Muslim who met each other by chance in Sweden. I named this play “Yusaleem”, a combination of the words Yahoudi (Jewish) and Muslim. 

Last but not least, now I can serve as an eye that can view this conflict from a neutral perspective. We, Arabs and Jews, are capable of stopping this bloodshed that has been going on for 70 years and I truly believe that artists and intellectuals can contribute a lot in this. 

We are the ones who must start working on this. We shouldn’t let those who have been gambling on our blood, from both sides, control our lives. 

Wishing you good luck and hoping we stay in touch,

 

Ayad Hwady from Iraq

 

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Here is a link to Yossi’s reply to Ayad.

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Ayad’s second response to Yossi:

 

Dear Yossi

I think that one of the most interesting results that came out of publishing your book (Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor) is precisely what we are doing now: Exchanging our thoughts and ideas, forming new friendships and overcoming our inherited taboos.

You deserve rewards for this humane work that made our friendship possible thanks to the opportunity that I got to read your book. You are creating a new reality that breaks the ones who support endless wars while on the other hand encourages every one whose heart and mind are into building peace. I believe that your letters will be like Neil Armstrong’s step on the moon; As you know, he was quoted back then saying:  “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

You asked me to tell you a little bit about myself:

I was born in a small city called Nasiriyah in Iraq, which was the city of Ur in the times of the Sumerians, and which historians refer to as “The cradle of civilization”.

I was born to a very poor family. I used to sell Hummus and Fool on the streets after school hours,  but I was a big dreamer.

Afterwards I moved to Baghdad and started theater studies there. At that time the war between Iraq and Iran broke out and I was forced to flee the country and escape. Some may view me as a coward, others as a life-lover and you may feel free to perceive me any way you wish to.

I lived in Sweden for a while, then moved to Russia to finish my graduate studies in theater and got my master’s and doctorate degrees there. I went back to Sweden and have been living there ever since.

I participated and directed many plays, movies and TV shows. I managed to visit Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, but I could not go back to live there for obvious reasons. I still travel and visit Iraq from time to time to see my family and friends and to create some TV shows.

I am a dreamer. I have many dreams like anybody else. My hope is that I will be able to fulfill them before I die.

I have been married twice and have been blessed to have a son and a daughter.

This is briefly who I am.

With my love and respect,

Your friend and brother in humanity,

 

Ayad Hwady

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