Duha Salem, response to the first and second letters,

 

Dear Yossi

 

I would like to thank you for putting the effort into writing this distinguished book with its meaningful message.  Communicating with and reaching out to the other side on a human level in order to bring peace and coexistence between both Israelis and Palestinians and Jews and Muslims, is such an honorable work! 

 

Your book has made me feel and understand your desperate need to live in permanent peace in this region and this is my wish for both you and your neighbors. 

 

What you wrote in this book touched both my heart and my mind. You presented us with the reality before and after the separation wall and enriched our knowledge with information that I read for the first time in my life and further enabled me to appreciate your crucial work in fulfilling the  beautiful dream of coexistence. 

 

This was my first impression after reading your first letter. 

 

The second letter was likewise enriching. You have managed to convince me that I was reading a story of someone who actually witnessed and lived through all of those difficult times. I found a lot of answers to many questions about which I used to wonder. You made me aware of the Israeli side and what they had  undergone during those difficult times, which I consider important for me to be aware of. Yet, at the same time, I felt that you were maintaining objectivity even in the smallest of details in your presentation of facts that pertained to both sides of the conflict. Even though you were telling us your story, I did not feel that you were biased.  

         

I felt the importance of understanding what happened in those difficult and crucial periods of time: the First Intifada, the Oslo Accords and why they failed, the Second Intifada in 2000 and post-Second Intifada. I understood how so many things deteriorated including, of course, the relations between the Palestinian and the Israeli people. 

 

It is very important for us to know what you, Israelis, went through during those periods of time in order to better understand the way you perceive us, Arabs and Palestinians; why you fear our side, and why this fear stands behind a lot of the actions you take to protect yourselves.

 

You have explained your suffering and pain in the past, and I was particularly amazed by the fact that you did not neglect to talk about your neighbor’s pain while talking about your own.

 

I have not yet finished the book, but I felt your genuine intention to seek peace with your neighbors and help them in their aspiration to have their own independent state, for their sake and for yours, so that they may live next to you and coexist in peace and security.   


I know that you are a writer and not a politician, but I want you to know that your words have power as well. If we had more people like you on both sides, people who had that genuine intention and dedication to change reality and bring peace, then peace would become reality.

 

I believe that words have their own power to change and influence people, which is the first step in harnessing their support to try and achieve peace.

The way you have presented things in the book was so interesting. I love it.

I am currently reading the third letter but I want to tell you that I am glad and proud to join you in your holy work by being granted the chance to read and relay to you my impressions. I would like to use this opportunity to thank your staff for reaching out to me and inviting me to read your book.

 


Blessings, 

 

Duha from Jordan 

 

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

Yossi’s response:

 

Dear Duha,

 

Thank you for your beautiful letter. As I was reading your words from the heart, I felt that it was worth writing this book, if only to get your response. 

 

I especially appreciated your observation that I tried to be sensitive to Palestinian suffering even as I was explaining what my own people has experienced.

 

For me, the key to the success of this work is genuine empathy — the ability to care about your neighbor’s life. I feel deeply that our future depends on that empathy. 

 

The world situation only reinforces how entwined we are with each other, even if we are separated by borders and walls. The coronavirus has reminded us how fragile we all are, and how we all breathe the same air and share the same fate. 

 

With blessings — and with the hope that you stay safe – 

 

Yossi


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

 

Duha Salem, response to letters three, four and five, 04.05.2020

Dear Yossi,

In each and every letter you wrote a lot of information that was not entirely clear to me. There are things with which I agree and others I do not, but I assure you that my disagreement will not turn me into an enemy.

 

The third letter, “Fate and Destiny”, revolves, on one hand, around this great achievement of building a modern new state, strengthening the fundamentals of tolerance and coexistence within the Jewish society by embracing all those Jews who came from different backgrounds and created a melting pot that blends various cultures together. On the other hand, what the Jewish people had gone through, in terms of being dispersed all over the world, is similar to the Palestinians’ situation. I also want to thank you for your clear explanations about Judaism.

 

Regarding your fourth letter, “Narrative and Presence”, you have expressed your Jewish patriotism and pride for finally having a country that is globally recognized. The independence that fills Jews with pride is also a catastrophe and a disgrace for Palestinians because they found themselves separated from their land, displaced and dispersed around the world as refugees. I also want to point out that you are a kind person and it is clear that humanity plays a big role in your life. You have beautifully expressed how you felt the Palestinians’ pain on this day (Nakba). You were also very honest and objective when you described the events that took place between 1948 and 1967, and you have clarified some highly important facts.

The fifth letter, “Six Days and Fifty Years”, is very important to me as an Arab reader. Yossi, you were so honest here and spoke about some facts that none of us can deny but at the same time dare not speak of. Manipulating innocent people’s feelings and telling them to leave their homes until the war is over, or else the Jews will kill them, was an utterly dishonest and shameful scam executed by the Arab side. There are many people who can testify that they left without seeing any armed men or soldiers chasing them. On the other hand, I would have appreciated it if you wrote and elaborated about what we know as the massacre of Deir Yassin.

 

Finally, the past should stay in the past, and we, the new generation, just want to live in peace and end all those conflicts and fights with the Jews. Jews have suffered, Palestinians have suffered as well and we are tired of conflicts.


I hope and wish that both sides reach fair and just solutions.

Kindly, 

Duha.


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

Yossi’s response:

Dear Duha,

Thanks so much for your follow-up letter, which I appreciated as I did your first response. 

You note that I didn’t deal with the Deir Yassin massacre in my book. Perhaps I should have gone more deeply into the history of 1948, when there were massacres committed by both sides against each other’s civilians. One of the ways in which both sides distort the past is by only focusing on massacres that happened to them, and ignoring the massacres that their side did to the other. 

I share your hope and prayer that we look more to the future than the past. 

Blessings to you and your family –

 

Yossi

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

Response to the sixth letter

My dear Yossi,


Allow me to respond to you as a Palestinian refugee who has personally suffered a lot but still has hope for her country. You have raised some good points and suggested solutions for the conflict and in so doing addressed both their advantages and disadvantages.


I am writing to you as a refugee who has never known her country but rather only heard about it. My grandfather, my father and the rest of my family left their hometown in Palestine, taking with them only what they could carry and the key to their house, intending to return after the war was over. My father told me that they never saw any armed soldiers; they naively obeyed the Arab league’s recommendation back then to leave for a short time for their own safety.


Then the war ended and they could never go back. Years have gone by and this whole time we have been dreaming of returning there. We have had a very tough experience living in Arab countries even though we share the same language and same religion. They still call us refugees and regard us as second-class citizens; to them, as you know, we are merely numbers, nothing more than statistics.

 

I, myself, am one of those who sympathize with the Jewish people for their suffering at the hands of both Arabs and Westerners, just as we have suffered.


Even UNRWA itself became a source of power for those who control it, exploiting the refugees’ plight for their personal gain.  Most of the time we, the refugees, have not benefited from the organization because of corruption; those corrupt people who control our fate and our will. Because of this, I’d prefer to live under Israeli rule; the two-state-solution requires, first and foremost, pure souls, and dirty politics only ruins its fulfilment.

 

I see now that it is time for both peoples to forget the pain of the past and work together to overcome all the difficult times they have gone through; hardships that have harmed a lot of innocent souls. 

 

Each side must recognize the other, protect its borders and live in peace and stability. Both peoples must negotiate solutions and work together to reach a compromise that pleases both sides.


Enough blood. I stand for the right of both peoples to visit all their religious sites and worship there freely. We need a real miracle to get us out of this predicament.

Sons of Ismaeel and Isaac were born to coexist, not to fight eternally over a piece of land.

Long live our motherland, and long live YOU.

 

Duha from Jordan

 

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

 

Response to the seventh letter: Isaac and Ishmael

 

My dear author Yossi,

 

Each letter of yours has some magic in it that draws me to read more and more: the manner in which you connect ideas and the deep meaning behind them touch my heart.

Isaac and Ishmael, peace be upon them, are both great prophets. They were the ones from whom we inherited our monotheism, the worship of one God and the submission to him, which they inherited in turn from our great ancestor Abraham, peace be upon him.

I found it so beautiful that every time you mention one of them, you mention the other as well, without conveying preference to one over the other, just like we, Muslims, do. But what is really important here is the fact that so many centuries have passed and the heritage of Abraham still exists, indisputably.

While reading this letter, so many thoughts have gone through my mind: it was then that I realized that our religions were almost the same, that we’re all monotheistic and that we share a lot in common. This made me ruminate and led me to the quandary that kept preoccupying my mind: who was the sacrificed son of Abraham? Was it Isaac or Ishmael? The Quran doesn’t specify. Some say Isaac and others contend that it was Ishmael. However, in the end, both of them submissively obeyed their God.


All of that belongs to the past, but the present is different and each religion has its own narrative, just as you described in this letter.

The cave of the Makhpelah is an important religious monument representing our ancestors, Ishmael and Isaac, where the parents had no quarrel with one other but their sons wasted their souls fighting to prove their own right to exist on this land. 

 

In fact, no one denies that the sons of Jacob existed and inhabited this holy land for a very long time but, nonetheless, both sides refuse to compromise and reconcile with the other. Neither of them want to stop the bloodshed and live in peace. 

 

Having said that, I don’t want to generalize about any side. We all know that the truth has been hidden from people for a long period of time. Indeed, I think that some people have started to realize this. The only way to reach the truth is to educate both Muslims and Jews.


I’m telling them all: grandsons of Isaac and Ishmael, you must be like your great forefathers who joined hands because they were honest and faithful. That is what I hope for both our nations because only through knowledge and faith can we see the light.

Finally, I would like to say this again: I love and appreciate your honesty and feelings of sympathy towards the victims who were murdered by an extremist Israeli in the cave of the Makhpelah and I salute your neutrality and acceptance of the various narratives.

Duha from Jordan

 

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

Response to the eighth letter:

 

My dear author Yossi,


In this eighth letter, “The Israeli Paradox”, you discussed a highly important topic relating to the natural dynamic of life in every multi-racial and multi-religious country; a reality which we often ignore although it is the essence of the social and psychological life of both the individual and the group. You described the diverse nature of Israeli society; its language, the tensions between religion and secularism, the differences between Western and Eastern Jews, and the many aspects of public life in which internal complications and disagreements abound.

Dear author, similar contradictions exist in various other countries which share a religion and language. However, the difficult circumstances and ever-changing events lead to revolutions that bring about new ideologies; ideologies that threaten to take over our daily life by force.


Unlike those countries, where freedom of expression is a red line, in Israel the individual is free to express his or her opinion and contribute to decision making through the ballot box. Even the Arab community in Israel benefited greatly from this democracy, and I myself have met many Israeli Arab citizens who live there and told me that they were enjoying all their civil rights; education, health, and even suffrage! 

They’re living in peace and coexistence with their Jewish Israeli neighbors because they are treated equally under the law that protects them all.

 

Even though some of them disagree with the current political situation and oppose the Knesset’s policies, they still enjoy their full rights including the right to criticize the government.


I stand for their right to criticize the government and its actions but I wholeheartedly disagree with organizing armed attacks and targeting civilians on the street, in cafes and or clubs because these are places where you find innocent human lives.


As an Arab woman, I respect and accept the average Israeli citizen who is not responsible for the decisions being taken on a higher level. It was the stupid politics that created that crack between us. Yet, I harbor hope in my heart that the up and coming generation which is, fortunately, more aware and educated, will be the one to overcome the hardships we are going through, and break the barriers between our peoples and create peace.

Thank you and may God bless you for everything you have written in this letter about Israeli society.

 

Yours,

 

Duha Salem from Jordan

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

Response to the ninth letter

 

My dear Yossi,

 

My response is going to be very emotional and humane. I wish to express my deep condolences to the Jewish people for what they suffered; the murder of 6 million of their people in the Holocaust, a mass murder of innocent people who were murdered for no reason other than being Jewish. The ninth letter was so moving. It expressed a lot of the pain and sorrow that the Jews of Europe went through. Nobody supported and helped them back then. They lost entire families and loved ones, and the resulting psychological damage from this trauma was unbearable. 

 

Yossi, you explained how you, as a people, overcame, moved forward and created new lives out of the ashes of the Holocaust. You also conveyed the horrifying experiences your people went through and this deeply saddened me. You managed to put the pain behind and move forward. It was time for you to return to your homeland, build your own state and finally live in peace and security.

I loved what you wrote about the joint trip you participated in with Muslims and Christians to Auschwitz; how despite the fact that there were people of different religions on the trip, their sense of humanity and empathy allowed them to feel the pain and the sorrow that your people went through.

 

History demands us to not forgive Hitler and all those who collaborated with him. 

 

May Allah bless the souls of the dead.

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

 

Response to the tenth letter: 

 

The last letter was a great ending for the book because it was written on a holiday, and holidays are usually filled with joy, celebration and happiness.


Sukkot is a spiritual holiday in which you commemorate the Exodus, the day Jews left Egypt, heading towards an arid desert.

You spoke about the types of plants that were being used for the construction of the hut – the sukkah – such as palm branches. 


I agree that faith is important for the individual’s life and can create a safer and a more peaceful world to live in. However, the main obstacles are caused by those in power to decide, who are in control of everything and take unilateral decisions upon us. If matters were in our hands, there would be no violence or separation walls because the nature of humans is pure, not evil. It pains us to see what’s happening in the region.

The main idea that I wish to deliver in my responses to your book is that religious figures have a huge impact on promoting either love or hate and that, therefore, religions must be free of negative speech and laws that incite to hate.

My suggestion for both sides would be to encourage rational intellectuals to hold lectures that may guide people how to overcome the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Greetings to you, 

I am hoping to read more of your interesting and purposeful work in the future.

 

Duha