Neighbors without walls

 

Introduction:

I present myself to you today, a person who shattered conceptions that were imposed on me but which I’d never taken for granted; conceptions that I was prohibited from questioning or contemplating on, even for a second.

Due to the indoctrination imposed on me by my resentful environment, I started reading your book through a negative lens. I tried to extract every possible flaw from this book in order to outweigh any positive aspects.

I tried to escape the bitter truth of my community; a community which raised me to dig a hole for you to fall in, even if you were on your way to visit my ill father, for you are, in their eyes, the Jewish occupier. 

However, I must say, without the slightest exaggeration, that this book has broken down all the walls that confined me ever since I was a child. It was a starting point and a source of enlightenment that gave me the courage to tear those walls down.

Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor reminded me of things I was taught in theory but never dared to implement in practice: taking both side’s perspectives into consideration if we want to be fair and just regardless of the issues at hand, particularly with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Eventually, the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians boils down to a struggle between right and right (and we must admit that), even though it’s characterized by so many disagreements. We have to demand others’ rights just as we demand our own.

Yossi, you addressed the Palestinian as “my neighbor”, a word with purely humane connotations. Despite that, I could not help but disregard this word and hide from the truth with which your book’s lines glowed. My community taught me that an enemy will forever remain as such and can never turn into a neighbor. Nobody had ever taught me that these enemies and neighbors are, when all is said and done, human beings. 

You, Yossi, my fellow human, taught me how hearts could meet in spite of walls. Now that my walls have been torn down, I have become a neighbor of all human beings.

You, Yossi Klein Halevi, have always been my neighbor. 

 

In your book you acknowledge me and my existence. Every single time you addressed me, you called me “neighbor”. It would be a great honor to be both addressed as a neighbor and be the actual neighbor of a people who arose from ashes. 

If I don’t recognize your existence, my neighbor, I will be putting an end to my own existence. This thought has inspired me to give my review the title Jiran bila Judran, meaning: Neighbors without Walls.

Some people will call me a dreamer but why shouldn’t we dream? Indeed, the dream of peace is a beautiful one, and how much more beautiful would it be if we could actually fulfill it?

I myself started fulfilling this dream when I grasped the true meaning of the concept of peace. Awareness is a small, humble first step that made so many great things happen. 

It pains me that we have eyes but no vision. It pains me even more, my neighbor, that the ugly wall of separation serves the purpose of granting security.

I am wondering how we share one land but don’t allow our hearts to tear down the walls of blind hatred and hostility. Had we done that, we would be teaching the next generation a lesson in history: how a long and difficult process starts with this first important step. What kind of legacy will we leave if we don’t end this conflict?

Only those who know the real meaning of genuine peace and have the will to leave a positive legacy for the next generation can answer this question.

Our children must be raised on good morals and values and this is why I shall proceed to talk about religion in the rest of my response.

I admire religions which provide humans with light that can guide them throughout their lives. Religion can greatly impact our behavior and how we lead our lives. 

I believe that each religion provides us with morals. In my opinion, the main standard through which we can judge who is genuinely religious and who isn’t is the extent to which one follows these morals. 

We, my Arab brothers, did not choose our color, our race and our religion, so how can we judge others based on parameters they did not choose?

Poor is the one who has no morals and values even if he has gold. Possession does not make one rich – it’s his or her values that do.

There’s a deep concept that binds all humans and through which we can judge people’s behavior: it is called humanity. Let’s pretend that Arabs wipe Israel off the map. Amongst whom will we get the opportunity to practice our human values? With whom will we practice coexistence and tolerance? 

Coexistence and tolerance are values and morals we have been hearing about since childhood but never had the chance to practice on our neighbors. 

For how much longer must these values be mere theory?

If we implement these morals in our daily life we would be able to break down the walls that separate us and move forward towards peaceful relations with our human neighbors. Eventually, these morals and values will constitute the spirit that will remain once we leave this world. This is the only way that will enable our children to break down the tangible and intangible barriers between us.

 

Peace is a value that lights up the darkness in the heart of ignorant people. It also demonstrates the extent to which a human being is genuinely committed to his/her values. Living in a world with a diversity of religions must strengthen the value of peace within our hearts because religions can play a major role in achieving this. 

This is the time to give peace another chance regardless of the walls between us, my dear Israeli neighbor. Indeed, we haven’t inherited peace from our fathers and grandfathers, who have been fighting each other for a hundred years, but we can create it ourselves and leave it as a legacy for our children.

Our good intentions and determination will be the compass which will direct us toward achieving this mission.

Peace doesn’t necessarily mean that we cannot hold different points of view; on the contrary, diversity of opinions in itself makes our world more beautiful. The opinions we consider to be right will ascend just like beautiful things ascend to heaven and the ones we consider as wrong will descend just as rain falls from the sky. In both cases we witness beautiful moments. We complete each other. 

Imagine how beautiful it will be when we change the fate of generations to come; generations who currently believe that they will continue fighting forever and obliterate the other. 

The one who ignores the impact of peace on our lives and allows hatred to take over his heart is like one who ignores the threat a pandemic poses to his life. I would like to tell such people: peace is your medicine.

I contemplate how we, Muslims, do not make peace with our Israeli neighbors; people who follow an Abrahamic religion and continue to overcome any and every obstacle that was imposed upon them.

Yossi, you have told us in your book that Abraham’s tomb is in Hebron. This fact should motivate us –  those who live on this land and are descendants of this great ancestor – to unify and live together as neighbors. 

I keep wondering why peace has to be in return for land. Why can’t peace simply be in return for… peace?! 

I don’t think we can tear down the physical barrier without tearing down the hostility and hatred in our hearts. 

Indeed, wars leave destruction, victims and dead bodies. However, they also encourage us to reconcile and turn hostility into friendship. This is possible. It doesn’t need a miracle to happen, especially if both sides understand that they fight each other because they love the land, not because they hate each other.

If we conduct peace, we will prevent any ignorant ideology of terror from rising, spreading and taking over. Such ideology only destroys the land and the prospects of future generations.

Let’s tear down the walls and serve as a role model for the next generations; a role model that is much needed in these difficult times.

Last but not least,

I would like to address my Arab brothers: 

I swear to God, I don’t criticize just for the sake of criticizing. I do this to light the way. I may offend some people with my honesty but I will never satisfy anybody with lies. 

I know that some of you may perceive me as the one who lost his identity but I want to tell you that I actually found my identity when I discovered the meaning of genuine peace.

Some of you will ask “how much did Israel pay you to speak this way?” and I will answer: no money can buy one’s desire for peace because the source of peace is the heart.

I swear to God that you’ll never find peace in your life as long as your hearts are full of hatred and hostility. This hatred is like acid; it first burns the container in which it is stored before continuing to burn other things. 

The real occupation in my eyes is when hatred and hostility occupy the hearts. The moment hatred occupies the hearts, the occupation of the land begins. We should let values such as love and acceptance occupy our hearts instead; only when these values occupy the heart will we actually witness change in our lives. 

I would like to share lines from a poem written by Wa’el Juha which summarize my thoughts: 

Conscience and feelings died

lives are in vain

 

Did humanity die in us?                 

Or did values escape us?

 

We sold our brotherhood for nought

How could we sell diamonds so cheaply?

 

Have we ever pondered on life’s transience?

Nobody can defeat death

 

On judgment day each soul shall reap what it deserves,     

and the people will weep over their wrongdoing

 

I also want to say to my Arab brothers that we have to take responsibility for our mistakes. We should admit our wrongdoing. We should learn from the past in order to pave a different path for the next generation. We have to do this to save our kids from the violence which is taking over their lives. 

I would like to end my letter by sending warm wishes to my Jewish neighbors and send them my greetings for the new Jewish year; my greetings are virtual at this point but I am hoping to visit you and express my wishes in person when you host me in your place, someday. 

I also appreciate any human being’s effort to seek peace and work for it, just as I hope that this message may contribute to reaching peace with our neighbors. 

Regards,

Iyad from Jordan