My neighbour,

First, I would like to begin by addressing you as an intellectual Jew, noting that it is fortunate that this characterizes you better than a host of other potential descriptors, be it a politician, military serviceman, religious scholar or biased historian who cleaves only to his own narrative. I will not go into what the military war machine committed before and after the establishment of your state in 1948, for what happened has left a deep wound that hasn’t yet healed, not least because it ceaselessly operates even today with pride and vanity.

What I will, however, raise here are my thoughts regarding your book which I read solely out of respect for your right to introduce yourself, your outlook and your opinions, which in turn grant me an equal right to introduce myself and my way of thinking. You belong to a monotheistic religion whose prophets are the object of love, appreciation, respect and reverence in Islam.

I found myself wondering why you chose not to present yourself as a litterateur at the outset. How can a creative writer present himself as a “religious” person? What literature can be written by a religious person? Why were your letters not written in the spirit of a writer and a litterateur who is free from the constraints of religion but is rather in touch with the reality of both the Palestinians and the Israelis?

In my opinion, religious figures never produced literature; not in Islam, not in Judaism and not in Christianity. A true writer is more liberated and thus more able to reveal his own human identity and shed light on his struggles in search of peaceful coexistence with others.

I stand with you in support of the two-state solution. We are living in a situation that can only be described as a fait accompli. Certainly, there are common denominators between Judaism and Islam pertaining to the nature of God and both condemn contempt of faith. Our pride in our respective religions should not grant us licence to overlook reality and ignore the problematic situation on both sides. Just as there is Islamic fundamentalism, there is also Jewish fundamentalism, and both produce extremism and terrorism.

Yossi, you mentioned the reservist soldier Amnon Pomeranz who was lynched and burnt alive: this act was unequivocally unethical, inhumane and not remotely in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of our Prophet. However, it is likewise morally, humanly and religiously unacceptable according to Judaism to kill a terrified child seeking refuge in his father’s arms, to demolish a house and throw its inhabitants onto the street, to burn fields, and so on.

You wrote, “And so I address you, one person of faith to another,” but this framework of discourse is not one readily or easily accepted by intellectuals, for such secular thinkers have freed themselves from the stifling cloak of religion.

Furthermore, I consider your following remark to be inaccurate: “One reason, I believe, that the well-intentioned efforts of diplomats have failed so far is that they tend to ignore the deep religious commitments on both sides”. Yossi, the Muslim is already accepting of both the Jew and the Christian and has in fact coexisted with them both throughout history. That was, of course, until the declaration of the establishment of the Israeli state which signalled the rise of the killing machine, oppression, land appropriation and dispossession. 

Religion was not an obstacle that interfered with peaceful coexistence; Jews had lived peacefully in many Arab countries. They built and owned their places of worship, conducted their prayers, observed their customs and led a decent life in the Arab world whilst their counterparts in the West were being hunted down and burnt to ashes in crematoria.

Your question, “why are we arguing about who owns the land, when in the end the land will own us both?” is a fundamental one which is based on a concept I, myself, truly believe in. Nonetheless, while such a question may be appropriate in a sermon addressed to a religious congregation by a sheikh, priest or rabbi, it is not an effective or appropriate means of discourse amongst the educated who are aware of the facts on the ground.

Your term “the Palestinian narrative” is fundamentally inaccurate, too. The narrative at hand is rather “Arab-Islamic” and it concerns not just Palestine and the Palestinians, but rather the wider Arab and Islamic world of which the Palestinians are an integral part.

I’d put it to you that you should review the documents pertaining to the Oslo Accords in Israeli, British and American archives in order to learn about the reality of the talks and see for yourself whether the accords were implemented on the ground. You may also want to review the 2008 peace proposal, and while you’re at it, a look back at the early history of the establishment of the State of Israel may well be merited. Here, you can carefully assess the conduct of both Israelis and Palestinians and then see for yourself how and why we are moving further and further away from the Arab Peace Initiative.

Associating Judaism with the Zionist movement is a grave error. Judaism is a religion whose existence cannot be denied by any Muslim or Christian, just as the right of its children to exist on any land cannot be denied. The Zionist movement and its affiliates, however, are subject to hatred and hostility by Muslims who hold it responsible for the destruction of the Jewish-Muslim relationship. I personally consider Zionism to be a movement that has exploited religion as a pretext for erecting a religious state just as Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, seek to build a caliphate. There is no difference between the two in the manner in which they have gone about attempting to fulfil their purpose. What’s more, as long as the former movement is deemed to have been successful, the latter’s attempts will not cease.

You write: “I see my presence here as part of the return of indigenous, uprooted people, and a reborn Jewish state as an act of historic justice, of reparation”, and you continue, “I see your presence in this land as an essential part of its being.” So here we are, both owners of the land.

But, for how long were you absent from this land? And how long have I lived on it? Why did it take hundreds of years of absence before you finally returned? And if Christian host countries had permitted you to stay in the West, would you have awakened from your carelessness, and remembered and returned to your land? Or was it only when you found yourself trapped by escalating Western hostility that you conjured up the idea of return?

Tell me, how do you treat Middle Eastern Jews, and to what extent has your treatment of them changed? These Jews were respected, appreciated and loved in their Arab countries, but when they arrived in your country, they no longer received that care. Even today they encounter abhorrent racism.

In response to your question “And how do you see me?”, I must tell you that, as far as I’m concerned, you returned to the land, not with peaceful intentions and aspirations for coexistence, but armed with weapons. You killed, displaced and expelled. You did not return to establish a state founded on the basis of coexistence and peace between monotheistic religions.
 No Muslim can deny your right to live on this earth and we respect and appreciate your holy places and your right to observe your religious rituals in peace and comfort.

It is my opinion that religion, sooner or later, can only lead to clashes or full-blown conflict. Therefore, I say to you: forget those “sheikhs of the Sultan” (a term that refers to the cabal of religious figures, perceived as corrupt and hypocritical, who court state leaders). Focus on what matters the most; the people. One should distance oneself from religion and instead work on bringing people closer in literature, the arts, culture, and in shared, enlightened ideas.

All such areas are safe territory because, unlike the stifling and prescriptive nature of religion, they stem from the universal and humane and so, in turn, facilitate the freedom necessitated for literature and the arts to flourish.

Consider, if you will, just one example: can you measure the impact – the influence and immense sympathy – of Hollywood productions about the Holocaust? And what about the works of Kafka and other Jewish novelists and thinkers? The impact of the arts simply cannot be denied. There are films and books that can make even a stone weep.

However, the attempt to reach agreements based on religion will achieve nothing other than the continued pulling apart of the already vast chasms which separate each side, both of which will cleave ever more strongly to its own narrative, be it the Torah, the Qur’an or the Christian Bible. For coexistence and rapprochement there must be true freedom of expression in which there’s no absolute right or wrong; only the arts, and not religion, can facilitate such discourse.


Mohamad H from Egypt

September 30th, 2020