Dear Yossi,

I’m writing to you with tears of joy in my eyes from the official announcement of the resumption of ties between Israel and Morocco. We’ve waited for this moment for far too long. We know that the Moroccan-Israeli relationship should have been publicly and formally normalised long ago, indeed before any other Arab country, due to the historical bonds Morocco shares with the Jewish people. Morocco’s new constitution of 2011 even recognised Jewish culture as a principal component of Moroccan identity.

My joy stems from the current wave of normalisation agreements taking place in the Middle East and beyond; a wave started by the UAE and Bahrain. Nonetheless, I contend that political normalisation between Israel and its former enemies, on its own, isn’t enough. We still have much to do, as peace activists, to normalise the acceptance of Israel among the ignorant majority of Arab society who know very little about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its details. It is at this juncture that your book Letters to my Palestinian Neighbour comes into play, enlightening the minds of those who don’t know.

Your book is original and unique of its kind since no Israeli author has ever directly addressed the wider Arab public in a sincere invitation to an open discussion. Consequently, no Palestinian, Arab or determined anti-Zionist has ever conducted such engagement. What makes your book more unique is the heavy emotional overlay of your rhetoric in which you frequently bring the similarities and commonalities of Islam and Judaism to the fore. Some may deride such an approach and its underlying logic as a fallacy, arguing that such appeals to emotion may be interpreted as a cynical exploitation of sentiment.

However, I maintain that such overlays are all too necessary in this context, since dialogue with a dogmatic and angry audience is impossible and it is therefore necessary to calm them down before engaging them in discussion. On the other hand, I’m apprehensive about the continuous and active involvement of religion in the conflict and making it the base for every conversation. Speaking as someone who lives in a society that is completely obsessed with religion, I see for myself that one of the main reasons Muslims oppose the State of Israel is the ideologization of the conflict and the limitation of every conversation to its religious context only. I’m pretty confident that there’s more to the conflict than religion.

I really do understand how religion is a more significant component of the Israeli narrative as opposed to its Palestinian counterpart. Israel encompasses the concept of the Jewish nation – a peculiar and tricky notion that you explain very effectively in your book – which implies that Judaism is a necessary and basic component of the Jewish identity. Here, I feel that I must quote from the third letter in which you have beautifully put all those complexities into simple words: “The very ordinariness of the people of Israel – a nation of freed slaves – was in some sense the point of their chosenness”.

In other words, this means that Jews were a collective of abandoned slaves, and it was Judaism that unified them, granted them a distinct identity and turned them into a civilisation. This stands apart not only from the Palestinian identity, but also from the other national identities of the Middle East which were established under British rule, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The majority of today’s Middle Eastern population shares no cultural link to the civilisations that preceded them, having replaced their former identities with the current-widespread Arabism, altering their vision of themselves and their history. I personally consider what happened to the Middle East and some North African countries a form of cultural plunder.

The concept of the Jewish nation is often misunderstood and mistakenly compared with Islamic fundamentalism or political Islam; a fallacy belied by many of the respondents to your book. Such a viewpoint is utterly remote from the truth, and it is precisely this gross misunderstanding amongst the Arab public that we must correct. Many are utterly ignorant about the concept of the Jewish nation, myself included – at least before I came across your book.

Your book has already played a huge role in refuting similar falsehoods and rumours demonizing the Jews. Throughout the history of the conflict, Islamists never ceased to trade in the Palestinian cause for the sake of achieving their political goals. And, of course, in order to make their strategy work and benefit them in electoral campaigns, they had to resort to different methods of indoctrination, targeting schools, universities and pulpits, preaching everywhere and securing a substantial following. Despite their good relations with Israel, many state apparatuses in the countries in which the Islamists operate have lacked the means to effectively prevent such propagandising activities as Islamists have long represented a powerful lobbying group in these countries. This is why many reacted with surprise to the Morocco-Israel declaration of relations, considering the internal challenges the state faces. We’ve long dreamt of such normalisation but are at the same time fearful of evil Islamist forces who know no reason nor logic, but rather rely solely on the sword.

Nonetheless, the strategy of His Majesty the King to reform the political and religious climate in Morocco over the years of his governance has proven effective in combating the Salafist influence throughout the years of his governance. He has placed mosques under surveillance and forced them to close directly after prayers, made the ministry of Islamic affairs determine Friday’s khutbah, and rendered it illegal for bearded men to join the police, army and gendarmerie forces. The King has also supported local Sufism by funding their shrines and their “Zawyas”, festivals, and indeed pretty much anything and everything that is culturally related to Sufism. Under his governance, he also adopted more “balanced” teachings of Islam in the educational system, and he has founded an institution that ordains Imams and exports them to Africa and Europe, a policy which has merited international praise as part of the global fight against terrorism.

It is not a novel idea for the people of this region to disassociate themselves from Eastern religious influences; Uqba Ibn Nafi was assassinated on his return journey after finally reaching Morocco for the first time, and the rebellious Tangierian king, Maysara Al-Matghari, lead the first successful revolt against the Umayyads, announcing the establishment of the Kingdom of Barghawata (his kingdom reached only northern Morocco because of tribal disputes over governance).

Even before the Umayyad Islamic occupation, Morocco was predominantly Jewish or Pagan. Radicals nowadays refuse to recognise the Jewish component in the constitution as one of Morocco’s indigenous identities just as they did before with the Amazigh. They persistently seek to exclude the other and replace pluralism with fundamentalism because only that way can they control people with their ceaseless rhetoric.

In writing your book, you provide an open source of information and a story that is hard to falsify. This is why I believe that if your letters – and indeed other material which conveys the Jewish story directly to the Arab world such as Mrs Lyn Julius’s book, Uprooted, – were to be widely circulated in the Arab world, it would constitute a great threat to Islamist antisemitic propaganda.

Even though I’m not religious, I must admit that I’ve come to deem it necessary for a person to fully understand the complexity of the concept of the Jewish nation in order to appreciate the treasure of words you espouse in your second letter, Need and Longing. Likewise, it is only through gaining an appropriate level of understanding of these ideas that we can value your beautiful prose which relay one of your most forceful arguments in defence of the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel which can be found in religious scripture, which is itself the basis of Jewish identity. Here, I quote from what you have written:

Throughout their wanderings, Jews carried with them the land of Israel, its seasonal rhythms, its stories and prophecies. In their study houses they debated the laws of shmita – the commandment to leave the land of Israel fallow every seven years to rest and restore itself. They knew its rhythm of planting and harvesting, as though they were still its farmers…we recited, as Jews have done for centuries, the ancient psalm ‘If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither’. And then, at the moment of our greatest joy, we broke a glass, in memory of the destroyed Temple

Finally, and ultimately, I consider your opinion regarding the conflict to be remarkably neutral and just since you support the two-state solution. As you write in one of your letters, the conflict will never be truly resolved without each side fully and unequivocally recognising the legitimacy of the other and by means of negotiation. This is what the UN calls for, and this is what my country, Morocco, stands by and has stood by ever since the beginning of the conflict.

Radicals from both sides should step aside and start accepting realistic solutions, since neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will ever leave the land. For you, as a Jew, and therefore as someone aligned with the winning side, there’s actually no reason to make concessions. Nonetheless, your logic has triumphed over your tribalistic instincts and loyalty to your people, and I can only thank you for being so noble.

Regarding Trump’s Deal of the Century, I am personally opposed to it since it consigns Palestinians no choice or say in anything. It’s the same “take it or leave it” rhetoric which the Arab peace initiative used against you in the past. It would also leave the Palestinians with no sovereignty over their land, as they would be denied their own military and state institutions. They would consequently lack administrative independence and would be what is called a protectorate; a protectorate of Israel. I hope you may share your opinions with me on this subject matter.

I look forward to continuing our correspondence in the hope that the conversation takes an exciting path.


Mohamed. S from Casablanca, Morocco