Dear Yossi,

Thank you for inviting me to read your beautiful book “Letters to my Palestinian neighbor” which I have had the pleasure to read thoroughly. I appreciate the efforts you have put into explaining a lot of controversial issues in detail, not to mention your courage and honesty in addressing these issues by discussing both their positive and negative sides.

I would also like to thank you for creating this platform for dialogue so that we can hear/read each other, and this is what encouraged me to write to you: I felt that there was a listening ear on the other side.

I believe that putting all the controversial and problematic topics on the table, listening to all perspectives and to what people went through, and understanding their pain and suffering during those long decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict are of high importance and we must discuss it all together. Therefore, I would love to share my perspectives and present my views as a human being who thinks about this conflict on a larger scale: the Middle East, the Arab and the Muslim worlds, and how those have shaped this conflict and were affected by it.

To begin with, I think that a proper diagnosis of the reasons behind the conflict without ignoring the reality is an important step towards finding the proper cure, the solution that would end it.

A proper diagnosis should start with religion. I think that the reason Arabs and Muslims view this conflict through a religious lens is attributed to the Arab and Islamic religious and intellectual heritage that portray it like that. The media and education systems were used as tools to deepen and strengthen this perspective. The inciting rhetoric did not leave people any space to think or question what they were being taught. Diversity was absent from those education systems in all aspects (opinions, religions), which contributed a lot in creating hostility towards those who were “different”, and Jews were at the top of the list: they were continuously being portrayed as the ones who are plotted to fight Islam.

I believe that Jews are generally educated and know about Islam a lot more than Muslims know about Judaism. Having said that, I think religious Jews strayed away from the way Jews were originally guided to perceive others.

The problem with religions is that on one hand they can serve as strengthening forces in any society but on the other hand they can weaken societies if spirituality is used for the sake of incitement against other peoples.

If we look back in history we find that it is filled with twisted information that contradicts the very fundamentals of mercy in the three monotheistic religions. This results in approaches that promote incitement against Jews and focus solely on the bad sides, if existed, while completely ignoring the good sides.

Those inciters completely forget, or pretend to forget, that the first peace treaty since Muhammad got to Yathrib was conducted with the Jews. If we focus on Yathrib, it is clear that Jews were there a long time before Muslims ever got there and they never demanded Muslims to get out of Yathrib, unlike Muslims who keep demanding from Jews to leave Jerusalem

I liked Yossi’s approach of bringing positive sides and focusing on them and I believe that history can present us with positive examples of Jewish-Muslim relations. Yossi mentioned how the Caliph Omar ibn Alkhatab treated Jews when he took over Jerusalem: he allowed Jews to enter the city and granted them freedom to practice Judaism and worship God in their holy sites.

Jews were among the non-Muslim groups that were classified as Dhimmi under Islam and had to be protected and those groups were also referred to as “Al-Mo’alaftu Qulubuhum” – those whose hearts are to be reconciled/those who are hesitant in their faith – and Muslims were commanded to give them a part of their Zakat *** (see a disclaimer on email regarding this topic) so if we were ordered to give our Zakat to them – how can we possibly hate them?

I believe that portraying Jews and Muslims as the worst enemies is a big obstacle to reconciliation. Muslims should not perceive Jews as the enemies of Islam and Jews should not describe all acts of terror as Muslim terror. I believe that such negative rhetoric causes us to lose moderates on both sides who accept each other and believe that both religions can coexist.

On the political side, we live in the 21st century and we have reached an era that has proven that diplomacy can contribute a lot in solving problems. Violence has never brought anything but more destruction. However, diplomacy in itself is not enough. Dialogue between people on both sides is imperative in understanding each side’s narrative. I believe that social interaction between people who are in conflict is a major element that can assist in finding solutions and this is precisely why a lot of Arab regimes prohibit such interactions between their people and the Israelis and label it as a crime. Any Arab would be portrayed as a betrayer and as an Israeli spy if he/she spoke about peace with Israel as an alternative for fighting. This is why so many people are afraid to speak out and read your book.

This is, unfortunately, the consequence of living under unipolar political regimes.

The borders issue is another obstacle in this conflict but I think it is the least of the concerns. I want you to know that fighting over borders is a common thing that happens a lot between neighboring countries. The character of the state/solution is the most complicated problem: one state or two, secular or religious, one nationality or bi-national? what about Jerusalem? Should it unify or divide us? And how could Jerusalem be a place that respects everybody and treats us all as equal? All of these are extremely challenging obstacles that must be addressed.

I believe that the rhetoric of portraying Israel as the enemy must be changed. The phrase “the Israeli enemy” is engraved in the Arabic media discourse. On some passports there is an inscription that reads “Allowed to visit all countries except Israel”. How would the average Arab feel when he is surrounded by such deep rooted hostility? Of course he will continue the flow of viewing the Israeli as the enemy.

If we just took a brief look at our inner Arab conflicts we would change our own understanding and perception of the phrase “Israeli enemy”. Sudan, my country, is one of the Arab countries that paid a heavy price due to inner violent conflicts derived from and motivated by Arab nationalism . We have witnessed so many bloody violent fights that caused immense destruction and Israel had nothing to do with it but it is still being portrayed as the enemy.

Regarding the social aspect and the relations between people: I believe that Arabs and Muslims who are farther away from the cycle of incitement of the “Arab Nationalism” are less hostile towards Jews. A lot of them can provide us with good models of positive relations with Jews. When I read their positive stories and get to know people like those, I am filled with hope that peace and coexistence are possible.

Finally, I believe that peace without love is like fake flowers made of plastic. They lack authentic beauty and fragrance. Therefore, I want to thank you again for trying to create genuine peace that is based on love between both sides. I also appreciate your attempt to focus on positive discourse that brings hope to people and I really hope that the dialogue continues, especially at a time when everybody thinks it is impossible.

I am trying to invite more Sudanese friends to read your book and I hope that they will accept my invitation, read and send you their responses and by doing so – they will engage in this beautiful circle of dialogue between our people.

Greetings,

Nasir Altayib from Sudan