November 29th, 2019

Dear Yossi, 

I read your wonderful book which brims with your investment in its pages and testifies to your dedication to spread the words of truth; words that reflect the spirit of millions of Jewish men, women and children for thousands of years. Your words represent the voice of generations of Jews who refused to accept exile and humiliation. They represent a people who have sought a stable life in the midst of death and destruction. I could actually feel the existential fears of the Jews whilst reading your words on page 59 of the Arabic edition. 

In reading your book, I envisaged in my mind an innocent, little but angry girl who witnesses how her family is being torn apart by her two brothers who are fighting each  other. She is horrified to see her house burning and about to fall down. We can clearly sense the imminent threat she feels, stemming from her deep love of her family (page 57, Arabic translation). 

This girl is unique because she doesn’t like the tall, empty buildings on the other side of the wall. It seems as though she wants to say things, but she remains silent. When the fight between the brothers reaches its peak and the girl realizes that the path to peace is blocked, she decides to follow a spiritual path that she believes may touch her brothers’ hearts and help them reconcile. This girl believes that there is a spiritual domain that lies above all of this earthly, materialistic life, which can lead, one way or another, to hope. 

She contends that the first step towards hope is standing in the middle and balancing the two sides that are represented by her two brothers, as if she were a measuring scale. She feels that the two sides are equal and asks herself “where is the problem? Why can’t my brothers reconcile and make peace already? It’s absurd”. She then walks towards the balcony that overlooks French Hill, holding a bunch of papers. She yells out loud, calls her two brothers and throws the papers from the balcony. As the wind carries the drifting pieces of paper, we can read the beautiful, wise words that were written on them: 

“But you are never permitted, under any circumstances, to humiliate another human being” (page 58 in the Arabic translation), 

“The sin of not seeing, of becoming so enraptured with one’s own story, the justice and poetry of one’s national epic, that you can’t acknowledge the consequences to another people of fulfilling the whole of your own people’s dream” (page 57 in the Arabic translation),

“The Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua has called our conflict a struggle between ‘right and right’” (page 61 in the Arabic translation),

“I believe that if our two societies are someday to coexist as equal neighbors, we need to begin talking about this prolonged ordeal that has bound us together in pathological entwinement” (page 59 in the Arabic translation).

While the two brothers are trying to collect the sheets of paper that flew up in the air, a bird lands atop the girl’s shoulder and starts singing a melancholic melody. “Why are you sad?”, asks the girl. 

“One of your brothers has a problem and this causes him to be unstable”, the bird replies.

“Is this instability caused by economic problems? If this is the case, I can ask some friends for help”, says the girl.

“The economic aspect is one part of the problem, but it is not THE problem”, the bird replies. “Your cousins in Iraq and the Gulf have an abundance of money. Yet, they’re fighting each other endlessly.”

The girl turns to the unstable brother and asks him “Are you willing to divide this house so that we can put an end to this quarrel?” 

The brother responds: “Fine. I will temporarily accept this division, but you must know that this is just a ceasefire which will hold only until I become strong enough to take over the entire house.”

The girl gets angry and yells at her brother: “I cannot believe that you actually want to take over the entire house and kick us all out!”

She turns to the bird in despair and asks, “How can I solve the problem with this brother?”

“Ask your little neighbor”, the bird replies and flies away.

Dear Yossi, I’m not an imam, nor am I a politician. I just want to express my thoughts in my own way. I work as a social mediator whose job it is to bridge gaps between people.

After reading your book I needed some peace and silence around me. I felt like listening to wah-jai-ma music but even those relaxing tunes could not distract me from the sad reality of our region. 

I recalled how four years ago I decided to implement my experience in mediation by helping my own community. I probed deep into the situation of the Arab world and, wherever I turned, I found myself ending up back at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I tried to study the Middle East without touching on this conflict, but it was impossible to avoid it. I started a social project with very limited resources. Its aim was to create civil integration in the most trouble-ridden Arab communities. The project was supposed to promote social, cultural and humanitarian developments in the region, ultimately bringing an authentic peace based on deep connections formed between all sides involved.

When I look at the reality of the Arab world, I am filled with sadness because I see how so many issues and problems are handled violently by the people whilst, simultaneously, the political class tramples on liberties through the imposition of iron-fisted security measures and political repression. Social solutions to societal problems are not even taken into consideration. And when somebody finally does decide to address a problem from a social perspective, it is doubtless pounced upon and exploited by religious figures to incite and spread hatred. 

In the Arab world, everybody is incited by their own governments against the virtual enemy, which happens to be Israel, unfortunately. We all know that the Palestinian issue is a card that is being used by all Arab dictatorships. This makes me wonder why Israel is trying to conduct peace agreements with these dictatorships, for they do not represent the people nor their aspirations. Consequently, the Arab people who live under these dictatorships perceive any agreement conducted by their governments as treason, whether it be with Israel or any other entity. 

Recently, the “virtual enemy” has shifted from Israel to either Iran or Turkey, and I’m asking myself two questions, the first of which addresses the future:

Deep-rooted conspiracy theories in the Arab mindset have convinced the Arabs that they are constantly being targeted. So, when the Iranian and Turkish threats end, who will be the next virtual enemy? In other words, I wonder whether the Palestinian issue will come back to haunt us once the current threats are gone.

The other question upon which I ponder is a pragmatic one: if current Arab dictatorships conduct peace treaties – which I personally view as mere ceasefires – with Israel, will they be able to change the mindset of the mainstream Arab masses?

In my opinion, only a few will change their views regarding Israel. The vast majority will remain hateful because the dictators want the situation to stay this way so as to boast of fictitious victories against the virtual enemy if and when needed. 

Just as the color-blind cannot distinguish between colors, so too your Arab neighbor cannot distinguish between real and fictitious causes to his misery. Your Arab neighbor is sinking in bloodshed, catastrophe and destruction. This grave situation requires seeking permanent solutions that can dramatically change your neighbor’s reality in all aspects: the humane, the social and the cultural. I believe that this is a golden time to seek and find these solutions. 

My question to you, dear Yossi, is this: who are you addressing in this book? Are you addressing your hostile Arab neighbor or rather the undecided one who harbors unstable views? Are you talking to the one who understands your claims or to a future neighbor who has yet to be born?

Let’s explore these four types of Arab neighbors:

The first one is the hostile one who rejects the Israeli cause for ideological reasons, having allowed himself to be passively indoctrinated. He perceives Israel as the colonizer and occupier, and he refuses to alter this perspective no matter what. 

The second type is the undecided or unstable one. By “undecided” I refer to the one who drifts with the current and easily changes his mind. This type originally rejected the Israeli cause due to reasons that may have been influenced by religious indoctrination. This type is more dangerous (in my opinion) than the hostile one because he is easily prone to manipulation and can change his views 180 degrees. Altering this type’s character is extremely challenging, but one can utilize the periods of time in which he does not stand against us in a way that serves our aspiration of finding a peaceful solution. 

The third type of neighbor is the one who assuredly accepts the Israeli cause. There aren’t, unfortunately, many who fall under this category and the few who do are afraid to speak their mind and voice their opinions lest it be held against them. Such views may lead to Arab jail cells in which they could well be tortured. This type barely has any influence on the Arab masses.  

The fourth and final type is the neighbor who has yet to be born. This is the one I refer to as the “little neighbor” in my story. I would love to elaborate more about this type when I get the opportunity to discuss things with you in private.

I tried to be proactive so I sent the Arabic edition of your book to several friends who belong to the first three types of neighbors in order to present the reality. I am sure you are familiar with these types of responses, but I nonetheless want to briefly share with you the sort of feedback I received and would expect you to receive as well:

1- Responses from the first type of neighbor will obviously be of a negative nature; these readers perceive you, the author, as an arrogant man who twists and distorts history. Your sympathy with your Palestinian neighbor will not register due to the relentless indoctrination they have unconsciously absorbed.

To be honest with you, referencing your past as a radical religious zealot will be held against you by these Arab readers. You will be perceived as someone whose past has been tainted. While a reader with a Western mentality may see you as courageous and enlightened for admitting your past faults, Arab readers will be convinced that the bad can never be erased.

2- If anybody who falls under the second type reads your book, he will likely find himself indifferent or bored because he is not of a spiritual persuasion. The fact that his views may have been influenced by religious indoctrination doesn’t mean that he is in fact wholly spiritual himself. 

This type’s mindset seeks only for what can be advantageous to him. He doesn’t care about the humane nor does he delve deep into things. His perspectives are shallow.

3- Those of the third type, the open-minded ones, are the second type’s adversaries. In fact, they do not tolerate them. At the same time, they are in constant and direct exposure to the first type and have consequently learned how to manage these people, at least, to a modest degree.

Those of the third type who read your book will think deeply how to change the miserable reality. However, they would most likely remain silent because of the risks that accompany outwardly thinking as such. 

Dear Yossi, you cited in your book the well-known fact that 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab. It is also well-known that many Israeli Arabs face difficulties integrating into Israeli society and that various different factors are attributed to this. However, the factor on which I would like to focus is the guilt they feel towards the Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and the rest of the world. In trying to integrate into Israeli society, they feel as though they are betraying their fellow Palestinians. 

These difficult and challenging feelings amongst Israeli Arabs can be changed and in fact directed towards achieving peace in this region only if a sufficiently balanced middleman from within the Arab community were to be incorporated into the process. Without this middleman, no matter how much Israeli Jews invest in defending their cause, a change in outlook will be impossible. 

Perhaps I didn’t contribute anything new to the discussion, but I surely did my best to be as genuine and as clear as possible.

I would love to get in touch with you to exchange ideas and I apologize for not being able to write my response in Hebrew – this great, ancient language about which I am, unfortunately, ignorant. 


Warmest regards

Omar from Syria



To read Yossi’s response check this link