Dear brother,
Yossi, I used to be your “next door” neighbor, one of many Palestinians you are addressing, but my family managed to move to the UK several years ago because we have relatives here and I choose to call you brother because we are no longer neighbors but I feel as if we, Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Muslims, are like estranged  brothers.

Only a few years ago I would have referred to you as my next-door-enemy, the devil himself, but I am now proud to be on a path of ridding myself of that self-consuming hatred.

I am still on a difficult and painful ongoing process of learning: learning to respect, learning how to listen without responding immediately, learning to bash less and tolerate more, learning from others – from the ones I have been taught to hate for so many years but are now teaching me new perspectives and most importantly learning how to feel less inferior after so many years of living in this complex reality, my personal life and the conflict that surrounded me.
 I am able to understand that we, Palestinians and Israelis,  are all human, who are stuck in this useless conflict.

As an introduction to my response to your book I would like to explain a few things about myself:
First, I will use the name Yousef to sign this letter even though it is not my first name. If you know about Arab names, you probably know that we are given 4 names that trace back our family dynasty:  first name, our father’s name, our grandfather’s and then our family name. 

I chose my grandfather’s name because I didn’t feel comfortable using my own – and this is important to note here because it is a reflection of our reality – but I still wanted a name that was mine. Besides, I  admired my grandfather, Allah yerhamo. He was good-tempered, well mannered, patient and calm with great wisdom.

Why didn’t I choose my first name? As my grandfather used to say: “less is more”.

 The sensitivity of the situation as described in your book wouldn’t allow me to be myself  if I used my first name so for the sake of expressing my thoughts  “freely” I chose to limit myself because the most important thing is what I want to tell you. Perhaps one day in the future I will be able to meet you in person without feeling as if I was betraying my beloved Palestinian people.

Accepting our boundaries and limitations is a difficult but an important part of life and I learned the hard way that I could not fight large systems on my own. 

Second, why am I writing to you in English and not in my beautiful mother-tongue Arabic? I downloaded  the free version in Arabic and started reading it. You wanted to reach out to us in our language and make it easily accessible. Then I actually purchased the hard copy in English because I wanted to read and respond in the language that you wrote the original book in and English has become the language I use on a daily basis anyway. I am looking forward to reading the translation of my response to  Arabic and see if this is how I would have expressed myself.

When I was a teenager living in the West Bank, I was filled with anger and hatred toward you, the Jew, the Israeli whom I perceived as a colonizer. Who are you, a Jew from Europe or even a Jew from an Arab country, to take over my ancestors’ lands, houses, lives !  I was ready to go out and demonstrate any time your military entered our village. I wanted to see you suffer ! I wanted you out !

After we moved to Europe, I joined pro Palestinian groups and  was ready to bash any Israeli and Zionist I came across in real life and on social media.  Bash and take all my anger out.

I don’t consider myself violent by nature but growing up in a tough reality, surrounded by violence both from within my own community (even my  immediate family) and from the outside, from your military, made me hate everything and the easiest outlet was to express my rage on those whom  my community encouraged us to hate: Israeli Jews.

On social media, behind the keyboard, I started getting to know my enemy. I was interacting with Israeli Jews on FB groups and pages. To my amazement some had so much patience toward my hostility that I found myself asking “why” ! Why would these Zionist devils want to be nice to me? I was still thinking that it was their sneaky way of infiltrating my thoughts and spreading their Zionist propaganda through “peaceful” manners.

Then I was approached, on FB, by a woman who told me that she saw some of my comments on a FB page, introduced herself as someone who was working for  you and invited me to read your book.
“Another ‘nice’  Zionist who was trying to tempt me to read more Zionist propaganda !” I thought. 

I had no wish and no patience to read a book written by a religious Jew who dared addressing us as his neighbors ! She invited me to follow the book’s page in Arabic and so, out of curiosity, I did.

Several months later, after reading  some of the content on your page in Arabic, I decided to download the book, not before reading other comments and responses on FB and on the book’s website.

Some of those responses provoked me !  Angered me ! Some self-hating Arabs who praised your book ! Arse-kissing Saudis and Syrians who have become the new friends of the Zionist entity ! I must read this book, I thought to myself, just so that I could send an authentic  response from a Palestinian who actually lived this reality, not some Arabs who never cared about us, have always treated us, Palestinians, as a burden and think only about their own interests.

No, I could not allow their responses to dominate your page ! I googled  your book and found several authentic Palestinian reviews which I could relate to and those responses  got me curious.

 I love reading. I buy books and like sniffing the pages of a new book that hasn’t been opened yet. But here I was offered a free online version and I had to read it on my laptop. There was no smell of a newly printed hard copy but my urge to read was too strong to resist.

From my interactions with Israeli Jews online I developed what I can now call friendships, especially  with one  American-born Israeli Jewish man, like yourself, who immigrated to Israel ten years ago. He, just like you, Yossi, resides in Jerusalem. He was the only one I chatted with about the book, even though we have never met.

I think the distance made me feel safe and comfortable sharing with him, just like you wrote so brilliantly on your first letter, “The Wall between Us”:  “Coexistence in the Holy Land is often ensured by mutual separation… safety is measured by the distance between us”.

Your “pilgrimage”, your journey into our society and our faiths (I myself come from a Muslim family) was “a violation of the coexistence of distance, an insistence on the possibility of intimacy”.

I can relate to that ! Reading your book , although I do it in private, in my own intimacy, feels like a thrilling violation of this distance. The act itself of reading such a book and even finding so many topics that leave me ruminating for days – is more than just a violation of physical distance: It’s a violation of everything I was raised on, taught and thought I knew for more than 40 years.

After reading half of the book in Arabic and then purchasing it online and spending a week reading it in English, I want to share my thoughts with you and your readers.

 It took me several  weeks to put my thoughts into words. I tried to summarize all of those thoughts and feelings and choose only a few topics out of so many – which turned out to be a difficult task but I restricted myself to focusing on what really bothers me:

Two states or One State?
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From your apartment on the French Hill you can see a checkpoint (Anata/Shuafat, probably) and sometimes smoke coming from burning tires and tear gas.

From my family’s apartment, on the other side, I could see massive expansion of settlements in area C and I ask myself: will we ever be able to live together and allow both sides to build and expand without fearing that one’s expansions takes over the other’s?

You want to end “the ongoing disparity between your hill and mine” by supporting the two-state solution.
I, on the other hand, want to end that disparity by living together, not “side by side” separated by a border but rather side by side in a one state for all.

How? Good question. You talk about how your people’s  safety can only be ensured by a Jewish majority under Jewish sovereignty. I understand this and cannot argue with fears that are based on the Jewish people’s persecutions in general and our Palestinian-Israeli tense conflict in particular. You have a point there.

At the same time, I, as a Palestinian, wouldn’t  want to give up on my right to visit and even live in cities inside the 1967 borders, just like Palestinian-Arab-Israeli  citizens do. I want to be able to move freely and be given the choice to live in Jaffa, Akko, Haifa, Safed, the Galilee. I want to be able to go to the beach and enjoy the salty breeze without having to rely on a work permit, a piece of paper, that may expire at any moment and restrict my movement.
Even with a permit, when does a worker have the time to even enjoy the beach when he wakes up at 3 am, rushes to the checkpoint and comes back home after a long day of tiring, physical work?

When you talk about the two-state solution, dear Yossi, you are thinking selfishly (I hope you don’t take offense) about your own people. I can’t blame you. You should think of your people’s safety.

On your 9th letter “Victims and Survivors” you write “There is a good reason for me to be in survival mode. When I look around my borders I see Hezbolla in the north, Hamas in the south, Islamic Revolutionary Guards from Iran on the Golan Heights – all passionately committed to my destruction”. You perceive yourself as the David versus the Goliath in the midst of this Arab-Muslim majority in the Middle East, and I understand you.

But what about people like me? The Palestinian “David” who is struggling to survive under a Palestinian dictatorship backed by the Israeli state which perceives the PA  as the lesser of the evils.

I write only on behalf of myself but I am sure that there are others like me who wouldn’t mind living with Jews in one state. Of course you will tell me “sure they wouldn’t mind, because they will gradually take over the entire land and drive us, Jews, out of here”.

Your traumas as Jews, exile, pogroms, Holocaust (which I don’t deny and think that all Arabs should be educated about this terrible human catastrophe and learn what satanic hatred can lead to), being rejected from this land by Ottomans, British and Arabs – who can blame you for being unable to even dream of a possibility of living together?

You described the failure of the Oslo Accords by mentioning the  faults of both sides and later on the failure of the Palestinian authority under president Abbas to compromise and agree to a two-state-offer.
Perhaps, dear Yossi, you have neglected to take into account a few but very crucial aspects that contributed to these failures.

You write in detail about our religious similarities and blame the secular leaderships for not including religion as a way to bridge gaps between our two communities.

Even though I am not a practicing Muslim, I don’t want to dismiss your idea because it will not do harm to explore more ways of approaching people from both sides and binding them together. If religion does it for some – this approach can be added to the negotiating  table and leading religious figures should be a part of the negotiations.

Your book teaches us about the Jewish need and longing, what Zionism is and how it cannot be separated from being a Jew because of the Jews’ ancient  connection to the land and their thousands of years of longing to return from exile.

You write about the Jewish daily prayers to return to Zion and how Theodor Hertzl’s sense of urgency only gave these thousands of years in exile a political shape or structure that represented that deep yearning. That makes sense to me because if all your prayer books refer to the land of Israel and its temple in Jerusalem and not to any other part of the world – how can anybody deny those two thousand  years of consistent prayers?

You talk about Jews who were dispersed all over the world, from Europe to north Africa to Ethiopia, and how they all shared the same longing, prayers and similar traditions.

I want to learn, listen, to not dismiss your claims and to find sense in your words. I don’t deny your Jewish history.

However, I want to focus on the here and now. Religious dialogue is ok but how do we solve the practicalities and address the Palestinians’ needs?

Refugees – children and grandchildren of refugees  whose  grandparents escaped, either because they fled from fear of the consequences of war or because they were forced out of their villages, are still longing to go back to their grandparents’ villages. Why? Because they live in dense camps, awfully crowded and lacking space to breath and their misery is prolonged as long as it serves their leaders.

Of course it is no longer possible to go back to the exact same  villages their grandparents fled from, if we look at it realistically, because Jews inhabited those places after the establishment of the state of Israel, but the longing is still in their hearts, just like that Jewish longing you were describing.  Perhaps allowing refugees to live next to their “new” Jewish neighbors will soften their hearts?

What about citizenship? Many Palestinians who fled to Arab countries were never granted citizenship there and this is a dark stain on the Arab world, in my opinion.

Israel cannot grant the refugees who currently reside in the West Bank and Gaza citizenship and allow them to vote for the Israeli parliament so perhaps a mid-way solution is needed here?

I read about some initiatives that call for a federation type solution or two states in one homeland, but not many people join these initiatives and the Israeli public is divided into supporting either two states or one state that doesn’t take the basic needs of Palestinians into consideration. Neither one of those solutions addresses our needs.

You write, Yossi, that both sides must give up on their absolutist claims and lose some in order to gain something. I could say that it’s very easy to talk when you are the victor who already gained most of his land but even this would be unfair because you, Jews, gave up on so much and settled for such a small part of the land in 1948. You were “lucky” enough to be attacked by Arab countries who underestimated your true strength and so you got back your holy places in the West Bank.

We, on the other hand, are left with another form of Arab dictatorship, a failed economy and a stubborn community that promotes hatred because our leaders, just like those in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and other Arab countries want us, the people, to sink in misery and not focus on fixing our own failures.

Do you, Yossi, care about our misery? Do you care about people like me who, while living in Palestine, can only fantasize about a thriving state like yours but cannot see it ever coming true?

Palestinians will not give up their longing. Many of us see how you, Jews, built a progressive state and we are envious. This is the truth.

Through your staff you’ve invited me to read your book and share my thoughts respectfully.
Perhaps I was able to do so because I moved out of the region for economical reasons but I am reaching out to you in the hope that you can understand that even if we learn about your history and respect it, Palestinians are still lost and unable to see a way out of this darkness they’re in.

I don’t want two states. I don’t want to continue the misery of living under dictatorships and not being able to travel the land freely. There are  Palestinians like me who want to have what you have: a democracy that allows freedom of speech, a thriving economy and…some time out with friends or a loved one on the beach.

If you understand this, I’m inviting you to think of ways that can help us teach our people to live together.

Yours,

Yousef