Dear brother,

Yossi, I used to be your “next door” neighbor, one of many Palestinians whom you are addressing, but my family managed to move to the UK several years ago because we have relatives here. I choose to call you “brother” because we are no longer neighbors, but I also feel as though 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 proudly on a path in which I rid myself of such self-consuming hatred.

I am still undergoing a difficult and painful process of learning; learning to respect, learning to listen without responding impulsively, learning to bash less and tolerate more, and learning from others. What’s more, I’m learning from those who I have been taught to hate for so many years but are now teaching me new outlooks on life. Most importantly, however, I am learning to feel less inferior after so many years of suffering at  the hands of this complex reality in which personal life has been enveloped in conflict.

I am able to understand that we, Palestinians and Israelis, are human beings who are trapped in this pointless conflict together.

I’d like to start my response to your book by explaining a few things about myself.

Firstly, while I will sign off with the name Yousef, it is not in fact my first name. If you are familiar with Arab names, you might know that we are given four names that trace back our family lineage: our first name, our father’s name, our grandfather’s name, and then our family name. 

I chose my grandfather’s name because I don’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 to use a name that was mine. Besides, I admired my grandfather, Allah yerhamo. He was a good-tempered, well-mannered, patient and calm man who exuded 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. Therefore, for the sake of expressing my thoughts “freely”, I opted to impose a limitation of sorts because the most important thing here is the message I wish to impart to 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 important part of life. I learned the hard way that I cannot take on large systems on my own. 

Secondly, 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 in which you wrote the original. In any case, English has become the language I now use on a daily basis. I am looking forward to reading the Arabic translation of my response and checking to see if this is how I would have expressed myself in my mother-tongue.

When I was a teenager living in the West Bank, I was filled with anger and hatred towards 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’ land, houses and livelihoods?  I was ready to set 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 would come across, both in real life and on social media; bash and let out all my anger.

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 beyond, 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 Facebook groups and pages. To my amazement, some had so much patience in the face of my hostility that I found myself incredulously asking why and how this could possibly be! Why would these Zionist devils want to be nice to me? I thought that it was their sneaky way of infiltrating my thoughts and spreading their Zionist propaganda through a “peaceful” manner.

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

I had no wish nor patience to read a book written by a religious Jew who dared to address 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, I decided to download the book, but not before reading other comments and responses on Facebook and on the book’s website.

Some of these responses provoked me, angered me! Some were self-hating Arabs praising your book or arse-kissing Saudis and Syrians who had recently befriended the Zionist entity! I must read this book, I thought to myself, just so that I could provide an authentic response from a Palestinian who has actually lived through this reality, rather than those of Arabs who have never cared about us, Palestinians. Such Arabs have only ever treated us, Palestinians, as a burden, and can think only of their own interests.

No, I could not allow their responses to dominate your page! I googled your book and found several authentic Palestinian reviews to which I could relate, piquing my curiosity.

I love reading. I buy books and like smelling the pages of a new book that has yet to be opened. Yet, 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 had never met.

I think the distance made me feel safe and comfortable sharing with him, just as you wrote so brilliantly in 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 so in private, feels like a thrilling violation of this distance. The act itself of reading such a book and encountering so many topics that leave me ruminating for days is more than a mere violation of physical distance; It’s a violation of everything upon which I was raised, taught and thought I knew for more than 40 years.

After reading half of the book in Arabic, then purchasing it online and spending a week reading it in English, I wished 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 these thoughts and feelings, and choose only a few of the many topics on which to focus, a task which turned out to be very difficult indeed! Nonetheless, I restricted myself to focusing on what really bothered me:

Two States or One State?
From your apartment on 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 a massive expansion of settlements in Area C and I asked myself: will we ever be able to live together and allow both sides to build and expand without fearing that one’s expansion 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 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 grounded in the Jewish people’s history of persecution and our tense Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular. You have a point here.

At the same time, I, as a Palestinian, wouldn’t want to give up my right to visit or even live in cities inside the 1967 borders, just as Palestinian-Arab-Israeli citizens are currently able to do. I want to be able to move freely and be given the choice to live in Jaffa, Akko, Haifa, Safed, or 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 mere 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 David pitted against Goliath in the midst of this Arab-Muslim majority 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”.

In light of the traumas of exile, the pogroms, the undeniable terrible human catastrophe that was the Holocaust (about which all Arabs should be educated in order to learn where satanic hatred can lead), and the rejection by the Ottomans, British and Arabs in this land, who can blame you for being unable to even dream of possibly living together?

In describing the failure of the Oslo Accords, you mentioned the faults of both sides before proceeding to cite 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 further – but crucial – aspects that contributed to these failures.

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

Even though I am not a practicing Muslim, I don’t want to dismiss your idea because it will cause no harm to explore more ways of approaching people from both sides and bringing them together. If religion can accomplish for some,  this approach can indeed be brought to the negotiating  table and leading religious figures should be a part of the negotiations.

Your book teaches us about 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 daily Jewish prayers of return to Zion and how Theodor Herzl’s sense of urgency merely gave political expression to these thousands of years of yearning in exile. To me, this makes perfect sense. 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 anyone 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 and not dismiss your claims. I want 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 one thing, but how do we solve practicalities and address the Palestinians’ needs?

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

Of course, looking at it realistically, it is no longer possible to go back to the exact same villages from which their grandparents fled, because Jews inhabited those places after the establishment of the State of Israel. Nonetheless, the longing is still in their hearts, exactly like that Jewish longing which you describe. 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, in my opinion, this is a dark stain indeed on the Arab world.

Israel cannot grant the refugees who currently reside in the West Bank and Gaza citizenship nor allow them to vote for the Israeli parliament, so perhaps a mid-way solution is needed here?

I have read about some initiatives that call for a federal solution or two states in one homeland. Yet, not many people join these initiatives and the Israeli public itself is divided only between those who support two states or one state that doesn’t take into consideration the basic rights of Palestinians. Neither one of these solutions addresses our needs.

You write, Yossi, that both sides must give up on their absolutist claims and accept that it’s worth losing some things in order to gain a greater prize. I could say that it’s very easy to talk this way as the victor who is already in possession of most of his land. However, this would be unfair, because you, Jews, have already given 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, enabling you to reclaim your holy places in the West Bank.

We, on the other hand, are left with merely 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 rather than 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 into fruition?

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

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

I don’t want two states. I don’t want to prolong the misery of living under dictatorships and not being able to freely travel the land. There are Palestinians like me who want to have what you have; a democracy that permits free 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.





To read Yossi’s response check this link