This article first appeared, in Arabic, on Alhurra. Here’s the link 

Dear Yossi, greetings.

I came across your book “Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor,” and I did not put it down until I had read it in full. I then browsed your Facebook page and saw that many Arabs have responded to you. Some were pleasant and said they were seeking peace like you did. Others warned against the kindness that you showed, claiming that it was either an overt example of Zionist intelligence seeking to penetrate the Arab world, or else an attempt to promote normalization, an allegedly evil phenomenon. 

First, allow me to congratulate you on your captivating style, which reflects your sincerity and honest pursuit of a fair discussion. I also considered your phrases more daring than anything I have read from the Israeli Right. One such example is, your claim that “we acknowledge, as Israelis, that we have ignored (the Palestinians) for many years… and we treated them as if we did not see them.” Other examples include your comment about “injustice that has accompanied the occupation,” and your admittance that responsibility for reaching a dead-end in peace talks did not “lie with the Palestinian side alone, [as] the Israeli side also bears a large part of this responsibility as well,” citing “settlement building while Oslo talks were ongoing” as evidence.

I have not read a single Palestinian text that takes any responsibility for Palestinian suffering. From the Arab point of view, Israel is the problem, always has been and always will be. The Arabs believe that they are oppressed, which — in their minds — renders them blameless.

Second, let me tell you that I am not a Palestinian. I am Iraqi Lebanese. Although I see peace with Israel as a Palestinian issue, I cannot help but comment on a conflict which I did not choose, but rather chose me.

In my early years, I had never heard of Palestine. In school in Baghdad, we called Khomeini the Antichrist. In Baalbek, we saw the world as conspiring against Shiite Muslims by hiding Musa al-Sadr. Late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was Sunni, and had a statue in Baalbek, close to the Galilee refugee camp. The statue was blown up. People in Baalbek often said that the Palestinians sold their lands, and that the Arabs (Sunnis) fought with faulty guns in 1948.

Palestine was not a Shiite issue until Iran became Islamic, and we began reading Khomeini’s statements on the walls; statements such as “if each one of you threw a water bucket on Israel, it would be flooded.” One morning, I was on my way to class when I heard Israeli fighter jets roaring. I stood there and watched, with horror, the jets bombing the Galilee camp, near my school, along with a police station (the Gendarmerie Barracks). Israeli raids on Baalbek then turned into a weekly routine, usually on Wednesday, often targeting the Sheikh Abdullah Barracks and the Khawam Hotel, then headquarters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as the “Radio of the Downtrodden,” in Nabi Sheet (chit).

Thus, I found myself in the middle of a war that I had not chosen. In college, my hostility towards Israel solidified. Insulting Israel was the only acceptable means of political expression in most Arab countries in any case. 

Then I changed.

The 2002 Beirut Arab Summit marked a turning point in my thinking. I was one of the accredited journalists, and I saw how Palestine was used as a tool for Arab and Palestinian political shenanigans. That year, the late King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah (still a crown prince then), presented his well-known peace initiative, that is, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, in exchange for a comprehensive Arab peace with Israel.

The initiative seemed reasonable to me. But at the Phoenicia Hotel, where the summit meetings were being held, I witnessed hypocrisy. As the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was preparing to address the summit — via satellite from his Muqataa in Ramallah where he was under siege — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instructed his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud, who was chairing the session, to not grant Arafat the floor. Assad cries foul for Palestine every day of the year. Then when Palestinians were about to express themselves, Assad muted them. The Palestinian delegation withdrew in protest, and the late Lebanese Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafik Hariri followed them in a bid to appease them and bring them back to the session.

When drafting the initiative, Assad insisted on adding a paragraph stipulating the return of Palestinian refugees, not to the Palestinian state, but to Israel. Even the Palestinian delegation had not requested that, but Assad and Iraqi Vice President Izzat al-Douri put the Palestinians in an uncomfortable position. The peace initiative was not about Palestine. It was a tool for Arab leaders — like Assad, Lahoud, and Al-Douri — to blackmail other Arab leaders.

The next day, I escorted American journalists who wanted to interview Palestinian refugees in Ain al-Hilweh camp, the most miserable place I have ever seen in my life. After reviewing old-fashioned title deeds and keys, and after shouting some slogans and then turning off the cameras, an old Palestinian man came to me. I told him “What’s wrong, sir?” He responded: “My son… my daughter lives in Germany, maybe your foreign friends can help me move in with her.” The man who was screaming to return to Galilee surprised me. He was actually seeking a decent life in Germany. At that point, I remembered something I had read in the book of Benjamin Netanyahu (whose policies I dislike) “A place under the Sun,” in which he drew attention to the double-faced discourse of the Palestinian Authority. In English they say peace, and in Arabic they say, “To Jerusalem we march, millions of martyrs.” Many Israeli politicians did the same.

The problem of peace, dear Yossi, is not only in initiating peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, but also in enabling each side to find internal peace first.

Greek wisdom demands one to “know thyself,” which applies to both sides of the conflict. The Israelis have to publicly articulate what they imagine a final settlement will look like; one that is fair and not based on the status quo. Palestinians too have to define their goal, and also demonstrate a greater ability in self-government so that their yes becomes a yes and their no becomes a no, rather than the type of politics in which Arafat agrees to peace whilst Hamas simultaneously bombs Israeli buses.

Many years after the Beirut Summit, I was at a Track II in Switzerland. I asked Ephraim Sneh why Israel announced the building of new settlements in the middle of negotiations with Palestinians. He told me that it was because of domestic political purposes. It seemed to me that Israeli negotiators believed that the announcement of new settlements reduced popular resentment against any concessions that they might make to Palestinians.

The problem, dear Yossi, is that when either side talks about peace, they rarely address one another, but they often talk to their own domestic audiences, which makes peace a political tool, not a strategic end.

Dear Yossi: Talking about peace is long and complicated, but — like you — I hope peace will eventually happen. From other Arabs who advocate peace and from myself to you, Yossi, and to other Israeli peace seekers, please accept our full respect.


Journalist Hussain Abdul-Hussain



Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington bureau chief of Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai and a former visiting fellow at Chatham House in London. Previously, he helped launch and manage the Iraqi stream of the Arabic TV network Alhurra. Before relocating to Washington, Abdul-Hussain worked as a reporter, and later as managing editor, for Lebanon’s The Daily Star. He has reported from conflict zones on the border between Lebanon and Israel, and from Baghdad shortly after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Abdul-Hussain has also contributed articles to US newspapers, including The New York Times and the Washington Post, and appeared on American TV news networks such as CNN and MSNBC. In addition, he is a frequent commentator on Arabic satellite TV networks.