The following is the author’s response to Dr. Elham Manea’s Imagine Peace and Work for It response.

Dear Elham,

First, forgive me for not responding sooner to your wonderful letter. I read it several times, and each time felt I was learning something new.

To begin with, yes, I certainly was told by friends – and some fellow Israelis who are not my friends – that I am wasting my time, that “they” will always hate us and never accept us, that false will only weaken us and lead us back into the disastrous days of the Oslo process, when we naively thought we could make peace with Yasser Arafat, only to wake up one morning to buses exploding in our streets.

I share that wariness, that fear. I write in my book about the trauma of the second intifada – and that trauma remains deeply embedded in the Israeli psyche. We almost lost our public spaces to fear of terrorism; we became, for awhile, a nation of shut-ins. And so, yes, I understand the wariness of my fellow Israelis.

But the tragedy is that the very word “peace” has become synonymous with the fear of being deceived by the other side. Peace is one of the most exalted values in the Jewish tradition; every Shabbat in synagogue we repeat the words about the Torah, “all of whose pathways are peace.” But that is what this seemingly endless, seemingly hopeless conflict has done to us: made us suspect peace.

So reading your letter, my dear friend (and yes, we are friends, even though technically we haven’t yet met), reading that you too were met with the same skepticism (and worse), made me feel a little less alone. That is only one of the gifts I received from your letter.

The other gift you gave me was affirming Israel’s legitimacy. Jews so badly need to hear that from our neighbors. One of the greatest psychological wounds we experience isn’t directly from the Holocaust but its aftermath. The Jewish people went from the Holocaust directly into endless war and siege, and it has taken its inevitable price.
The rise of the Israeli right is, in part, a consequence of this move from one form of existential threat to another. Of course in Israel we can defend ourselves; but the psychological price of still having to defend our legitimacy – our right to exist (and how I hate those words) – has been devastating.

I agree with you that, despite the wounds and mistrust, Israel must be committed to ending the occupation of the Palestinians – for our sake as much as theirs. And yes, the place of Palestinian citizens of Israel in our society is ultimately our greatest test. I fear that we are moving backwards, undoing much of the progress that was made in recent decades. I am encouraged that a majority of Palestinians clearly want to be part of Israeli society. That only increases the need for Israeli Jews to reach out and reassure our fellow citizens who are Arab that we want them as part of our society.

You mention the difficulties that Yemenite Jews experienced in the early years of the state. As the first major Jewish community to emigrate en mass as soon as the state was established, Yemenite Jews came into a bankrupt country with frontier norms that had just emerged from a war of survival. The Yemenite Jews experienced a great deal of discrimination and dislocation. And yet, three generations later, they are an integral part of Israeli society and culture. This gives me hope for Arab Israelis too – though of course the challenge there is far more formidable than it was to integrate fellow Jews into the Jewish state.

Thank you for being my partner in hope, in perseverance, in goodwill. I cherish our connection and look immensely forward to greeting you in Jerusalem.

Warm regards,

Yossi