This is Yossi’s reply to Ali from Iraq. To read Ali’s full response check this link 


Dear Ali, 

Please accept my apology and my gratitude: my apology, for taking so long to respond to you; 

and my gratitude for the seriousness with which you read and responded to my book. 

I will begin by trying to answer some of the questions you raised in your first two letters, written in response to the first two letters of the book. 

I’m glad you began by acknowledging Michal’s wonderful work. None of my outreach to the Arab world would be possible without Michal’s devotion and vision.

 And your appreciation for the translator is also deeply appreciated: His extraordinary dedication to our shared work is an ongoing source of inspiration to me. 

And finally: Thank you for your warm words of appreciation for my book. I was deeply moved by your words. 

As for upsetting me with your criticism: No worries! I entered this project with my eyes wide open, ready for anything. So please rest assured that I am grateful not only for your praise but also your criticism, especially the respectful tone with which you critique my book. 

You mention the idea of an Israeli state from the “Nile to the Euphrates.” The notion that this is an aspiration for Israelis is simply not true. I don’t know how to say this as strongly as possible: I know almost no one in Israel – no one – who thinks of this as a goal. In all my years in Israel, working as a reporter and meeting thousands of people, I encountered this idea once: in a settlement known to be especially militant. And that was it: once. 

I do hear it often from Palestinians, who accuse us of having that goal. It is one of the more damaging lies that have been used against Israel – damaging because it has clearly penetrated far and deep through the Arab world. 

You ask about our national anthem. Here is a translation of “Hatikvah,” The Hope (and our team has even posted about it on our FB page):


As long as in the heart within,

The Jewish soul yearns,

And toward the eastern edges, onward,

An eye gazes toward Zion.

Our hope is not yet lost,

The hope that is two-thousand years old,

To be a free nation in our land,

The Land of Zion, Jerusalem.


This translation is taken from the official website of the Knesset. Arab citizens of Israel rightly complain that the anthem only resonates for Jews, invoking “the Jewish soul.” 

Some Israelis believe we should add a second stanza that will be more inclusive, and I think that is an idea well worth considering. But the anthem itself has nothing hateful in it. It is an expression of Jewish longing and love for this land, and an expression of hope. 

You ask about the number of Israeli victims killed in the Second Intifada. The number is 1,000 killed – and 3,000 Palestinians.  Many more were wounded on both sides. 

We were uprooted twice from this land: first by Babylon in 586 BCE. The Jews were exiled to Babylon and remained there for about 70 years, until Cyrus king of Persia conquered the land of Israel and allowed the Jews to return. 

The second exile began around 70 CE, and this time it was the Romans who destroyed the Jewish state (led by Titus) and exiled most of its inhabitants. 

Jews continued to live in the land for the next 1800 years, but as a minority.

You raise an important question about who committed the suicide bombings in Israel. Was it the leadership or average Palestinians? It’s a difficult question to answer. Certainly the leadership encouraged it, and many average Palestinians supported it. 

The suicide bombings stopped when Israel built the security wall and the price became too high for Palestinian society, and public opinion there turned against the suicide bombings. 

I agree with your sentiment: “Peace genuinely happens when people from conflicting sides shake hands and throw their weapons aside.” 

You ask whether it really matters, for the sake of peace, whether Palestinians and other Arabs in the region accept that the Holocaust happened. It matters in the sense that much of the Arab world is convinced that the Jew invented the Holocaust to win sympathy from the world. A people (a nation) capable of such lies is a people that cannot be trusted, including to make peace. 

Peace depends on two peoples trusting each other. So long as Arabs believe that Jews are capable of such astonishing lies about their own history, Arabs will not trust Jews – and Jews will trust Arabs for inventing those conspiracy theories. And so we need a minimum of historical truth to be agreed upon by both sides. 

You raise a serious question: Can Palestinians trust Israelis to ever withdraw from the West Bank when we continue to build settlements and speak about our security interests there?

 I think that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza proved that withdrawal is possible. If there will be a withdrawal from the West Bank, we will almost certainly leave parts of the Israeli army along the border with Jordan to ensure that our eastern border doesn’t become infiltrated by Iranian forces. But I still believe that a Palestinian state is possible in the West Bank – though time is running out. 

You ask whether Jerusalem will include Palestinians and Muslims in the event of a two-state solution. Of course it will: The Palestinian population in Jerusalem since the 1967 war has grown substantially and that will not change. And Palestinians will continue to not only pray at the Haram el Sharif but will continue (as they do today) to have a dominant say in who is permitted to pray there. (The Israeli government has granted the Wakf veto power over Jewish prayer on the Mount, which is ironic, since that is our holiest site. But for the sake of ensuring peace and quiet, the Israeli public has agreed to the arrangement.)

Now I come to your comments on my second letter:

You mention that the Roman Era lasted until 673 AD. That is true, but “Jewish time” is calculated from the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 and the exile of most of the Jews afterward. 

That, for us, is the end of Jewish sovereignty and the beginning of our 1800 year exile. It is not just an “emotional” calculation, as you put it, but an historical reality.

Thank you for your warm response to my writing about the meaning of the land for the Jewish people. That meant a lot to me, Ali. 

You raise an important and complicated question: Were the Zionists wrong to collaborate with the British in trying to establish a country? I feel it’s hard to judge a desperate people from the vantage point of today’s relative security. 

It’s interesting that there were deep divisions within the Zionist movement about cooperating with the British: The left was in favor, the right opted for open revolt. In the end, it was the Zionists – mostly of the right, led by Menachem Begin and his Irgun — who expelled the British through an underground struggle.

You are right: I am sending a message to my own politicians that we will not be safe, our return home will be incomplete, until our neighbors feel that they have a secure home. And yes, that means two states, each with its own “law of return.”

I must tell you, again, Ali, how moved I was reading your perceptive comments, and how much I appreciate the close reading you gave to my work. A writer can’t hope for a better reader than you. 

I will continue to read your responses and write back to you. 


With warm regards and blessings –





Dear Ali,

Now to address your comments on my third and fourth letters.

It’s an interesting argument you make about Jews tracing their origins to Moses rather than Abraham (or, as you add, perhaps to Jacob/Israel, since we carry his name). Each religion makes claims about itself that the other religion finds hard to accept. I think that our challenge, as Jews and Muslims, is to respect the right of the other to beliefs that we don’t have to accept. Jews have always traced their origins to Abraham and that isn’t going to change. But for me that doesn’t diminish the fact that Muslims are also descendants of Ibrahim.

You are certainly right that Judaism isn’t a missionizing religion. But allow me to make a factual correction: Judaism most definitely accepts converts. It isn’t always easy to convert; but it is surely possible. My wife, Sarah, is a convert to Judaism. I have many friends in Jerusalem who have become Jews.

Also, you write that Jews believe that we are the only ones who carry God’s message and that no one else has the right to. This is definitely not so. The greatest Jewish philosopher of all time, Maimonides, explicitly praises Islam for carrying the message of One God to the nations. Other prominent rabbis have made similar statements (including about Christianity). Judaism believes that all human beings must find their way to God, and that the world’s great religions are there to help people on that quest.

The Israeli “Law of Return” accepts anyone who has a single Jewish grandparent (not only a Jewish mother, which is true for Orthodox Jewish law but not for Israeli law). Israeli law is much more liberal than Jewish religious law, and accepts people who have some Jewish ancestry (a single grandparent) as being eligible for Israeli citizenship. I know: It’s complicated. We Jews don’t make things easy, not even on ourselves…

Some responses to your comments on the fourth letter:

I regret that you found my tone here to be condescending. That certainly wasn’t my intention. But I take very seriously the way you heard my words. It is a warning to be more careful, to make sure that not only do we say precisely what we mean to say, but that we take into account how others may hear and understand those words in a very different way.

Again, I certainly didn’t intend my pity to be a veiled threat. I understand how Palestinians might resent sympathy from Israelis. I can even understand how that could sound condescending. But as a threat?

I share your fear of the possible destruction of civilization, God forbid. Civilization began in the Middle East; sometimes it seems to me that God has set things up in such a way that we are now facing the possibility that civilization can be destroyed here in the Middle East, where it began. It is up to us to act wisely with all the power of destruction that exists in this region.

Finally: I agree with you, no one should be ruling over anyone else. I want to end this situation. But Israelis fear, understandably I think, that if they withdraw from the West Bank it could turn into another Gaza and threaten Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. I wrote this book to begin a conversation that can help us develop trust between Arabs and Jews. 

Our exchange is part of that process that can help us understand each other.

With blessings,



Dear Ali,

Greetings. I’d like to respond to your next two critiques of my book – letters five and six.

I loved your comparison of my writing style with Arabic coffee. I’ve certainly never thought of that metaphor before for the literary process, but yes, I think that’s a pretty good description of how I try to approach difficult problems. Thank you for that insight!

Please don’t worry about hurting my feelings with your criticism. I invited response from Arab readers and knew that that would include criticism, sometimes fierce criticism. Your feedback, even when critical, has been gentle, the voice of a friend. I appreciate all that you write, both the parts where you agree with me and the parts were you don’t.

You write that so long as Jews insist on believing that Abraham and Sarah were Jews, they will claim the whole land. Allow me to make two points here. First, the beliefs we inherit from our ancestors are a part of our religious identity and being. There are aspects of Islamic faith that I find problematic, just as there are aspects of Jewish faith a Muslim would fine problematic. We will have to continue living with those differences and try to minimize the misunderstandings as much as possible.

The second point is that my belief that Abraham and Sarah were the first Jews (which is what Jews have always believed) doesn’t mean that I need to claim the whole of the land in practice. In my book I tried to make a distinction between claiming the whole of the land in theory and in practice. In theory I believe all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea belongs to the people of Israel. In practice I have to accept that there is another people living here with whom I must share the land.

I noticed that in your critique of the sixth letter, you agreed with my formulation: that both the Israelis and the Palestinians can make a compelling claim for the whole of the land and so we have no choice but to share it.

You noted the quote by Mahmoud Abbas about accepting Israel’s right to the town of Safed where his family came from. But you omitted the rest of the story: that Abbas was bitterly condemned for his conciliatory statement in Palestinian society and then said it was only his own personal opinion, and that the “right of return” is sacred. That doesn’t leave much room for compromise. My strong sense is that we’re going to have to wait for a new generation of leaders, both on the Israeli and the Palestinian side, for a real compromise to happen.

I so much appreciate the warmth of your tone, Ali. I feel very close to you, and hope that someday, somehow, we will be able to meet, either in Baghdad or Jerusalem. 



Dear Ali,

And now to letters seven and eight:

It’s interesting that you write about Abraham’s test by fire in connection with the Holocaust. I was just recently thinking about that same imagery: In the Jewish version of the story, Abraham is actually thrown into an oven, which for Jews today is an image that evokes the death camps. How strange to see an intimation of the future in our most formative stories…

What is the Muslim version of that story?

I deeply appreciated your analysis of the multiple “roles” I found myself playing in this book. You are right: I am trying to constantly balance paradoxes: power and morality, faithfulness to the past and the needs of the future, the Jewish claim and the Palestinian claim. The very essence of Israel, as I tried to convey in this chapter, is paradox, and my responsibility as an Israeli citizen is to make decisions while being faithful to nuance.

I understand why Palestinians feel that any compromise is offensive to their sense of justice. But Jews also have a sense of justice, and more than half the Jews in Israel came as refugees from Arab and Muslim countries and don’t feel guilty about the Palestinian refugees – especially when Israelis deeply believe that our side tried to prevent war and offered a two-state solution from the beginning of the conflict, which Palestinian leaders rejected. I understand that Palestinians see this very differently, but that’s exactly the point of my book: to help each side understand how the other sees the same reality.

Jews feel deep anger toward the Palestinian leaders and the leaders of the Arab world who led the attempt to destroy this country on the day it was born. Three years after the end of the Holocaust we were fighting for our lives. Again: I understand why this same situation looked totally different to Palestinians (and their supporters in the Arab world) who felt that they were losing part of their land. I know that many Palestinians today realize that their leaders made a disastrous mistake in rejecting the UN partition plan in 1947 – imagine what the reality would be today if they had accepted partition (and in the year 2000 as well). That is the Israeli frustration and anger. You know the Palestinian response.

Thank you for your patient reading and for your willingness to enter my psyche and share something of my conflict and pain. I’m very grateful – as a writer, as a human being.

With friendship and gratitude,




Dear Ali,

And now to letters nine and ten:

First, thank you for your warm sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust. Your sincerity comes through in every word you write, and especially here. I am deeply grateful for your humanity, your open heart and your Abrahamic family solidarity.

I send you and the Iraqi people my deep condolences on the atrocities you’ve suffered – and continue to endure. No people should go through what your people has experienced over these last decades. My prayers are with you all.

Let me try to answer some of your final questions:

Do I consider the words of the Qur’an to be from God? I do, but not in the same way as Muslims do (but certainly more than communists!). My faith is that God speaks to different religions through their prophets and scriptures – I feel the same toward Christianity as I do toward Islam. I believe that the New Testament and the Qur’an are infused with Divine spirit – but that’s not quite the same as believing that every word comes from God. I see Islam and Christianity as revelations – not as “the revelation.”

I certainly believe that God has made us custodians of this earth – not to do as we please but to do as He pleases. We are here to fulfil His will. Whether we do so is another question. I don’t think it is God’s will that we should be occupying the Palestinians or that the Arab countries and the Palestinian leaders should have fought a decades-old war against Israel’s existence. I certainly don’t think one people is superior to another. I believe the Jews have been chosen for a God-given role in history. But I believe that Muslims and Christians and others have also been chosen by God for their roles in history.

I hope this helps clarify things a little more.

I so much appreciate your words in response to the final letter: “I loved our long journey because it reminded me of the fragility of our reality and how transient life is.” I too feel that you and I have been on a journey together, and I have come to know something of your great heart and open mind and feel that we are now friends.

I would be grateful if you could write me a few words about your life – your work, your family, your circumstances.

I am so grateful that you reached out and took my book so seriously. I appreciate every response you wrote, the supportive and the critical alike. All reflect a deep engagement with the book and a soul struggling to do God’s will in truth and morality.

I am honored to have you as a friend. I know it sounds impossible now, but I hope someday to meet you in Jerusalem. You are always welcome in my home.

With friendship and blessing and warm regards,