Letters To The Enemy


new internationalist
issue 199 - September 1989

Letters to the enemy
Can Israelis and Palestinians trust each other? Assad el Assad
is a Palestinian poet. Yael Lotan is a Jewish Israeli writer. They met
in a climate of suspicion - as part of a new writers group.
Here are letters they exchanged earlier this year.


Assad el Assad 15 July 1989

Dear Yael,

Thank you for your last letter and your kind words. As a Palestinian man I consider it a great achievement to have built so strong a friendship with a Jewish Israeli woman. Especially in these difficult circumstances.

Although three years have passed, the memory of our first meeting is still vivid. The aim of our group was clear enough. We were all against the occupation and wanted to campaign for freedom of expression. But to be honest I didn't really believe in the possibility of co-existence and mutual respect between our two nations.

Forgive me; I am just like any other Palestinian who has only witnessed the ugly face of the occupation. Daily we see the Israeli army in our towns and villages where they treat us with hate and brutality. Their sole intention is to insult and provoke us. I believe you understand what I mean.

In this country the Arab is always under suspicion until proven innocent. Jews can beat Arabs without being legally convicted, but if an Arab reacts to an insult he is brutally punished. Have you seen the Arab villages near the settlements?* Don't they remind you of the 'National Park' where the Red Indians live in the US? My friend, we are the Red Indians of this country we are the 'dirty Arabs'.

Recently in Bethlehem, I parked my car and when I returned, the windshield was smashed. I went to the police station to file for the case.

The officer in charge was a settler from Qiryat Arba. On realizing that I was an Arab, he hesitated. 'When you leave our country,' I replied. He put his pen on the desk and said, 'This is the Land of Israel and we will never leave. You are a backward people. We are civilized'.

Two days after this I was in Beit Hanina, a suburb of Jerusalem. A settler parked nearby. Carrying a machine gun and a club he walked towards a Palestinian who was selling vegetables and started beating him. Then he smashed the vegetables with his boots. After that he retreated to his car pointing his machine-gun at passers-by, and left. When I saw this I remembered the settler's so-called civilization and thanked God that I was not civilized like him.

Yeal, I desperately want Israelis and Palestinians to understand each other. At another of our writer's meetings, when an Israeli writer asked me if I dared invite Israelis to my house in Ramallah, I said that if Israelis were happy to come, I had no objection whatsoever. Then I invited you all. About forty of us met there in April and we ate musakhan*.

I was really moved when the same writer looked into my eyes as if apologizing for his suspicion and we shook hands warmly. From then on I participated in many activities with the Israeli peace movement. Together we went to Palestinian villages and refugee camps where we were welcomed by the residents. I once asked an Israeli friend from this writers' group whether he could organize a similar visit for me to see and Israeli Kibbutz. He said 'No'.

You see my friend, Palestinians are yearning for peace more than Israelis, because we are more harmed by its absence.

As a peace activist I wouldn't hesitate to declare my belief that Palestinians and Israelis can co-exist in one state. But the obstinacy, repression and cruelty of your so-called leaders have destroyed this hope. I believe now in the two-state solution to the problem and I am sure that you share with me the same belief. And I want you to know that I find in our friendship a true picture of how our two peoples could be, working together.


Your friend

Assad's signature

Assad el Assad


Assad el Assad is General Secretary for the Union of Palestinian Writers, Chief Editor of Al-Kaleb Magazine, and a poet and novelist. Yael Lotan was born in British-ruled Palestine to a family which fought for liberation from colonialism. She is a writer and journalist, currently on trial for meeting with the PLO.


Yael Lotan 1 August 1989

My dear Assad,

When you describe the daily humiliations that you, as a Palestinian, face from Jewish Israelis, I am filled with shame. Thank goodness for the writer's group. It is one place where we can talk openly and work together for peace.

Take the 'Peace Treaty', which we presented to the public as a model for our respective leaderships to follow. Unfortunately, the Israeli Government seems no nearer to following the treaty than it was then.

But our initiative that day was more than a gesture. By a coincidence which became highly systolic, it took place a few hours after the assassination of Abu Jihad* in Tunis - an act of terrorism which shocked the world. In signing an agreement which sets out the terms of a possible peace settlement between our two peoples, we showed that there is another way, there can be an end to bloodshed and oppression. There is a path to co-existence in peace and dignity.

I am very proud of our committee. It demonstrates how creative people can resist the atmosphere of hatred and extremism, and maintain an open channel of communication. For the Jewish Israelis among us, it is a chance to express our opposition to the repression and brutality which characterize the policy of the Israeli Government towards Palestinians. Such cruelty can only continue so long as one side denies the humanity of the other - and we insist on believing in our shared humanity...

At the same time, we cannot but admire the perseverance of our Palestinian friends, for whom it is so much harder to keep this channel open in the midst of the intifada and its violent repression. The fact that you, my friend, continue to discern the friendly voices and faces out of the Israeli mass - which must appear quite horrendous to Palestinians - shows a high - mindedness and a level of humanism which are rare and wonderful.

We are both children of this country, both raised in the mountains around Jerusalem. For both of us the air and light, the sights and sounds are the very fabric of home. Only cynical and greedy people can fail to see that with a joint inheritance such as we have, the only way to live is like brothers and sisters on the estate of their ancestors.

It is very difficult, in these awful days, to retain the hope and idealism necessary to go on with the struggle. On the Israeli side there is great frustration, which often expresses itself in vicious, racist ways. But I believe this results from the obstinacy and cruelty of our so - called leadership. Israeli Jews have been infected with a very dangerous germ and we are seeing an epidemic which is destroying their moral fibre.

Those of us who believe in a two - state solution to the conflict must work harder than ever to cure our people of their delusions of grandeur. We must introduce them to a much better dream. Not only our future depends on this, but the future of the entire Middle East, the cradle of civilization which, if given peace, can again become an earthly garden of Eden.

The Palestinian national leadership has already come a very long way in offering a positive and honourable way forward. Now the Israeli leadership must be made to respond in kind. If I did not believe that this will happen, sooner or later, I would despair - and I refuse to despair.

And so, my dear friend, we must keep on trying. One day our grandchildren will visit each other and wonder what all the pain and bloodshed were for. And perhaps they will be proud of us, that we foresaw the happy future which they will take for granted. Inshallah, Halevai.


Your friend, as always

Yael's signature

Yael Lotan


* Settlements - residential blocks for Jewish Israelis in the occupied territories.
The settlers are usually very right-wing and often carry guns.
Musakhan - a traditional Palestinian dish.
Adu Jihad - the military leader of the PLO

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