A Palestinian Letter to an Israeli Friend
By Samah Jabr
International Herald Tribune - Paris, Thursday, November 2, 2000
[By way of Rick Rozoff]
JERUSALEM - Dear Anat: Here we are, you and I, standing again
with a pool of blood and hundreds of dead bodies keeping us
We thought we had made it. We managed to be friends in spite of
all our differences. I am a religious Muslim Palestinian and you
are a secular Israeli Jew. We are united because we were both
born in Jerusalem, a place that during our lifetimes has not been
a very holy place at all, but a scene of constant conflict and
We have communicated in English, a second language for both of
us, so the potential for misunderstanding has always been
possible. We came together curiously, eager to learn about the
other, to get to the bottom of why our people held forth, one
against the other.
Through our personal connection, we two found a commonality in
our joint realization that we are of a human family, squabbling
perhaps, but much the same in our needs and dreams and wish to
have fulfilling and happy lives in the place where we were born.
I told you right from the beginning of our association that I did
not support the peace process which neither helped my people nor
exposed the truth to a watching world beyond our borders. The
peace process did not stop the Israelis from continuing to build
settlements and roads separating Palestinians into Bantustans
like those in South Africa.
I told you how afraid I was to go abroad because I worried that
Israelis would confiscate my Jerusalem ID card and with it, my
identity. I explained how many families within my own
neighborhood had a son or a father in an Israeli prison. I spoke
of acquaintances who had had their home destroyed as a form of
collective punishment because a cousin was suspected of a crime
against Israel. The key word was suspected, not proven.
You knew I was active within the Palestinian student community. I
was keen to tell you who I am because I wanted our relationship
to be based on a solid foundation of truth.
In spite of our nationalistic views, yours Israeli and mine
Palestinian, we made it; we maintained a warm relationship and a
civilized dialogue. I remember when you had me in your apartment
We spent the evening chatting about art, literature, music, good
movies. For the first time, I had Israeli bagels for breakfast.
Then, you came to see me, and I introduced you to hot Sahlab that
warmed you on that particular cold day. You said, ''This is the
best winter drink I've ever had.''
You had friends and so did I who did not approve of our
relationship. But, you and I are both Semitic people. We are both
individualists, independent and we chose our own way of
My flat mate once told me, ''All Israelis feed on Palestinian
blood.'' But I thought: ''How can she lump people together like
that? Israelis are individuals and Anat is my friend.''
But now we are separated by violence again. Just after I heard
that the Israeli government had called on civilians to be armed
and ready for a potential fight, you called. Your voice came to
me through the phone asking, ''What happened, Samah? We were at
the peace table. Everything was almost settled.''
''What peace are you talking about?'' I asked you. ''Is it the
peace of checkpoints, of making Palestinians take off their
clothes at airports? Is it no right of return, no cessation of
settlement building, no East Jerusalem for our capital, no to
public sanitation in Arab towns, no to education, no to water
rights? All of these plus Uzis pointed at us every day of our
We hung up, Anat, so now I'm trying to reach you in this letter.
Listen, Anat, I live the long days of occupation. Today, I cannot
leave the house because your government has imposed a siege on my
people. We cannot even go to the store to buy milk. Sometimes I
cannot go to the hospital to help with our injured.
Being radical does not mean being violent; it means never
wavering from conviction born of experience and an uncommon
interest in truth and justice. When Israel gives the Palestinians
truth and justice, then, Anat, we can cross the green line and
share friendship again.
You and I almost made it, Anat. What about now? I am writing to
you in the near dark and calm of my room, but outside there is
chaos. I hear shooting and missiles landing. I hear cries of kids
who have defied the curfew and their mother's warnings.
Dear Anat, we both realize that this is the game of power
politics. You suggest that Palestinians should save themselves
and take whatever they are given, small as that may be. Don't
commit suicide, you warn referring to our Intifada. I do not want
to die, Anat. Our Intifada is not a suicidal attempt, but a labor
to bring up a new life.
I am not a military person, but I know when it is time to fight
and, if necessary, to die. I fight with my pen, my prayers and my
medical equipment. I close my eyes in sadness over the loss of
even one of our children out there daring to throw stones. We
will survive and we will overcome. We adults in Palestine will
not hang our heads in seeming defeat.
It seems to me that your people believe that Uzis, money and
power can overcome truth and justice.
You and I live in a distorted place far from civilization and
modern sensibilities about humanity's value. Will you read what I
have said, Anat? Will you read this and not just throw down the
paper in disgust? Will you be my friend again and I yours? Truth
The writer is a Palestinian medical student living in Jerusalem.
She contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.
(c) International Herald Tribune