A Palestinian Letter to an Israeli Friend
JERUSALEM - Dear Anat: Here we are, you and I, standing again with a pool of blood and hundreds of dead bodies keeping us apart.
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 hatred.
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 overnight.
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 friendship.
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 ofreturn, 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 lives?''
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 will tell.
The writer is a Palestinian medical student living in Jerusalem. This commentary was originally published in the November 2 issue of the International Herald Tribune.