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An Open Letter to the Palestinian People

"We are more aware of your suffering than you seem to realize. Are you aware of ours?"

How fortunate we are to be involved in seasons of introspection on both the Jewish and Muslim calendars. Thus as our leaders meet, I think of the words of Jean Jacques Rousseau; “I do not wish to argue with you, or even to try to convince you; it will be enough for me to tell you what I think in the simplicity of my heart. Consult your own while I speak; that is all I ask of you.”

My dear Palestinian neighbors; please use your hearts to look more deeply at our conflict and to understand the real issues. What we Israelis build, we can also destroy. We have shown as much in Gaza. Realize that our hesitation to stop building settlements will not change with your demands. Recognize that the problem is not the building but the hesitation. And the only way you will change our hesitation is by showing us a different face.

I am fully aware that you see things differently, but I would like you to understand how we feel. In fact, that is what I want from you more than anything else. Unless you understand us, I don’t think there will ever be peace between us. I only represent myself, but I think that I speak for most Israelis.

You may say that since you are the oppressed ones, our feelings are our problem, not yours. Instead, we should look at all of the pain and suffering our occupation causes you. But we are more aware of your suffering than you seem to realize. Are you aware of ours?

Please know that it is not only Israelis on the left that are uncomfortable with our presence in your cities, towns and countryside. Almost none of us like to see you stopped and searched at our checkpoints. Nor do we enjoy patrolling your streets. Even the many of us who feel that you are living on our land would be willing to put those convictions aside if we only felt that we could trust you. Please show us that we can.

Are you aware of what the State of Israel means to us? We are a very small nation that has been persecuted and mistreated by every culture in which we have lived. After two thousand years of being at the mercy of others, the State of Israel offered us the possibility of protecting ourselves. More importantly, it offered us the realization of a dream that only grew stronger as our exile lengthened – a dream to build a nation that would be different than all others. A nation that would be a fulfillment of the Jewish vision of how men could live their affairs. A nation that we hoped would inspire mankind to a more noble vision. You need not share our vision, just to be aware of it.

We are prepared for more compromises than you may think, but that’s because we have tried to understand your plight. How can you be prepared for difficult compromises if you don’t understand our plight? If you can show us that we have nothing to fear from you, we are willing to go very far. But do we have nothing to fear from you?

Your turn to the world media has forced us to see your mothers grieving for your sons. Have you ever seen our mothers grieving for our sons? And if you feel no pain because you think that you are justified, remember that we also feel that we are justified. Until you can also grieve, just a little bit for us, we will not be able to trust you.

When Anwar Sadat showed the Jewish nation that he understood us, he started a process that soon gave him almost everything he asked for. I know you may feel that he betrayed your cause. But please try just for a minute to see him as we do. He came to our country at great personal risk to show us that he understood us. By honoring our flag, our anthem and our leaders, he quickly gained our trust.

It is true that you are asking for things that are more difficult than that which we gave Egypt. But we will give very little to people who don’t understand us. We have had too many bad experiences.

Our traditions tell us that outer change will never happen without inner change. Hence I ask you to look into your hearts. I would not ask this of you if I had not already asked it of myself.

About the Author
Rabbi Francis Nataf is a Jerusalem-based educator and thinker. He is the author of the Redeeming Relevance series on the Torah and of many articles.