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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March 2004, 16:28 GMT
Mid-East pen friends part 3: Politics
Omneya al-Naggar, an Egyptian school teacher in the northern city of Alexandria, has begun an e-mail correspondence with Orly Noy, an Israeli journalist of Iranian origin, living and working in Jerusalem.

In this, their third exchange for BBCArabic.com, the two women share their views on politics. Read their views and send us your comments.

Hi Omneya,

I hope you're feeling better - I appreciate that you took the time to write me last time despite your flu. I'm glad you did. I am growing accustomed to your letters already and I check my mailbox with anticipation.

Orly says there is a lot of prejudice and hostility towards the Arab world in the West
You talk about the question of legitimacy, but I want to suggest a different term: narrative. I feel that the discussion about legitimacy is too close to the one about what's "right" and "wrong", and about guilt, although I understand that you meant it in the sense of recognising each other's pain. That's why I prefer "narrative", because this is your story and nobody can tell you if it's a legitimate one or not.

Maybe we're talking about the same thing and it's just a question of semantics, because I think we both talk about the ability to listen to the "other", whoever it may be and however hard it is to hear him or her. I think Israel is paying the price of not listening. It is only now that people here are beginning to accept the idea of a Palestinian state, after so many wasted years and lives.

One aspect of human nature that I find strange is the mistaking of strength for morality. It's the same with the Americans now and the way they operate in Iraq. They speak in the name of freedom, justice and liberty, but in fact they serve their own interests at the expense of the Iraqi people.

I agree with you that there is a tremendous amount of prejudice and hostility towards the Arab world in the West, and I'm sorry to say that too many Israelis foolishly share this point of view. They don't realise that we're part of the same "orient" that is being blackened by many in the West.

"Jewish" is often confused with "Israeli" or "Zionist", and so on. I assume we make the same mistake by not differentiating between Arab and Muslim
I am interested to know what motivated you to visit Jewish concentration camps in Europe. They are, in a way, the ultimate "excuse" for the birth of Israel. Reading your last letter, I wondered about the question of identities - the difference between Jewish and Israeli, between Arab and Muslim, what do these words mean to you, what do they mean to me? As I told you, I work at a Palestinian-Israeli radio station, and I see that there is a kind of confusion among the Palestinians when it comes to those definitions.

"Jewish" is often confused with "Israeli" or "Zionist", and so on. I assume we make the same by not differentiating between Arab and Muslim. What do these words mean to you? If you had to choose three definitions of identity that define you the best, what would they be?

I apologise for being brief this time, I have to go study for my Arabic exam tomorrow.

Until next time,
All the best,

Good evening Orly,

I'm glad to hear your response to my question about legitimacy because in a way it helps me clarify my point. The fact that you didn't answer my question is telling since I didn't project any judgement about right and wrong. And since when was politics about right or wrong? Politics is all about interests. However, a direct answer about the legitimacy issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict will help clarify the boundaries of the interests of each side.

Omneya says Israeli is not clear about its political interests
Let me give the example of British colonialism in Egypt. The British came in response to a request by the ruling Khedive (Turkish ruler) in 1882 to help him suppress an army uprising. They then decided to stay until 1954. In the meantime, the British were very clear about their interests in Egypt and so were the Egyptians, who had several waves of nationalist resistance.

Coining political situations with their appropriate terms helps with negotiations. This is what I suggest for peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. You mention that up till now, Israelis have a hard time acknowledging the legitimate right of the Palestinians to their own state. I would also like to add that until now the Israelis have a hard time accepting that Israel is a colonising force not only in the occupied territories but in the Golan Heights as well.

In the case of the British, they accepted the national resistance of the Egyptians and finally accepted the negotiations over the complete evacuation of Egypt. It left the Egyptians with no hatred for the British and no pools of blood. What is missing in the Israeli example is the clarity behind political interests.

The Arab identity refers to history and language. In the Israeli example, it is a bit different because there are different cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and geographical backgrounds involved
This might be related to the question of identity as well. The Palestinians are Arabs who think that they have the legitimate right to the land. You ask me about three definitions of my identity. There is no need for three because it is one identity and that is the Arab identity which refers to history and language. In the Israeli example, there are different cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and geographical backgrounds involved. Religion is the common denominator for Israelis, but what does this suggest in terms of political interests?

I do not agree that you can exchange the term "narrative" for concepts such as legitimacy, colonialism, violence, etc. Narrative makes a lot of sense when you want to re-establish life stories and personal accounts. How would your narrative, for example, account for the following identities: Iranian, Israeli, Jewish? Your account will help me understand you, but will not help me understand why what you describe as the immigrant Israelis have a greater right to the land than the Palestinians who were born there.

I am not trying to be judgemental, I'm just trying to throw different ideas around.

Have a great time,

Further exchanges between Orly and Omneya will follow.

You can also comment on this story at:

Some of your comments:

At least someone has found out that the only way the peace can be more than just a dream in the Middle East is the good old discussion. Only by bringing up the questions and themes regarding the causes of the problems in the region that solutions can be achieved. Not by saying that "one is right and the other is wrong". At this time, the right "roadmap to peace" has to come through talking and general discussion, not shooting.
Filipe, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Omneya and Orly live in two worlds they did not choose. As much as we may sympathy with their divided worlds, the realities of history still get in the way. Whatever truths that may surface from this interpersonal communication will, surely, go a long way to testify to many out there that when ordinary people communicate and express their differences, with respect to the individual of human person, it is then assertive to say that every possible pulse of peace, true peace, could be revived and achieved.
Welleh KunArrobb, Winnipeg/Canada

Omneya is being quite pushy here
Eric, Winnipeg, Canada
Omneya is being quite pushy here. Orly successfully attempted to dodge a question that would raise tension, and Omneya successfully asked it again. If you want to know Jewish claims to the Israeli state, look them up online Omneya, don't ask Orly.
Eric, Winnipeg, Canada

I am glad to see such a wonderful people trying to understand their regional problems through political point of view. I am pretty sure that many of us have gained a lesson from these two individuals. We can avoid abomination among groups through mutual understandings of individuals, which will lead to a public success.
Elias, Ethiopian/Singapore

It is a sad commentary that after 26 years of a peace treaty, the BBC celebrates e-mail pen pals from neighbouring nations. That's the equivalent of celebrating pen-pals between the US and Japan or France and Germany in 1970. Moreover, 55 years after the modern state of Israel was founded and we still have to see an Israel defend her nation's right to exist shows how inconsequential this exercise is.
Jacob Blues, New York City, US

How stupid... Why does everything have to turn into an argument over the middle east conflict? It didn't take very long... I was hoping to hear about something else for a change.
Ugh, Earth

I think Orly has raised a very important question i.e. How Palestinians view this conflict, I mean is this conflict is between Jews and Muslims or between Israelis and Arabs.
Faraz Abid, Pakistan

Interestingly the Israeli correspondent does not mention legitimacy but the Arab correspondent does. The falsities the Arab populace have been fed over the years in an attempt to deny the continued and unbroken Jewish connection with the Land of Israel over the past five millennia at least three millennia before the advent of Christianity and Islam has now been raised in what should be an innocuous exchange of correspondence in another attempt to demonize the State of Israel. I for one hope that the Israeli correspondent will not be drawn into this - Israel's legitimacy is a given.
Ben Cohen, Jerusalem, Israel

There is no such thing as 'right and wrong' or 'good and evil'
Carlyle Dsilva, Ohio, USA
Reading the last e-mail, I came upon a phrase 'right and wrong' used by both correspondents. I just want to point out to all people in the world, that there is no such thing as 'right and wrong' or 'good and evil'. It is all relative to one's point of view. 400 years ago, slavery was right and possibly 100 years later it was wrong in America. 100 years ago, women's voting was wrong, and then it was right in America, and so on. One can find numerous examples throughout history. But if one was observing Earth from another planet/solar system one would see humans constantly attacking and killing each other, whatever the reason. The faster people understand that every single concept of 'right and wrong' or 'good and evil' is only relative to one's point of view, the faster we can live in peace.
Carlyle Dsilva, Ohio, USA

I see that you have this story over on bbcarabic.com as well, with some very interesting comments from readers all over the Arab world. You should consider copying and translating some of these comments from the BBC Arabic site into the English site (and vice versa) to give people a broader look at others' reactions.
Chris Coffey, Seattle, Washington USA

So many thoughts in my mind I don't know where to start, I feel and was raised exactly the same as Oumniya, I heard a lot of wonderful things about the Iraqi Jews, but never met one in my life, I always believe that it's us people how can make a change and break the cycle of violence.
Nada Alamin, New Zealand

I noticed another reader's comment that Omneya and Orly should avoid the discussion of legitimacy, and I understand the point, but I have to disagree. I think outside of the rhetorical context of international politics is the perfect time and place to discuss such questions, mainly because there is a foundation of real mutual understanding that I think simply does not exist or is not given enough importance in most diplomatic exchanges. Regular people, given the chance, can and will understand the perspective of the "other side", whereas politicians will consistently speak and act in a self-serving way, regardless of the validity of the opposing view.
Mike, Boston, USA

After so many years of hatred and silence, finally I hear a dialogue
Katayoun Shaybani, Montreal, Canada
It's wonderful to see that two human being, an Arab and an Israeli for that matter, are starting to talk to each other. After so many years of hatred and silence, finally I hear a dialogue. We people of the middle east, we're used to see only fighting. No one ever asks for a relationship, it's only war and war and war. I'm proud to see that as usual, it's the women who start listening.
Katayoun Shaybani, Montreal, Canada

I would suggest that you guys don't talk politics at this point. Knowing about one another's culture, lifestyle and other related stuff is a good thing to start with. Then, you can talk politics though I am certain that you would not come to terms.
Mansour Seraj, Amran, Yemen

Omneya represents many Arabs' view on the question of Israeli legitimacy. They want Israelis to say, "We technically don't have the right, but we need to be somewhere." The creation of Israel inside of Palestine is a new kind of occupation because although Israel's creation might not have been justified, what do you do with all these people now. You can's send them back to whatever country their grandparents came from. Outside forces must enforce the existing international resolutions in order for their to be peace and legitimacy in the region. Peace to all.
Reza, Los Angeles, USA

This is a very good idea. It is unfortunate that so many Arabs still don't understand why antisemitism does not apply to them. It really is quite simple historically; the term was created in Europe and meant to refer only to Jews. I also don't think the writers should engage in discussions on Israel's legitimacy unless they are ready to discuss Egypt's legitimacy as well.
Michael Brenner, New York, NY

Both of these women are very brave to make such a visable effort in overcoming problems regarding humanity in their countries. Problems that I see as having been in existance since BC. It is very enlightening to read their dialogue. It's like seeing into their minds. And knowing that above all they want to understand one anothers views. That is the first step in resolving conflict!
Frances Vessell, Houston Texas USA

Stop talking about legitimacy, and start talking about how to fix things
Eric, Canada
Listen to Rashad, stop talking about legitimacy, and start talking about how to fix things as they are now. Mistakes have been made, but to further dwell on them runs the possibility of committing more mistakes in the other direction.
Eric, Canada

It is promising to see how two nationalities and religions are at-least communicating their differences to each other without hate. However, in my personal opinion, I do not feel there will ever be peace in Israel (or indeed the world), until there is a fair and just solution to the Palestinian situation. What angers many Muslim and indeed many Non Muslims is of the unfair foreign policy portrayed by the US and the UK in matters concerning Israel.
Akbur Ghafoor, London, UK

I agree this to be excellent and this brings the true meaning of love. Prophet SAW never hated the Jews and Christians to such an extent as we see in this world today. The Prophet SAW used to trade and do business and talk to them. Nowadays we Muslims tend to hold our fist when we see a Jew wearing a Jewish cap. In Religion wise the Jews and Muslims are very similar, we beleive in the same prophets and we can also eat the same food too. I really like what the two friends are doing and I hope there is no controvertial topics as to war and hatred. In my university i talk to jews and christians and we have good warm friendly get together talks and it feels like "home". We talk about similarities in religion. I learn a lot from keeping Jewish and Christian Friends, because you learn there thinking and understanding and there methodology too. If i had an Opportunity i would love to meet a Jew from Israel wanting to keep a good friendly conversation with me.
kassim, T-! Dot, Canada

Omneya and Orly should be congratulated on this positive dialogue. I second Yulia's opinion and thoughts, Palestinians are just as nationalistic and patriotic about their sense of belonging to the holy land. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a valid right and claim to the land, the only problem is that both sides have to agree to share and divide the land. Both sides should treat each other with mutual respect and dignity. Palestinians must end the violence against the Israelis and likewise Israelis should start having regard for the Palestinian people and their right to exist in the land. Both sides must acknowledge that suicide bombings, military incursions, and targeted assassinations will lead only to a path of destruction.
Mustafa Alami, Palestinian living in the UK

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