[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 15:35 GMT
Mid-East pen friends part 1: Introductions
Omneya al-Naggar is an Egyptian school teacher in the Northern city of Alexandria. Orly Noy is an Israeli journalist of Iranian origin, living and working in Jerusalem. They are both working mothers, but their worlds are divided by hostility, politics, culture and religion.

BBC Arabic.com has asked Omneya and Orly to exchange their views, via e-mail, on life, the prospects for Middle East peace and everything. Read the exchanges and send us your comments.

Hi Omneya,

I guess it is as strange for you to receive a letter from a total stranger, as it is for me to write one. Maybe the best thing to do is start with the basic facts.

My name is Orly, I'm 33 years old, married with two little girls, ages four and a half and one. I live in Jerusalem, and work as a producer at a new Israeli-Palestinian radio station which will go on air in about three weeks. I am also studying for my second degree in Middle East studies at the Hebrew University.

As I write this letter it occurs to me how weird it is that two geographical neighbours like us would never have known about each other without the intervention of a third, distant party.

Anyway... I was born in Tehran, Iran, and came to Israel after the Islamic revolution in 1979. Come to think of it, maybe I should have started at this point, not only because of chronological order, but also because to this day I see myself as no less Iranian than Israeli.

Perhaps it doesn't make any sense to you that I can feel a part of two totally different worlds like Iran and Israel. Sometimes it's puzzling for me as well, but I guess this is a part of what it means to be an immigrant.

Well, Omneya (by the way, it is a beautiful name, what does it mean?), I'm looking forward to our mutual journey. There are so many things to be said.

Yours sincerely,

Hello Orly,

I really surprise myself at not feeling at all strange writing to what you suggest is a "total stranger". Thanks to cyberspace, we (I mean people everywhere) are not strangers anymore.

To be honest, I expected to feel the strangeness coming from the fact that you are Israeli and I am Egyptian. You are the first Israeli person that I have been in touch in the hope of getting to know. But here again, the strangeness is diluted because of our physical remoteness.

My name is Omneya, and I am 35 years old. I am married to an artist and we live in Alexandria and have two boys who are seven and two years old. I studied political science in the American University in Cairo both for my BA and my MA. I've always had a great interest in the politics and history of the Middle East, and I think it's great that you've chosen Middle Eastern studies. I also did a second degree in English literature when I moved to Alexandria. I've worked and taught in a school in Alexandria since 1997.

I see that we have a lot of things in common, being both working women, mothers, Middle Eastern and neighbours. Yet, there is a gap that divides our two worlds. It might be a similar gap to your two worlds of Iran and Israel.

Can we reconcile our divided worlds? It is a big job, and it needs an insightful spirit able to survive the pains of unwanted memories. We have to face the fact that yes we have a peace treaty, but we lack peace.

This is why we will always look at each other with a big question mark. Believe me I do not like this truth, but I have to acknowledge it.

Thank you for your nice e-mail. My name means "a wish", and my wish is that we enjoy our correspondence.

All the best,

Further exchanges between Orly and Omneya will follow.

Your comments:

Dialogues are the only way to achieve peace in that hotbed of the world, unfortunately we must wait for the current middle-east leaders to retire from office before the "wish' can come true.
A. Ghanem, Los Angeles, California, USA

At least it's making others think about the issue
lakram, DC, USA
I think people should not look for an exchange that's representative of every Israeli and Egyptian view. That's impossible. This is just a snapshot. I find it a good idea. I can see the effect of it already as so many people - like myself - are interested and sharing their comments with others. At least it's making others think about the issue. Maybe the BBC can choose other people representing different backgrounds/views/classes of these countries; or may be mix and match: have an open minded well-educated correspond with a more conservative person.
lakram, DC, USA

People from these two countries emigrate to the US, and I see no conflict between them in their new land. I'm sure the same is true in the UK and other places in the world. Geography has everything to do with the conflict. We need to tackle it with this as a major consideration.
Tony Martin, South San Francisco, CA., USA

Although these women have stipulated that they are neighbours with a political gap between them, I am sure that there goals and desires will be similar. I think their interaction will prove to be positive. Both women have taken middle eastern studies, therefore I believe they can both be objective with each other. With that being said, I hope that most average citizens can see both sides of the coin.
Michelle, Victoria, British Columbia

It's fascinating that we are all so ready to project our opinions onto these nice ladies. It would be my wish that they and many other mothers, fathers, sister, brothers etc. of both sides of this tragic divide were allowed to experience each other without the benefit of everybody else's opinions and prejudice.
Norman Cooley, London, England

There should be a natural exchange of views between two countries who made peace over 25 years ago
Chaouki Abinakhlé, Toronto, Canada
It is ironic that the BBC had to ask Omneya and Orly to exchange their views. Normally, there should be a natural exchange of views between two countries who made peace over 25 years ago. The truth is that peace between Egypt and Israel is no a real peace but an artificial one. And after 25 years of the peace agreement between the two countries, the two sides still mistrust each other. A true peace must be between the Egyptian and the Israeli peoples.
Chaouki Abinakhlé, Toronto, Canada

I am a DC journalist. I am also the sister of a man murdered January 29, 2004 in the bus bombing outside Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's residence. My brother Yechezkel Goldberg is the first Canadian murdered in these terror bombings. Soon after, I was sent the BBC link to their story on Yousaf Jaraa. His son Ali murdered my brother and ten other commuters that day. I spoke with the author of the BBC piece. Time well spent because for a single person, I am discovering in my brother's memory I am making a difference. Seven children are without a father. The BBC journalist is considering my request to facilitate my meeting Ali's family. No agenda. Just meet. Whatever is meant to be, will happen. It will be the first time family members of a bomb murder come together. Maybe with all your support, we can make it the last.
Carrie Devorah Washington DC USA

I am interested in how surprised people are with this exchange. Having lived in Israel, I can say with certainty that the vast majority of Israelis are more than happy to visit Jordan and Egypt (especially at times of calm) and get to know the peoples, coutures and sites there (Petra and Dahab are favourites). I can't speak with authority on the Egyptian and Jordanian view, but I imagine that the feeling is mutual, albeit in a smaller, more educated and wealthy populace.
Dave, London

It's a good idea, but seeing as these are two well-educated, literate people who already have a good understanding of the complexities of their world makes the exchange, I fear, less than representative of the thoughts and feelings of the people more likely to be incited by demagoguery on both sides.
Kristofer, New York, New York

Letters and personal exchanges like this are the only real engines for peace
Patrick, Houston, TX USA
Letters and personal exchanges like this are the only real engines for peace. Once we all realize that as people we have more in common than the politicians tell us, the walls will fall. Just as combat is a hand-to-hand affair, so, too, is peace.
Patrick, Houston, TX USA

It is a nice idea, the idea of communication. It is a shame that only 5% of people really want peace and the rest want war. The truth of the matter is, if the Arabs of the ME would accept the fact that Jews are allowed to exist, especially in their home land, the world would be a better place. But I guess that would take courage to stand up to bigotry and ignorance.
Yaron , Sacramento California

I support this idea. I am from Azerbaijan, currently studying in Georgia, USA as an exchange student. As you know there is a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I suggest you to do such an exchange of views between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Thank you in advance!
Ramil A. Babayev, Baku, Azerbaijan (currently in USA)

In spite of this being a noble idea, it is more about skipping the facts. No sane individual wants any other person being hurt. But when educated & so-called liberal minded people air themes like Israel being maintained as a Jewish majority state (as mentioned by one of the respondents), there is still some time to go before we reach peace. Any struggle costing innocent blood can never be justified, whatever is its motive. It would be facile to say that such exchanges would help achieve peace. Reality is much more brutal.
Sujeet Mate, India

It has to begin somewhere
Greg Davis, Vancouver, Canada
Perhaps those who feel that these two young women are not representative of the total population are missing the point. It has to begin somewhere: educated and moderate young people seems like a good place to begin an exchange in dialogue. Once relationships like these are cemented, then efforts to bring the shopkeeper and the mechanic together might have a real chance.
Greg Davis, Vancouver, Canada

I don't consider myself an emotional young girl, but my eyes are full of tears as I'm writing this. It's a marvellous idea that more middle-eastern women contact each other. I believe this type of interaction makes people of both sides see each other as women and friends than what the governments and the traditions want us to view. I hope that we all see peace in the Middle East because of this friendship between the people.
Asal Shokati, Houston, Texas

I consider both of them to be Arabs. Yes, one is living in Israel, but of Iranian descent. The other is Egyptian. This is not a surprise for me. Yes, you could have a true Israeli and an Arab communicating, but this is not the case.
Helene, United States

The fact that both women are well aware of the publicity their letters, as well as the fact that they are both highly informed, intellectual individuals endowed with the gift of (diplomatic) writing, precludes getting the real picture from this correspondence. It may have been better to look for correspondences that occurred naturally in the past between people of both sides. My personal experience with such, even among intellectuals, has been a deep cultural gap and a consistent "yes, but..." type of dialogue. In spite of a degree of personal empathy, the effects of culture, propaganda, and historical events prevailed.
Alice Goldman, Jerusalem

Human beings do not hate each other, but governments
Begashaw Wukaw, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The forum created for these two intellectual ladies is wonderful to me. Myself being an Ethiopian, would like to communicate with a 'neighbouring' Eritrean friends, with whom we have gone to universities, at home and abroad. This is just to show that human beings do not hate each other, but governments. What I can only say is, it is a good start, and wish them that their both governments do the same, for the sake of their people.
Begashaw Wukaw, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Regarding the e-mail exchange between Omneya and Orly, I shall say that, this is a good initiative. It is better to bring the ordinary people together to share their common interests and similarities rather than the politicians. It is a long time since the war between Israel and Palestine has been going on and there have been so many peace treaties between the two governments, but all were violated shortly after.
Abdul Basir Khwaja , Kabul, Afghanistan

I saw a documentary similar to this where Palestinian children were brought together with Israeli children to get to know each other. It didn't seem to be very successful, but I would think the most powerful (or only?) road to peace is by continuing to humanize the 'enemy' whenever and wherever possible.
Tiffany Esteb, NYC, New York USA

This is an excellent idea. A convergence of two disparate worlds suffering from effects of violence, hatred and misunderstanding. I hope this turns out to be a good platform for putting forth the views of these ladies as well as many others. For readers not belonging to these worlds (like me), it is going to be fascinating understanding of what each lady's world is like first hand.
Prashanth Dhulipala, San Jose, California

This isn't about whether or not Arabs and Jews can have a chat about weather and football
Matthew Freedman, UK
It's easy for Jews and Arabs to have correspondence with each other. We did the same at university with Jews and Palestinians because this isn't about whether or not Arabs and Jews can have a chat about weather and football or about Jews vs Arabs or skin colour or whether I as a Jew like Arab culture (I do!). It's about the struggle for the existence of the only Jewish state in the world. Just because I strongly support the existence of Israel as a Jewish majority doesn't mean I hate Arabs. In fact if Israel's existence was ensured and Arab countries were more peaceful I'd be happy to live in an Arab state.
Matthew Freedman, UK

I feel that this demonstrates something we all know - that nations of people don't hate other nations. It is just governments against other governments. Really can all the peoples of Argentina, Iraq, Germany, Italy, Japan etc be evil? No. There is good and bad in every group no matter what separates us. It just suits our governments to let us believe that during the lead up to war that we're not just fighting a evil government. Look for the good in everyone and you'll grow as a person.
Jon Atree, Livermore, CA (ex-pat)

I always believed that the silent majority in the Arab world and in Israel wants peace. I feel, as an Arab, that we are divided by misconceptions and by media coverage of the extreme. Initiatives like this one by the BBC definitely help bridge the gap. The tragedy of the occupation in Palestine, until resolved, will always be a barrier to peace in the Middle East, but peace can never be achieved without the active participation and faith of peace-loving Israelis.
Samer, London, UK

I was very touched by this brief email exchange between these two ladies
Ivan Kosir, Toronto, Canada
I was very touched by this brief email exchange between these two ladies. To a North American accustomed to media demonization of the people in the middle east, it is very refreshing to see real communication between real people. Intelligent, alive, dealing with their lives just like people everywhere else. Thank you for putting this in a prominent spot on your front page, BBC online. We should see more of this encouraging activity, to bring people together instead of dividing and fomenting hatred and misinformation.
Ivan Kosir, Toronto, Canada

These letters are very interesting as I see that they express willingness to know about each other which they would otherwise have not had. Being an Indian this reminds me of the same border difference between India and Pakistan. The common man in these two countries do not have experience in knowing or accepting each others culture and extending friendship. I hope sincerely that this effort does not become a passing cloud soon. Great idea!
Vanaja Jaligam, maryland, USA

The problem with this is exchange is that while Orly is fairly representative of the average Israeli, Omneya is not representative of the most Egyptian women. Very few women in Egypt are as wealthy, educated, or liberated as Omneya. It is a very good idea to get real Israelis and real Egyptians to communicate, but most Egyptians are not western educated as Omneya is, and would probably not be as open minded to such an exchange.
Aaron Hassid, New York, New York

This exchange is not representative of the views of the masses, I think. I detect a note of strained "politeness".
Maria, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Something as simple as electronic pen pals is so simple and powerful, it just may work
Erik Ray, Boston, USA
What an excellent idea! I work in Information Technology and I have been wondering for a long time how I could use that technology to better the world. Most of the world's problems come about because of a lack of communication, and people unable to escape from the artificial containers of culture and society. Something as simple as electronic pen pals is so simple and powerful, it just may work. I hope you publish more exchanges like these. They are very inspiring.
Erik Ray, Boston, USA

I am not surprised that the two young women 'clicked' from the first e-mail. I myself am an Arab and I wish that the BBC could apply this experience to a large number of Arabs and Israelis, no matter what their degree of extremism or moderation is, and it will prove far better than a million peace treaties brokered by politicians. This is giving the chance, for the first time, to humans to talk, not politicians. After all, it is people whose lives are affected, and I am certain that people in Israel and also in Arab countries want to get along with their lives in peace. Down with politicians!
Samia Adnan, London - UK

Your idea is certainly noble, but I don't know how relevant or revealing this email exchange would be. Both women are highly educated persons with a highly intelligent and thorough grip on Middle Eastern affairs. Of course it's going to be much easier for them to open their minds and reach a common position. Why don't you try a construction worker and a small grocery owner?
Marius Stan, Baltimore, USA

I think this correspondence is a great idea. Because both are grown up women who have studied middle eastern issues at University, I think it will be interesting to see how they both view their own identity and situation. By exchanging views they can maybe also see some of the 'logic' behind the views of the other side. And once again see that indeed, under all those cultural layers, we are all Humans.
Raymond M. Kristiansen, Bergen, Norway

More publicity needs to be given to the fact that the majority of ordinary people want to live in peace a
Adam Lattice, London, UK
There are so many peace initiatives, large and small which need to publicised. How many people will hear of this "Israeli-Palestinian radio station" for example. More publicity needs to be given to the fact that the majority of ordinary people want to live in peace and do not want war. The media are guilty of talking up war. Now talk up peace for a change even if it doesn't sell newspapers.
Adam Lattice, London, UK

Reading the exchange between Omneya and Orly is exciting and I hope to read more between these two women as they explore the similarities and differences between them and their "worlds". I hope that they, as I hope also for their countrymen and women, discover that the differences are slight and the similarities are many. It is through this dialogue between people that wounds are healed and that we all learn new ways to move forward with peace and understanding. Thank You! Salaam/Shalom
Bruce McCoy, San Francisco USA

This is so fantastic... Aside from the 10% of folks on the radical end of the spectrum on both sides, everyone in the Middle East wants the same things - peace, a home and food and a few creature comforts for their families. Before the last Intifada, I travelled extensively throughout the region, just driving around in my rented car, going wherever curiosity took me (a journey that would be impossible now). Everyone I spent time with (both Israeli and Palestinian) just wanted a living wage job, a decent home and some peace for their families. As more people from each "side" talk to each other, the more they will find they have in common... Saleem and shalom,
Joyce-Marie Coulson, Eugene, OR, USA


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific