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Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 03:43 GMT 04:43 UK
Mid-East pen friends part 8: Signing off
Omneya al-Naggar, an Egyptian school teacher in the northern city of Alexandria, has been taking part in an e-mail correspondence with Orly Noy, an Israeli journalist of Iranian origin, living and working in Jerusalem.

In this, their eighth and final exchange for BBCArabic.com, the two women look back at their correspondence and what they will take from it.


Hi Omneya,
Well, it seems like we're approaching the end of our correspondence, and I still feel like I have so many things to discuss with you. Somehow we remained on the political-intellectual level, and hardly talked about ourselves, two women that don't represent nations but are individuals with families, kids, jobs, likes and dislikes, and so on.

I guess it could have been predicted that it would turn out this way. The sad fact is that an Israeli and an Arab can't meet as just two individuals. They will always be stripped of their personal identity and become spokesmen for their people. What do you think about this?

The sad fact is that an Israeli and an Arab can't meet as just two individuals. They will always be stripped of their personal identity and become spokesmen for their people
I'd like to recommend two very interesting and popular Israeli novelists, both translated into many languages and I'm sure to Arabic as well. The first one is Amos Oz - considered to be the premier Israeli novelist for about three decades now. The second, and my favourite, is David Grossman, an extremely sensitive writer that writes both for children and for adults. We actually get a lot of Egyptian literature translated into Hebrew; Nagib Mahfuz, of course, Nawal Saadawi, which I appreciate very much, and I just recently finished reading Fathi Ghanem's The Mountain.

The melting pot that Israelis talk about with such pride is another way to describe the imposition of the western culture on the Jews that arrived from Arab countries. Since the Zionist movement was established by European Jews, the oriental Jews were looked at as underdeveloped and uncultured people that needed to be civilized somehow to meet with the western ideas.

For example, I had to change my name when we came to Israel because the teacher didn't like the fact that my name was foreign.

I think that there is a lesson to be learned here, to say that it's alright to disagree, but the important thing is to face each other and listen to the other side
For many years the Israeli establishment neglected the culture and traditions of oriental Jews, and only recently has there been an effort to address this issue. For me, being an Iranian means belonging to a great culture of which I'm very proud, and I do my best to pass it on to my daughters, by playing them a lot of Persian music, telling them stories about my childhood in Tehran, eating Persian food, and so on.

There were almost no cases of persecutions against Jews in Iran, we were free to exercise our religion and had very good relations with our Muslim friends. Even today, with the Iranian regime being so anti-Israeli, it is in no way anti-Semitic, and the Jews that still live there are not being discriminated against.

I forgot to apologize about the delay in writing you, but for couple of nights I just fell asleep when I went to put my daughter, Noa, to bed. I know it sounds pathetic, but I actually fell asleep at 8 pm!

Have a great week,
Orly


Hi Orly,
I hope all is well with you, your family and your work. The week started here with such a warm sun, and this definitely makes me feel good. I had a very good weekend - we relaxed, cooked, took the boys out, and read.

I would like to thank you for your recommendations of novelists. I think I can get hold of My Michael by Amos Oz. Let me recommend Ibrahim Abdel Meguid's The House of Jasmins and Meral al-Tahhawi's The Blue Eggplant. I also like Radwa Ashour and Sabri Moussa.

I hope our correspondence can set an example for others to try to see beyond what is at the surface
I also would like to thank you for your openness and honesty during our correspondence. It is true that we could not have known each other outside this e-mail exchange. It is a sad fact, but I hope our correspondence can set an example for others to try to see beyond what is at the surface.

We had our disagreements, but this did not mean trying to negate the other. I personally think that there is a big potential behind a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A lot needs to be done though, and efforts of individuals with good will from both sides are needed.

You talked about the negative role of westernisation. Is not this a good reason to stop looking to the West for solutions or models? Perhaps the Arabs and the Israelis need to look and see what they have in common and work to draw this out, instead of only looking at their differences. However, politics will always highlight the differences as long as the Palestinians suffer in their land.

Let me wish you success in your new radio station. I hope it can serve as a fair voice for both sides because such fairness can only help to bridge the gaps of enmity. You have a big task ahead of you!

All the best
Omneya


Omneya,
It's been a pleasure to get to know you through the letters, and I want to thank you for this very stimulating correspondence. I think that there is a lesson to be learned here, to say that it's alright to disagree, but the important thing is to face each other and listen to the other side.

I wish you and your family all the best, and more than anything I wish both our children to live in a better, prouder and prosperous Middle East, as good neighbours who respect one another.

Good luck with everything and take care,
Orly


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