Dear Minister Bezalel Smotrich,
We have so much in common, you and I, we both grew up at least partially in the West Bank, you in Bet El and me, I did spend a few months in Ramallah just down the road from Bet El (although mostly in eastern Jerusalem). We also studied in both Jerusalem and the West Bank, you in Yeshivat Kedumim and me at Al Quds University. We both served Israel at later ages, you in the IDF at 28 and myself in National Service at 23. We even both served in Tel Aviv. Just down the block from each other just a few years apart. In fact, we both served for about the same amount of time, as well, you for 14 months and me for 12.
I feel like we can relate so much because of the aforementioned studies and service but also because like yours, my family has lived in this land, specifically Jerusalem, for generations and like you, we are not going anywhere.
So, I’m writing to you personally because I feel you will understand me as my neighbor, my fellow ancestral Jerusalemite and my fellow citizen of Israel.
Recently, you visited France, a land whose ancestors wreaked havoc on ours during the Crusades, killing thousands of Muslims and Jews in Israel. In France, you declared, as you have similarly done before, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.
This remark came just a few weeks after you previously called to wipe out an entire Palestinian village, not unlike the ancient European Crusaders, who harassed and wiped out our ancestors on this same land. Now, I think we can both agree no matter how many apologies are sent out that the damage caused cannot be undone.
Smotrich, honestly, I see only two differences between us. The first one is that you identify as a Jewish Israeli and me as a Palestinian Israeli but at least we have the Israeli part in common. The second one is that I personally accept sharing this land with you, acknowledge your presence and embrace our democratic institutions that give you a platform; however, you do not seem to be returning the courtesy.
The existence of Palestinians is not a threat to your presence here but extremism and ignorance are a threat to everyone. Indeed, tragically, there is much of that in Palestinian society. But it seems to me that the Jewish society has its growing share of extremists too, who also seek to wipe out villages and deny the existence of others.
Putting the West Bank aside, Arabs comprise just over 20% of Israel’s population. Approximately 400,000 residents of Jerusalem, many of whom identify as Palestinian, pay taxes, help others, volunteer and even serve in the National Service or the army and, in many cases, do so longer than you did. So, please, I am asking you, as one citizen of Israel to another, to stop saying nasty things and sit down and talk to us and actually try to get some work done.
Smotrich, I’m a Palestinian Israeli, I’m around and I’m not going anywhere. Ramadan has started and so has Passover. We both know tensions are rising on all sides. So, I invite you to meet with me any time, perhaps for a Kosher-for-Passover Iftar meal, and we can reminisce over our service in Tel Aviv, studies in the West Bank and maybe, just maybe, also acknowledge each other’s existence.
The writer is a UK-born and US-raised proud Palestinian Israeli dedicated to promoting two-way tolerance and normalization. She is also a former National Service volunteer at the Regional Cooperation Ministry.