Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh was a community rabbi in Gush Katif. In these days of fighting at the Gaza border of Israel, he sent me the following letter that he wrote to the young people living in the Strip and asked me to help it reach as many people as possible.
An Open Letter to the Youth of Gaza
From Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh, the former rabbi of Gush Katif
To the Arab residents of the Gaza Strip,
We lived together, side by side, for 30 years. The Jews of Gush Katif and the Arabs of the Gaza Strip. In the early years, Deir El-Balah residents would come over to neighboring Kfar Darom to participate in family celebrations. There was no mikveh (ritual bath) in Kfar Darom and every Friday, I would walk the length of the Deir El-Balah camp by myself to the sea. I was greeted by the Gazan fishermen who spoke Hebrew; they wished me a Shabbat Shalom.
The elder Abu Halil and his brother, the mayor, who belonged to the el-Aziza clan, would come and drink tea with me in my house, I remember that you added five teaspoons of sugar to each cup. When you came to celebrate Ben-Saadon’s wedding, you asked if you were permitted to touch wine belonging to Jews.
When we moved to Gadid, there was no pharmacy and we bought Materna baby milk formula in Khan Yunis. We did our weekly shopping for Shabbat at the Khan Yunis shuk, buying fruit and vegetables and fresh fish. All the vendors would greet me, “Ahalan to the mukhtar of the Jews.” We drove our car to Khan Yunis for its annual vehicle inspection, and took our driving test there too.
You get the general picture of how our lives were intertwined — Jews and Arabs living and working side by side. I know it sounds unbelievable, but for some five years, we lived in utopia, speaking Hebrew and Arabic.
Then, one day, Yasser Arafat was brought over from Algeria to Gaza. He was sent to you to make peace with us.
From that day, life was never again the same in the Strip. The winds of war threatened to engulf us, time and time again.
At first, it was the Stone Age, when they threw stones at us. Then the Bronze Age, when they placed metal bolts and nails on the roads. Then came the Fire Age, when they launched rocket and mortar attacks, and finally, the tunnels, which you started digging while we were still living there.
I know that the authentic residents of Gaza and the Muasi region are not those who are shooting. You are not like that. I know you. You are good people.
If someone translates this letter for your children and teenagers to read, tell them that their grandfathers did not behave like this. Life was good in the Gaza Strip then.
I call on you, youngsters of Gaza, stand up and get rid of your leaders who send you off to the battlefront. Your leaders are not coming to the fence to die for their beliefs and principles. They send you. They have electricity and water in their mansions. In your hovels, water supply is erratic, and you only have electricity for a few hours a day.
I pray that the good Israeli soldiers will not have to injure you.
You should not allow your bloodthirsty leaders to give you orders.
Rise up, youngsters of Gaza, raise the flag of life.
Be healthy, be good, and do not imbibe the evil that the Hamas is feeding you with.
I hope that someone who knows Arabic can translate my letter and distribute it to the youth of the Gaza Strip.
— Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh