A young student from the American university in Iraq contacted me a few months ago. She wrote me that she was very emotional after reading the book “Daughters of Iraq”. I don’t know what gave her the impulse to try and find me. I imagine this was a very bold on her part. I think she did not expect me to open a window for her into my world, even though she was opening a window for me into her world. I get e-mails from readers every once in a while, but this was the first time I have been approached by Muslims from an Arab country. I was very surprised and excited even though I didn’t really trust her in the first few exchanges. We began to exchange messages. She was asking me questions related to writing the book and I was gladly answering. At one point I asked her questions about her life. I discovered she is originally from Baghdad, the city both my parents immigrated from to Israel. She is studying in the American university in north Iraq, in the Kurd area that is at the north east, in the mountain territory. I couldn’t hold back and I asked her if she was not afraid to be there, with ISIS in the area and the war with the Kurd. She replied that because the city she studies in is in a mountainous area, there aren`t any concerns right now that ISIS will be brave enough to go there and fight in a mountain territory the Kurd know like their own hand.
After a few conversations the student told me that her name is Dima, and that she is studying English literature and education, and that she is supposed to teach two lessons in her class, and she chose my book, “Daughters of Iraq” as the subject. I was very excited and offered to help in any possible way.
Dima asked if I was willing to answer students questions if that could be arranged. I replied that I will gladly do this. I didn’t imagine how emotional and surprising this whole experience is going to be, and how much it will impact me. We set a date, which was quite far out, and as the date got closer we agreed that we will arrange a first face to face conversation, just to make sure the technical part works. I saw Dima for the first time and was touched. She was very sweet, shy, a beautiful girl and I think very brave. It is not at all obvious that a young, Muslim girl living in Iraq, should talk face to face with a much older women, Israeli, living in the US. Our first meeting was very exciting. We made sure everything works, checked the time zones and made sure that we both understand the local time during the lesson, because there is a 10 hour time difference (same difference as from Israel).
Finally, the exciting day arrived. Truth is I didn’t really know what to expect, but I thought to myself, these are only students asking questions. I simply thought they will ask more about writing and fewer material questions about the world as it looks like from my side. The entire conversation was in English. I was surprised by the quality of the English they were speaking, and I was surprised by their western clothes, boys and girls together. Dima introduced me and I said hello nicely to everyone. We waved to each other and then they each approached the computer in turn to ask questions.
The very first question I was asked was if I would like to visit Iraq one day. I answered immediately, “Sure, I would love to visit someday”. I did not realize what I brought on myself, because the next question was hard to answer: “Why are you interested in visiting Iraq after all the hard time the Iraqis gave the Jews”. I admit, I was a bit surprised, because I thought this wasn’t the message I sent in my book. I answered that the Jewish history in Iraq is very long. Many generations of Jews lived in Iraq. Actually Iraq was one of the main and biggest centers for Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years. There were good times and bad times, but I was grateful for the fact the Iraq was a home for Jews for so many years. It is true, my grandfather could not wait to immigrate to the newly established country, -Israel. In his times, and since declaration of Israel as a country to be established, the Jews went through really rough times, but my roots are located in Iraq. I am very curious to see the place that my fathers and great fathers lived in. Israelis are not allowed in Iraq, even my own family, but as an American citizen I can visit.
And then they asked a little bit about the book. Am I Noa? (A question that shows up a lot in other forums as well). I was asked what led me to write the book (also a very logical and human question to ask), and then I was asked a questions that I found very hard to answer. They asked: “What are you? Iraqi? Israeli? American?” I was confused for a minute and then answered that I am Israeli first, because this is my primary identify and I am American second, because I hold an American passport, and my children (some of them) were born in America. I am also Iraqi and also Jewish. I told them that I feel like a citizen of the world and I hope they are as well, because at the end of the day we are all human. They then asked if I see myself as Palestinian. I think they maybe didn’t really understand who I was. I said I don’t. I am Israeli, and then I talked to them about the problem of the refugees. I said that the Jews that came from Arab countries are all refugees and that the Palestinians are refugees, and if it was possible to exchange populations it might have solved the conflict.
I’m not sure they understood what I said, but the conversation ended, we took selfies together and I received an email from Dima with deep gratitude. She said all the students were very excited by the event and especially by my candor that they did not expect at all. There were even students that were not registered to the class that asked to join the interview. Dima said that the students felt very comfortable asking questions and I was glad I made it possible for them to feel they can ask whatever they wanted. Later, Dima sent me an article she wrote on the book “Daughters of Iraq” and only from it I learned that she chose to read the book and thought it will be about Jews defaming Iraq. She was so surprised to read a book that does not judge Iraq and doesn’t judge any of the other characters and events that happened but only tells their story. This was a very interesting point for me, because it was the first time I ever thought about my book in the terms she was using.
I told Dima that I am always open for more questions and I will answer to the best of my ability. I was moved by how much the world has become small, how simple it is to cross borders, physical and emotional, via the internet. I did not ever imagine that an Arab population will read my book and could even identify with my characters. I feel I have won a great gift.