David, Anthony. “An Improbable Friendship: The Remarkable Lives of Israeli Ruth Dayan and Palestinian Raymonda Tawil and Their Forty-Year Peace Mission”, Arcade Publishing, 2015
Raymonda Tawil and Ruth Dayan met in 1970. Dayan was the then-wife of Israeli war hero and Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, was visiting a hospital in the Palestinian city of Nablus to deliver dolls to children. Tawil, of Palestinian aristocracy and Yasser Arafat’s mother-in-law, was there to watch this exercise in diplomacy. She was not impressed. Today, these elder stateswomen are dear friends. From Malta, where they most recently met up, they share the story of how they won each other over. Much of the book is based upon interviews, diaries and journals of both women.
Ruth lives today in Tel Aviv, Raymonda in Malta so they do not see each other a great deal but their story is inspiring and fascinating. It is a tale of reconciliation and hope in a climate of endless conflict. The women’s stories about their friendship began after the Six-Day War in 1967 and through them we learn the behind-the-scenes, undisclosed history of the Middle East’s most influential leaders from two prominent women on either side of the ongoing conflict.
The friendship between the two women was unexpected yet because of it, we learn their true feelings and their pasts. Both an Israeli and a Palestinian have voices and via their friendship we learn a bit more about the conflict in the Middle East and understand that both women have faith there will be peace there one day.
Raymonda Tawil is mother to Suha, the Catholic raised and educated daughter who married Yasser Arafat. Ruth was the wife of Israeli strongman, Moshe Dayan. Arafat swore to drive the invader from his native Palestine while Dayan was the ruthless hunter of those opposed to Jewish resettlement in the emerging Israel. We would think any friendship between these women must, indeed, be improbable. But that is not the case at all.
Ruth was born in Haifa in 1917 when what was known as Palestine then was under Turkish rule. She gave up a comfortable middle-class life to be the wife of a farmer. She married Moshe Dayan and lived in a leaking shack, sharing her life with a penniless and uneducated farmer but as we know that farmer became a military hero and a very important man in Israel.
Raymonda was born a generation later in 1940, in Acre, part of what was then the English Palestine Mandate, daughter of a wealthy and respected Christian family. When the Israelis captured Acre, they uprooted Palestinian families. That act of dispossession in Acre and in other places is still a major issue.– there and in other places – remains an issue to this day.
Moshe Dayan gained prominent in leading armed attacks against Palestinians and went on to gain fame in the 1967 Six Day War. It was from this and other, later, battles that he became known to the world. The paths of the two women crossed right after the Six Day War. Raymonda visited the hospital at Nablus, tending the displaced, the dying and the wounded. One day while at the hospital she learned that Ruth, wife of the man she considered the cause of the dreadful devastation, was about to arrive. The friendship did not start well because Raymonda went on the attack. However over time that, despite their obvious differences and points of view, originating from opposing sides of the same issue, they both wanted the same basic outcome, peace and stability for their people.
Anthony David interviewed the two women, researching background and history before writing this book that is also a brief history of the wars and the difficulties that accompanied the birth of a new country. However, his concentration is on the differences and the similarities of the book’s twin subjects. As I read, I thought that it is really very sad that we cannot see the issues as clearly as these two women do. Even today, at 98 and 75 years of age, they love a good argument! The improbable friends always seem to find a way to fine outcomes.
The book is a delightful read and it is filled withanecdote and wonderful detail. We see the creativity of the women as well as their conviction and courage., this book demonstrates Dayan’s and Tawil’s creativity, conviction, and courage. We are reminded of a time past when Palestinians and Israelis worked together for peace.
While this book is basically about and focused on the women, there are many powerful men here— Moshe Dayan, Yasser Arafat, Ezer Weizman, among others—and there is plenty of intrigue, violence, and danger. Ruth and Raymonda are brilliant, passionate and driven feminists whose unique friendship should serve as a model for international relations and people-to-people dialogue. What keeps their relationship going is their ability and to honor the dignity and aspirations of the other and their quest for peace. Another fascinating aspect of this is about their daughters, Yael Dayan and Suha Tawil. This is quite a read.