The touching secret friendship between Yasser Arafat's mother-in-law and Moshe Dayan's wife

an-improbable-friendship-anthony-david“All I ask 
Is to remain in the bosom of my country 
As soil, 
A flower” 
Fadwa Toqan

That poem (almost a prayer) is from chapter 30 of An Improbable Friendship by Anthony David – and it’s chillingly expressive of the book’s underlying message.

Raymonda Tawil is mother to Suha, the Catholic-raised and -educated daughter who married Yasser Arafat. The ‘improbable friendship’ of the title is that between Raymonda and Ruth, wife of Israeli strongman, Moshe Dayan. Speak of the two men – one, Arafat, sworn to drive the invader from his native Palestine and the other, Dayan, ruthless hunter of those opposed to Jewish resettlement in the emerging Israel – and it becomes patently clear that any friendship between these women must, indeed, be improbable.

And yet their friendship exists.

Ruth was born in Haifa in 1917 when the Palestine was under Turkish rule. She gave up a comfortable middle-class life to be the wife of a farmer. In the words of her mother, ‘…living in a leaking shack, sharing her life with a penniless and uneducated country bumpkin.’  That ‘bumpkin’ became something else again.

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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 – there and in other places – remains an issue to this day.

Moshe Dayan had been 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.

Following the Six Day War, the paths of the two women first crossed. Raymonda visited the hospital at Nablus, tending the displaced, the dying and the wounded. She learned that Ruth, wife of the man she considered the cause of the dreadful devastation, was about to arrive.

The start of their union was none too auspicious because Raymonda, perhaps unsurprisingly, went on the attack. It became evident over time that, despite their obvious differences and points of view, originating from opposing sides of the same issue, they both wanted a similar outcome, peace and stability for their people.

Anthony David interviewed the two women, researching background and history before writing this interesting book. An Improbable Friendship provides a brief history of the wars and the difficulties that accompanied the birth of a new country but concentrates more on the differences and, especially, the similarities of the book’s twin subjects.

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It is a stimulating read. I guess, despite previous reading on the issue, I came away with the wish that the world at large could but see issues as clearly as Ruth and Raymonda. We would live in a far better place. Not that they always agree: Even now, at 98 and 75 years of age, they love a good argument! But the improbable friends always seem to find a way to superior outcomes.

An Improbable Friendship by Anthony David is available at Dymocks as either a hardcover and eBook.

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