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If You Could Be My Friend

If You Could Be My Friend: Letters of Mervet Akram Sha’ban and Galit Fink
presented by Litsa Boudalika
translated from the French by Alison Landes
Orchard Books, $15.95

Few heads of state have progressed toward peace as much as Mervet Akram Sha’ban and Galit Fink. Between 1988 and 1991, these girls, corresponded on a regular basis with the aid of filmmaker Litsa Boudalika, who introduced them and acted as the messenger. Although they were only 12 years old at the beginning of their relationship, their letters show a maturity beyond their years.

Mervet’s and Galit’s letters are put into context by Boudalika and Ariel Cohen, who provided a chronology starting 2,000 years before the girls were born. Every last term is defined, impartially, from chahid (“martyr” in Arabic) to pogrom, Saddam Hussein to Betar.

In the beginning Mervet writes, “I don’t know how to speak to you.” Later they start signing their letters “Your Friend.” Galit’s realizes during the Gulf War: “You wouldn’t hurt me. You are just like me.” Finally they have a much anticipated meeting in Jerusalem.

A critical moment in the relationship occurs on July 6, 1989. A Palestinian girl was killed by Israeli soldiers. Several hours later a Palestinian passenger seized the wheel of the 405 bus killing 16 and wounding 25. The girls’ hurt feelings and fears are shared. Galit ceases communication for a few months, fearing the 405 bus bandit was a friend or relative of Mervet’s. Mervet shows her side of life, where family members are jailed, schoolmates are shot at, and soldiers are hostile and quick to act.

Children who want to know more about the peace process will find this book an excellent tutorial. Mervet and Galit humanize the struggle.

Susannah Jaffe is a sophomore at Barnard/List College of JTS.