What happens when a devout Palestinian Muslim and an American Orthodox Jew are forced by circumstance to share a tiny two-bedroom apartment in New York? Well, at the very least, there’s potential for an entertaining list of lovable characters and an enjoyable plot, and at most, a chance to turn the work of fiction into a way to change the world, one artist at a time.
“An Arab, a Jew and a Truck” is the brainchild of Moustafa M. Soliman, an Egyptian-American with a background in managing U.S. government energy collaboration with Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Although he is based out of Washington, D.C., and his work had taken him all over the world, much of the book was actually written right in Bethany Beach, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
“I started writing it 35 years ago,” after Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s trip to Israel — the first trip to the Jewish state for an Arab leader — Soliman said of the book. “But because of the demands of life and family, I put it aside. We have a place in Bethany Beach, overlooking the ocean, and it is very inspiring, and I thought, ‘I will use this opportunity to finish the book.’”
Soliman said his wife and son encouraged him to finish it, as well, and so it happened that, just recently, the book came to life some 35 years after it was begun.
“These are characters that would have never ended up together, but because of financial circumstances, they are joined together and in turn start a business together and stay together out of choice. The characters represent so many different factions — the Christians, Israeli settlers, Palestinians who are militant, progressives…” explained Soliman.
Lynn Skynear, Soliman’s wife, said that, in reading the book, she fell in love with the characters.
“Through them, you can see how each faction feels,” she said. “And our grandson encompasses all of that. His mom, being part Jewish, I being Christian and my husband, with a Muslim background… We realized we want to leave the world a better place for him. And we already know a lot of the differences,” she said of the differences between Arabs, whether Muslims or Christian, and Jews and Christians, “but the truth is, nothing will change if we keep thinking like that.”
So, Soliman chose to create Ali and David, to celebrate their similarities instead.
The book takes the characters from their forced living situation and brings them to a place of sharing a kosher kitchen and owning a moving-truck company together — An Arab, a Jew and a Truck — in the Bronx. They learn to recognize their similarities rather than their differences, and the “emergence of a mystical character leaves the reader wondering whether the Bronx could be the place where the children of Abraham might begin a process of peace and reconciliation.”
“What drove me to write it was I grew up in Egypt, in a very secular family,” explained Soliman. “My parents always had Jewish and Christian friends over — they played cards — and it didn’t matter. Things started changing, and it became clear as I left Egypt and went to Berkley that there was an apparent hatred — and it wasn’t an ethnic or religious thing, but rather a political one. All of a sudden, Arabs and Jews were referred to as enemies, and I had never felt that before.”
He said that, in writing the book, it also became apparent to him that, even though the story is a fictional one, it is peppered with lots of historical facts, and the story of Ali and David could be replicated thousands of times over to create friendship and dialogue. And that was the thought behind the family’s foundation, Arab-Jewish Truck to Peace.
“Nothing is better than communication,” said Soliman.
According to Soliman, the foundation “aims at expanding friendship and understanding between Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and Jews through encouraging and sponsoring collaboration among Jewish and Arab artists, writers, actors, and, in particular, young entrepreneurs. The foundation’s goal is to work with and complement the efforts of other organizations that are dedicated to interfaith understanding and to bringing peace to the Holy Land.”
Soliman and Skynear hope to work with other foundations to bring together artists, musicians, playwrights and others to keep the dialogue sparked by his novel going. Skynear said they hope to have an actual truck that will be able to prepare both kosher and halal meals, so they can go into schools, synagogues, churches and interfaith organizations to continue the celebration of similarities among those with different faiths, rather than focus on the differences.
Skynear said they hope to have their “grand opening” of the foundation while participating in the Unity Walk at Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., in September. According to their Web site, “The 9/11 Unity Walk brings together people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths to learn to respect each other through a framework of experiential education, compassionate leadership and intentional service. Unity Walk seeks to create a world where we are united, rather than divided, by our many faiths.”
Soliman will be at Bethany Beach Books on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. to officially launch his book and will be signing copies. All proceeds of the book will support the foundation. For more information on the book, or on the foundation, visit them online at www.arabjewtruck.com.