From the Jewish library: ‘An Improbable Friendship’

An Improbable Friendship: The Remarkable Lives of Israeli Ruth Dayan and Palestinian Raymonda Tawil and Their Forty Year Peace Mission, by Anthony David, Arcade Publishing, 2015

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO — Ruth Dayan was married to and then divorced from Israel’s General Moshe Dayan. Raymonda Tawil was the mother-in-law of Palestinian Fatah Chairman Yasser Arafat.  These two women, each on a life long quest for a homeland for her people, met and gradually realized they could each help the other.  It was not a quiet friendship; it ran the gamut from screaming arguments and threats to asking for favors (strings to be pulled) from the centers of power to which each was connected.

Beside sharing the dream of peaceful co-existence, they also shared the goal of uplifting the status of women economically and culturally and especially, on the Palestinian side,  enacting laws to punish the crime of “honor” killing.   They shared other things as well:  internationally known and controversial family members, deeply entrenched political opinions, worldly travels, death threats, and boundless energy.

The problems with the book for me, as a reader, are twofold.

Problem number 1: The book is catalogued as non-fiction, however there are lengthy sections containing important information which, though in quotation marks, have no attribution to source material.  There are only 85 notated sources in 265 pages of text.

In 1981, as Moshe Dayan lay dying of cancer in his home, Zahala, family members gathered including his son, Assi.

From the book on page l94, the author Anthony David writes:  ‘Assi’s showdown with Moshe was one of the greatest theatrical scenes of his career, a soliloquy or rather a rant at his father’s bedside.  The verbal assault could easily be slipped into an Israeli version of King Lear, or Tennessee Williams’s (sic) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Moshe in the role of Big Daddy.’

Author David continues:  ‘Though the two had nothing to do with one another for years, the prodigal son was running low on cash – cocaine was an expensive habit – and knowing his millionaire father could afford it, thought he could wheedle some money out of him and decided to swing by Zahala.  Assi noticed his shrunken figure.  “So it’s true, you are dying.”  Moshe was clearly in no position to slap his children around any more, so Assi spilled out decades of resentment:  “Listen, I want to tell you a few things.”  His voice climbed into a high reedy, inquisitional register. “I want to tell you that you were OK, you were quite a father till the age of sixteen.  Since then just one thing I remember, that you are a SOB, you are the worst person, full of yourself, full of shit.  You are the one who invented screwing as a national item; who sends his bodyguard to give my kids chocolate on their birthdays.  They don’t know much about you.  But I’ll tell them.  You are the generation that lost sight..(sic)…of what we were..(sic)…Because (sic) at a certain point you thought you were King David.”  Assi, as emotionally crippled by his father as his father was by the Senegalese sniper, kept firing:  “Anyhow I want you to know that I simply hate your guts……”  (similarly unattributed text continues on)

Did the author interview Assi before he died in 2014?  Was this speech recorded?  Did someone else report it word for word to the author?  Did someone report how it was said (“voice climbed into a high reedy, inquisitional register”)?  How does the author know that Assi was “low on cash” or had a cocaine addiction, or that is why he came to see his father?  Where is the source that Dayan used to “slap his children around?” Surely the above – both Assi’s oration and the description of it’s delivery, deserves – demands – attribution. However, there is none.

Problem number 2: balance and context.  From the book:   ‘Raymonda would later need a box of Kleenex to sit through Steven Spielberg’s Munich because many of the Palestinians killed by the Mossad were friends.  If the Munich massacre was the catalyst for the killings, why did the Israeli’s wait ten years after Munich to blow up or gun down so many moderate Palestinian intellectuals, writers, poets, translators, and journalists, many who had nothing to do with terrorism?’

As in the above paragraph, in almost every instance, the author describes targeted Palestinians as “moderates, writers, poets,” etc., with no attribution to source material to back up the claim or to disprove that they had ever been terrorists in the past.

Arafat is often described as “affable,” “charismatic,” “monkish” (as in having a very simple lifestyle).  His military/terrorist activities are portrayed as defensive.  Conversely, various Israeli military and government leaders are almost uniformly presented as excessively aggressive, overbearing, arrogant, manipulating and only pretending to want peace.

The same holds true for politics.  The author’s heroes are always on the left and they represent the only possibility for peace whilst those on the right are always the problem.  Very quickly the book becomes more about the author’s views and opinions rather than offering deeper insight into this “improbable friendship” of the two women.

I don’t doubt the lifelong desire of Ruth Dayan and Raymonda Tawil for peace nor do I question their long standing friendship.  However, it is not the use of quotation marks which denotes that a statement was actually said or an event occurred – it must be connected to a source.   Until that occurs, it is open to question.


Orysiek is a freelance writer who specializes in the arts and literature.  She may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)

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