Born Free

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When we drop a letter to the mailbox we expect it to get to its destination.

But what if the countries on the letters path don't hold relations?

It's hard to find greater adversaries than Israel and Iran. Israelis fear that the Iranian government is the new Nazi regime aiming to exterminate the Jews worldwide. Iran claims that Israel is planning the genocide of the Palestinian people.

So when I attempted sending letters from Israel through Iran I wasn't surprised that they never got to their addressees.

The idea was simple, break the borders – physical and political. Send a letter to a non existing address in Iran and have the return mail be the real address of a friend in Europe, the US or Israel. But all these letters were lost. Or were they held at some security facility somewhere as suspect espionage?

Who decides what to do with such an envelope? Is it a postman that holds it in his hands and observes the address or is it an automated system that decides where to take it next? To what extent do the governmental policy and regulations determine the actions of actual people?

One letter did pass these borders. And it needed the assistance of a few people and the help of a third country. I do not know how many hands held the envelope and I do not know its exact path. I created it to the point of sending, once it left my hands it was left to the hands of others. I can not tell their stories, but here is mine.

It starts at a border crossing. Four very diverse days of traveling through Jordan ended and I'm taking photos of letters I have yet to send at the parking lot of the Jordanian side of the terminal. Two police officers approach and ask me for the nature of my photography. I explain that I can't find a mailing box and ask them to take these letters and send them for me. "We're not allowed to do that." one replies and continues, "Follow me". They take me to a shed where a big dark guy sits and slowly sips a cigarette. They speak in Arabic and I have no idea what's going on. "This is Mr. Suliman. He will take your letters and send them tomorrow before he goes to work". I hand the guy my envelopes and thank him in arabic; "Shukran". He nods and starts looking through the envelopes and postcards. I feel uncomfortable that he reads them. Does he understand the content? Does he notice some of them are addressed to Israel? Is he Palestinian? Should I trust him to send them? I have no other choice.

Only one letter was self-addressed to me. For four months there was no hint that Mr. Suliman kept his unspoken word. I lost hope, yet I was happy for the mere attempt.

And then it arrived. It had an Iranian stamp reading "Return to Sender" with the "Insufficient Address" marked on it and an arrow pointing at a handwritten "Israel".

By the postal marks it left the Jordanian Valley Check Point Post Office at October 16 and returned to Al Shounah Al Shamaliah on October 20, so it didn't stay in Iran for long. It could be that since the second post office mark comes from northern Jordan this letter traveled back by ground through Syria. It took it 4 days to return from Iran and then it took 4 months to reach me.

Did someone in Iran really examine the addresses and decided to send it back to Israel? Did they recognize the fabricated address in Tehran – 21 Arad? What are the chances that the letter was delayed at the Israeli side and that it was scrutinized for security reasons before getting back to me?

If someone had opened the envelope they would be exposed to the state of mind I was at when the letter was conceived.

Prior to the trip my parents gave me their testimonials of our family's history. How back in Morocco my dad was stationed at the window every Friday as a lookout for the arrival of the Messiah who will carry the family to the Promised Land. How Zion lived in our family for ages on a daily basis – from an unpainted part of the wall as a reminder of the lost Jerusalem to a full suitcase laying under the bed, ever ready for the travel to the land of our fathers. My mom's granddad was hiding in a basement in Poland through the 2nd World War. A few days before its end the German soldiers called the Jews to get out and be set free. Once he stepped out of his hiding, he was immediately shot. I am named after him, Yonatan.

I was told the story of my people coming back to Zion many times, the struggles in the way for creating a homeland, a safe heaven were Jews suffer no persecutions.

In Jordan I met Palestinians, some of them were not fond of Israel's existence. Though we had very different emotions we were able to talk, conveying our different points of view. Each one looking to the unjust past he comes from, each one wishing for a country to call his own, each one believing that if his dreams prevailed – both Palestinians and Jews could live together peacefully on the same land.

Jane Frere's "Return of the Soul" was on exhibition at Darat Al Funun gallery in Amman. It was there with the river of figurines and the documented stories of the refugees that fled their homes on the Naqba – the Palestinian view of the Israeli ‘War of Independence' – that I crossed a border within myself. When you feel persecuted and insecure it is hard to see the fragility of your opponent's side. On those walls I suddenly saw how our stories resemble. How the Palestinians too have no safe heaven to go to, how they too have a story of a land long gone, how their stories are as personal as mine. I have no doubt my people need a place of our own and that Zion is our promised land, but it downed on me that there is another people with a similar myth and a parallel narrative.

I hold no magic. I have no solution to offer. I can't even see how any real justice can exist for the two stories. With this letter I had some naïve hope for an understanding between people who carry bags full of stories. Yet I too am obsessed with the fear, after all I chose Ron Arad's 21 years still in captivity to be the representation of common grounds between Iran and me as an Israeli.

In the Middle East there is little place left for innocence. Even with my best intensions I was aggressive out of terror. This is reality. Yet in this reality a letter crossed the borders of distrust and armaments. My dreams were passed in it from hand to hand. Though I'll never meet the people who took part in this I do feel connected to them.

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