“One mountain can not approach another mountain. But a human being can approach another human being. “
with Aharon & Amalia Barnea
Aharon and Amalia Barnea are the authors of Mine Enemy: The Moving Friendship of Two Couples~ Israeli & Arab. The book chronicles the story of how– against many odds and numerous obstacles– these two brave Israeli journalists befriended PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) commander Salah Ta’mari and his wife, Princess Dina, the former queen of Jordan.
Ta’mari– who inspired a character in John le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl— was being held prisoner in an Israeli POW camp when Aharon Barnea came to interview him for the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Expecting to find just another “terrorist” with the “same story”, Barnea was surprised to discover an intelligent, educated, and articulate man whom he couldn’t help himself from liking. This encounter set into motion a series of meetings between the two men, and a strong friendship developed. Aharon’s wife Amalia, also a journalist, and Ta’mari’s wife Princess Dina also became quite close, and the two couples arranged a series of clandestine meetings in London.
Mine Enemy details this amazing story, illuminating the potential for peace and understanding between opposing cultures in the Middle East. It was a bestseller in Israel and throughout the Arab world.
Aharon received his Ph.D. in Arabic languages from UC Berkeley, and taught for years at Tel Aviv University. He was Israel’s first ambassador to Egypt in 1980. He has also been a newscaster since he was in college, and was on Israeli radio for many years. Currently he appears on the Channel 2 news in Israel, and his television show is one of the country’s most watched programs.
Amalia is a journalist and writer. She was the Israeli correspondent in Hollywood for Yediot Achronot– Israel’s largest newspaper– which she still writes regularly for. She is also the author of two popular Israeli children’s books, and a book of poetry. Her refrigerator– which is casually plastered with photographs that she has taken with numerous celebrities, political leaders, and royalty– looks like a collage of People magazine covers.
I interviewed Amalia and Aharon on May 15th and 16th of 1997, at the home of our mutual friend Rivka Shafran in Herzliya, Israel. Aharon has a strong charismatic voice, often wears a cynical smile, and commands an air of rugged self-assurance. Amalia has an intensely focused presence, with piercing eyes, and puts great care into how she phrases each sentence. They are both extremely passionate people. I was deeply impressed by my meeting with them, and their book gave me a strong sense of hope that peace could one day be achieved in this rather volatile region of the world.
David: What was your personal motivation for writing Mine Enemy?
Aharon: First of all, I had a good story. It’s the kind of a story that you come across as a journalist or as a writer maybe once in a life time. I had to write about it. I had to see to it that it would not remain my private property, that everybody would know about. That was my main goal.
Secondly, the story by itself was so amazing in terms of the very long Arab-Israeli conflict. I thought that it was very important for people in Israel and the Arab world– as well as anyone else who is interested– to see that the conflict is resolvable, that it can be resolved on the human basis. There’s a proverb in Arabic which says “a mountain can not approach a mountain.” Because mountains are always there, they don’t move. One mountain can not approach another mountain. But a human being can approach another human being.
So the idea that I wanted to learn Arabic stemmed from an understanding that I developed at a very young age, maybe even before high school. My primitive concept as a young boy was that if Israel is going to exist in the Middle East, surrounded by so many Arab countries, it