An Improbable Friendship: The Remarkable Lives of Israeli Ruth Dayan and Palestinian Raymonda Tawil and Their Forty-Year Peace Mission

An Improbable Friendship: The Remarkable Lives of Israeli Ruth Dayan and Palestinian Raymonda Tawil and Their Forty-Year Peace Mission

by Anthony David

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An Improbable Friendship is the dual biography of Israeli Ruth Dayan, now ninety-eight, who was Moshe Dayan’s wife for thirty-seven years, and Palestinian journalist Raymonda Tawil, Yasser Arafat’s mother-in-law, now seventy-four. It reveals for the first time the two women’s surprising and secret forty-year friendship and delivers the story of their extraordinary and turbulent lives growing up in a war-torn country.

Based on personal interviews, diaries, and journals drawn from both women—Ruth lives today in Tel Aviv, Raymonda in Malta—author Anthony David delivers a fast-paced, fascinating narrative that is a beautiful story of reconciliation and hope in a climate of endless conflict. By experiencing their stories and following their budding relationship, which began after the Six-Day War in 1967, we learn the behind-the-scenes, undisclosed history of the Middle East’s most influential leaders from two prominent women on either side of the ongoing conflict.

An award-winning biographer and historian, Anthony David brings us the story of unexpected friendship while he discovers the true pasts of two outstanding women. Their story gives voice to Israelis and Palestinians caught in the Middle East conflict and holds a persistent faith in a future of peace.

Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Arcade, Good Books, Sports Publishing, and Yucca imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Our list includes biographies on well-known historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as villains from history, such as Heinrich Himmler, John Wayne Gacy, and O. J. Simpson. We have also published survivor stories of World War II, memoirs about overcoming adversity, first-hand tales of adventure, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628726312
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 236,110
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Anthony David has written eight books, including his collaboration with Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh on his autobiography, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, voted one of the best books of the year by the Christian Science Monitor and Amazon and awarded the biennial 2010 Siegfried Unseld Prize presented by Suhrkamp; Lamentations of Youth: The Diaries of Gershom Scholem 1913–1923; and the forthcoming The Letters of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem. He holds a PhD in European history from the University of Chicago and currently lives in Jerusalem.

Read an Excerpt

An Improbable Friendship

The Remarkable Lives of Israeli Ruth Dayan and Palestinian Raymonda Tawil and Their Forty-Year Peace Mission

By Anthony David

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2015 Anthony David
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62872-631-2


"The Happiest Day of My Life"

For most of the family, friends, and guests gathered for the wedding held at the isolated farming village called Nahalal in the fall of 1935, the pair seemed badly mismatched: here was Ruth Schwarz, the daughter of university-educated Jerusalem lawyers, a girl raised with Victorian novels and dance and piano lessons, teaming up with Moshe Dayan, a twenty-year-old farmer, rough around the edges, who looked like a tough Bedouin warrior.

The novelist Arthur Koestler described the area around Nahalal in northern Palestine — a country Jews referred to as Erez Yisrael — as "desolate marshes cursed with all the Egyptian plagues." Ruth's parents Rachel and Tzvi, the only ones at the wedding to arrive in a private car, came up in their brand-new Morris "8" with wire wheels and a honeycomb grille.

Travel was arduous and risky in those days. Rachel navigated the car through the dusty paths that passed for roads. Another daughter, nine-year-old Reumah, sat in the back seat, goggle-eyed at the wild countryside. The other passenger was Prussian-born Arthur Ruppin, the head of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), wearing pince-nez glasses and a dark wool suit made by a Berlin tailor.

The only people who weren't surprised at Ruth's choice for a husband were members of the Bedouin el-Mazarib tribe. Many of them armed, they didn't notice the subtleties of class and social differences. For them, all of the Jews were strangers from a far-away world. Nor did they seem like the other conquerors that had been passing through Palestine for centuries. The Jews came with spades, not guns. One of the tribe's young hotheads had recently clubbed Moshe over the head; and, by attending the ceremony, they wanted to show the "Jewish Bedouin" their respect for being strong enough to spring back so quickly from a nasty thrashing.

Under the wedding chuppah stood Ruth dressed like a milkmaid in an embroidered Romanian blouse and a peasant dress a friend had made from a bed sheet. (She had proudly turned down her parents' offer to buy her a proper wedding dress.) Moshe, with the purple knot on his head and a black eye, wore khaki pants, an open-necked shirt, and a sweat-stained cap. The bride and groom, like everyone else that day, were furiously swatting away flies and mosquitos.

The moment the rabbi, who had arrived in the back of an oxen cart from a nearby settlement, pronounced Ruth and Moshe man and wife, the el-Mazarib warriors fired off rounds of bullets into the air, and several musicians, sitting on their haunches, played darbukas. The Jewish guests, including stolid Dr. Ruppin in his beautifully tailored suit and tie, danced traditional Bedouin debkas. In the midst of the merrymaking, while everyone was still dancing and swaying with home-brewed grapefruit wine, Ruth slipped off to the stalls. "I don't think I've ever been as happy as I was at that moment," she would recall nearly eighty years later, "squatting next to the cow, holding its teats. Yes, it was the happiest day of my life."

Before the First World War, Ruth's family had joined a wave of idealists and dreamers from Eastern Europe, who traveled to poor, desiccated Palestine.

Ruth's maternal grandfather Boris came from the Russian village of Kishinev, ruled by a malevolent feudal lord who made a sport of unleashing ferocious dogs from his castle on his Jews. It was on Boris's front porch that the great Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik wrote his dirge, "In the City of Slaughter," on the Kishinev pogrom, and what he perceived as a cowering Jewish weakness in the diaspora: "The heirs of Hasmoneans/ who lie in the privies and jakes and pigsties/with trembling knees."

Though Boris was European to the fingertips, he resolved to flee from this ungrateful continent with its "privies and jakes and pigsties." After finishing his studies in chemistry at the Sorbonne in the 1890s, where he attended Marie Curie's lectures, he moved to Palestine in 1903 and opened up a small business producing grease for the Ottoman Hajaz railroad.

Beautiful Rachel, his daughter, met Ruth's father Tzvi at the famed Herzliya high school-gymnasium — where what would become the military, political, and intellectual elite of the Jewish state sat in the same classrooms. In their free time, they were busy discussing how best to create a new society. Rachel and Tzvi, both sixteen-year-old rebels out to overturn social taboos and crusty power structures, committed the unheard of sin of moving in together. It was Rachel's idea, of course.

Ruth came along in 1917. Five years later, the young family headed to London because Rachel and Tzvi enrolled at the London School of Economics, a hotbed of socialist thought, where George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb still haunted its corridors.

One of Ruth's strongest memories of Edwardian London was the wedding of the Duke of York in Westminster Abbey, the first public royal wedding in five centuries. Dressed in her Skinners' Girls School uniform and sucking on a purple lollipop, wide-eyed little Ruth sat on the pavement. "I was reading about kings and queens and royalty in my fairy-tale books, and now there they were: men in powdered wigs and ladies in long, flowing gowns, the bells, and horses, and the gilded royal carriages." Her socialist mother, naturally, didn't approve of such "sentimental rubbish," but her little girl went on dreaming of her own prince, with badges and a noble sword at his side.

A mere dozen years later, Ruth married a farmer who could gallop bareback on a horse like an Apache.

At the time of Moshe Dayan's birth in 1915, his parents Shmuel and Dvora lived on the collectivist kibbutz called Degania, the "Wheat of God," close to the Sea of Galilee. As with the Schwarz family, matriarchal dominance characterized the Dayans. Shmuel, not able to endure the backbreaking demands of farming, got work with Dr. Ruppin at the Jewish National Fund whose mission was scouting for land to buy for new Jewish settlements. With her jet-black hair worn in a coronet and covered with a kerchief Russian-style, Dvora was the intellectual of the family: before arriving in Palestine, she studied statistics and sociology in Kiev and in 1910 made a pilgrimage to Tolstoy's estate at Yasnaya Polyana to touch the body of the dead saint. At Degania with her stout constitution, she also did most of the heavy work around the farm.

The family soon moved to a new agricultural commune after the JNF bought 20,000 acres from the Sursuks, a Lebanese Christian family who centuries earlier had gotten it from the Ottoman government. For generations the farmers from the Arab village of Ma'alul, just up the hill, had been working the land, never imagining it could change hands so easily. JNF agents, doing some crude philology, assumed the Arabic "Ma'alul" was a bastardized form of "Nahalal," the Israelite town Joshua had given to the Tribe of Zebulon. Shmuel Dayan and JNF men named the new settlement Nahalal.

Life was harsh in the malarial frontier country known as the Plain of Esdraelon or, in Hebrew, "Emek Israel." Dayan's son Moshe was named after the legendary redeemer who once upon a time led his people from Egyptian captivity; it was also the name of a local Jewish boy murdered by a Bedouin donkey thief. Moshe was one of the first children born on a kibbutz, the ur-kibbutznik, a Zionist Davy Crockett. One Israeli historian would label him the "first born of the sons of redemption." The weekly bath in the Dayan household was in a big copper tub, the water heated over a wood fire outside, and each member took turns in the bathing.

Moshe barely attended school because he was too busy farming. His skin turned dark in the sun while planting, reaping and riding the wagon up the hill to Ma'alul to deliver wheat to the only mill in the region.

Ruth and Moshe's courtship was brief: they met during a summer camp Ruth attended in Nahalal in 1934. Back home in Jerusalem, she couldn't get the handsome Moshe out of her mind — the "first born of the sons of redemption" was the ultimate catch. A year later, she returned to Nahalal for good with a trunk filled with clothes and books. While taking a few walks around a eucalyptus forest, the two young lovers carved their names on a tree — "M. + R." That was the extent of their courtship.

Marrying Ruth and joining the Schwarz household offered Moshe some immediate dividends. While he was prepared to join a work team in the swamps that was, he confessed to his bride, a "real paradise of malaria and tuberculosis," he openly envied her middle-class family in Jerusalem and the perks of city life. Even more enticing was her access to power. The Schwarzes were a lot better connected than the Dayans. Rachel and Tzvi were high school schoolmates with top members of the Zionist leadership in the country. They were also close to the founders of the Haganah, the underground Jewish army.

Rachel Schwarz might have been a socialist, but she couldn't imagine her daughter living in a leaking shack and sharing her life with a penniless and uneducated country bumpkin. She spoke with Harold Laski, the Marxist economist whom she knew from her time at the London School of Economics, and with Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Zionist movement. Laski and Weizmann in turn pulled strings with Cambridge University to offer Moshe a spot. Ruth and Moshe took a fourth-class passage on the SS Mariette Pasha, packing a few threadbare clothes into a Bedouin rug of camel hair instead of the proper leather suitcase offered by Ruth's parents. They made a rather "lunatic pair," Ruth recalled, with their grubby sandals and decidedly egalitarian attitudes.

The let's-rough-it attitude only went so far. Rachel and Tzvi subsidized them with regular sums of money, and their upper crust friends helped find them a place to stay. Moshe first had to learn English properly. The two pedaled around the city on old bicycles, with Ruth helping him improve his English.

Moshe hated London, despised the damp climate, and it offended his Bedouin sense of male honor to be dependent on a mere girl to communicate with people he wanted nothing to do with, anyway. His attention was soon back on Palestine, a country suddenly aflame with civil war.


The Syrian Prince

Months after the Schwarz-Dayan wedding, in April 1936, at his Montfort Castle on the other side of the Esdraelon Valley from Nahalal, Habib Hawa threw a glittering three-day wedding extravaganza for his sister-in-law. The English called Habib the "Syrian Prince" because of his poise and sense of entitlement, and the fact he lived in a Crusader fortress.

Habib was raised in a wonderful jumble of worlds: on top of the pyramid stood the Ottoman governor and his retinue of officers and belly dancers, there were the patriarchs in Jerusalem, Latin and Greek with their icons and archaic rivalries; next came families like his headed by men traveling back and forth to Alexandria, Damascus, and Beirut on the new railway line, men who carried on long conversations about a better future over the glowing red embers of a nargilla while sipping Lebanese wine. These aristocratic families were served by a bevy of butlers and maids and mistresses. On the bottom of the social rung were peasants sweating in the fields. Bedouins with long flowing desert robes occasionally led their camels through the countryside. Automobiles began to appear on the roads when Habib was a young boy.

Habib was a product of the Ottomans, if only because its decrepitude determined much of his early life.

His grandfather was the governor of Aleppo and his father the honorary British consul. Habib studied at the elite Jesuit St. Joseph School in Lebanon and then Alexandria — when he returned to Palestine on visits, he took a private train. In the Galilee, his family owned 40,000 acres around the family's Montfort Castle, and members of a Druze clan took care of the tobacco fields, the pork farm, and the stables of Arabian horses.

Back in Alexandria he lived the life of a young dandy. He grew a fashionable toothbrush mustache and cavorted with his class peers and the demimondes of the city, lighting the ladies' Dunhill cigarettes using ten-pound notes.

Habib eventually headed off to study law at the Sorbonne and stood out with his olive-colored thin face, his tall and slender frame, his francophone polish and refinement. Following the British capture of Palestine in 1918, he returned to Acre to manage his family's far-flung and feudal string of properties and estates including seventeen villages. Habib, with his own ship for trading in wheat and other commodities, became the chief contractor of the British army in Palestine and Egypt.

Habib reminisced to his daughter Raymonda many years later, after becoming a pauper with a bad limp from an Israeli bullet, how since the days of Richard the Lionheart the country hadn't seen such a grand wedding feast. "I was like King Sarastro in the Magic Flute!" There were belly dancers, French chefs, costumes for a ball, a full orchestra brought in from Cairo, and over a hundred guests, including top British officers and Arab notables with herringbone jackets and monographed handkerchiefs.

Raymonda's mother, Habib's wife and the sister of the bride, was the only one at the castle privy to his secret plan. With the brandies and finest whiskeys flowing, he chose the perfect moment to launch a rebellion he hoped would frustrate, once and for all, the Zionist designs on his country and his honor. Under the veneer of the pleasure-seeking grandee, freewheeling, fun-loving Habib was an Arab nationalist with a strong awareness of a thousand years of family history in Palestine, and someone who regarded British rule as a mere stopgap before Arabs could become the masters of their own fate.

The English brought modern administration, indoor plumbing, the rule of law, and helped Arabs build a modern society, and for that he was grateful. What he resolutely opposed was the Zionist plan to erect a tractor-drive modern Jewish state in Palestine, and to do so with British backing.

To get to the castle in their fleet of Fords, Citroëns, Mercedes, and even a few Rolls-Royces, guests traveled along a bumpy country road. Most of the invitees must have been delighted to attend the three-day party because it felt like reentering the romance of the Crusader period. Nowhere in Palestine was there such pomp, nowhere was the food so sumptuous, nowhere the atmosphere more glittering. The only frown in the otherwise perfectly choreographed ceremony was on the face of Habib's sister Sylvie. It had been four years since her younger brother had "dishonored" the family by marrying "the wild villager," and she had yet to forgive him.

The "wild villager," named Christmas and the sister of the bride, wore a Coco Chanel dress, rayon stockings, and a string of pearls. Habib was still very much in love with his wife's lithe beauty, feisty character, and American-bred independence: Christmas came from a family in the Christian village of Kfar Yassif close to Haifa, and was raised in New York. She had decisively New York attitudes about gender, democracy, equality, and the ludicrousness of class snobbery. She would be the source of her daughter's feminism. She and Habib's sister Sylvie avoided one another. In a society in which women were expected to "keep among themselves," Christmas smoked cigarettes with the officers and businessmen, talked politics with some of the invited political leaders, and held her own during debates about the brewing conflict with the Zionists.

On the second day of the wedding party, following yet another bacchanal feast, and after Habib had retired to his chamber for a nap, Christmas saw the signal from the valley. She roused her husband and told him the guerrillas were ready to strike.


Excerpted from An Improbable Friendship by Anthony David. Copyright © 2015 Anthony David. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, xi,
Prologue: A Secret Story, xiii,
Part I 1917–1956: Of This Tormented Soil, 1,
Chapter 1: "The Happiest Day of My Life", 3,
Chapter 2: The Syrian Prince, 8,
Chapter 3: Night Squad, 12,
Chapter 4: The "Cripple", 16,
Chapter 5: A Christmas Tale, 21,
Chapter 6: Civil War, 25,
Chapter 7: Fall of Haifa, 30,
Chapter 8: Hotel Zion, 33,
Chapter 9: Villa Lea, 35,
Chapter 10: Married to the State, 37,
Chapter 11: Ave Maria, 40,
Chapter 12: Women of Valor, 43,
Chapter 13: The Beauty Contest, 46,
Chapter 14: "Maskiteers", 51,
Chapter 15: A Mission in Life, 56,
Chapter 16: Tristesse, 60,
Chapter 17: Moshe's War, 64,
Part II 1957–1970: Two Friends, 69,
Chapter 18: Punished by Love, 71,
Chapter 19: Mandelbaum Gate, 74,
Chapter 20: Under the Shekhina's Wing, 78,
Chapter 21: New Face in the Mirror, 82,
Chapter 22: Reverence for Life, 86,
Chapter 23: A Man Problem, 90,
Chapter 24: The Women's Strike, 95,
Chapter 25: Six Days, 98,
Chapter 26: The Dayan-asty, 104,
Chapter 27: Open Bridges, 107,
Chapter 28: The Return, 109,
Chapter 29: The Emperor, 115,
Chapter 30: In the Bosom of My Country, 118,
Chapter 31: This Is Not a Democracy!, 123,
Part III 1970–1995: Dialogue, 127,
Chapter 32: St. Luke's Hospital, 129,
Chapter 33: Honor Killing, 134,
Chapter 34: Umm al-Mu'in, 137,
Chapter 35: "Wrath of God", 140,
Chapter 36: L'pozez Akol (Blow Up Everything), 143,
Chapter 37: Mission Renewed, 147,
Chapter 38: "Guns and Olive Branches", 153,
Chapter 39: Neve Shalom, 156,
Chapter 40: The Quest, 159,
Chapter 41: House Arrest, 163,
Chapter 42: The Comedians, 166,
Chapter 43: Crossing Boundaries, 171,
Chapter 44: The Good Witch, 176,
Chapter 45: Militants for Peace, 180,
Chapter 46: Ms., 183,
Chapter 47: The Tomb of God, 187,
Chapter 48: A Furious Aura, 193,
Chapter 49: Borderline Case, 197,
Chapter 50: Beyond the Walls, 203,
Chapter 51: The Bomb, 205,
Chapter 52: A Debt of Love, 210,
Chapter 53: "Better a Living Woman Than a Dead Hero", 213,
Chapter 54: Uprising, 217,
Chapter 55: Living with History, 221,
Chapter 56: Ring of Fire, 225,
Chapter 57: Oslo, 227,
Chapter 58: Life According to Agfa, 232,
Chapter 59: Separation, 234,
Chapter 60: "I Cry for You", 238,
Part IV 1995–the present: Walls, 245,
Chapter 61: Three Kisses, 247,
Chapter 62: Suha, 250,
Chapter 63: The Angel, 254,
Epilogue: Great Wall of Zion, 259,
Notes, 267,
Index, 273,

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