Q&A with Author and Peace Activist Moustafa M. Soliman

Q: What inspired/motivated you to start the foundation “Arab-Jewish Truck to

A: The foundation was inspired by the story of my book, “An Arab, A Jew and A Truck,”
that was published three months ago. The book tells the story of a devout Palestinian
Muslim (Ali) and an American Orthodox Jew (David) who were forced by circumstances
to live together and share a kosher kitchen in the Bronx, but became friends and business
partners by choice. They learned to recognize the similarities between them rather than
the differences. Their business became a magnet that attracted some of their friends who
were on the opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum. But as they worked
together in the business, they learned to bridge their differences and understand each
other’s views and beliefs.

The foundation aims at transforming Ali and David’s success story from fiction to reality
and spread the message of hope Ali and David began.

Q: Where did you get the inspiration to write An Arab, A Jew, and A Truck?

A: I started writing this book in 1977. I was inspired by the historic visit of President
Sadat of Egypt to Israel and the start of peace negotiations between the two countries.
Thirty-five years later I decided to finish the book that I had abandoned because of
work responsibilities and family demands. Unfortunately, peace is still not there and the
hostilities between Arabs and Jews continue to be a front page story.

Q: The book is the catalyst for your foundation-Arab-Jewish Truck to Peace, what
is the main goal of the foundation?

A: The foundation’s goal is to expand friendship and understanding between Arabs
(Muslims and Christians) and Jews by sponsoring collaboration among Jewish and Arab
artists, writers, actors, and especially entrepreneurs.

I hope to apply my own experiences in the field of international cooperation to the
foundation. For over 20 years, I managed the US Government energy collaboration
in the Middle East. I negotiated and managed a number of international agreements
with governments in the region, including Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority,
Saudi Arabia and others. Our foundation will focus on building collaboration between
individuals rather than between governments. When political structures are shaky and
sometimes fail, it’s the grass roots that take hold.

Q: Why did you choose a food truck to launch your foundation?

A: The story of my book centered around a moving truck that became a vehicle of peace
and provided a forum for interfaith understanding and a political dialogue between Ali
and David and their friends who came from the opposite sides of the political, religious
and cultural divide. The truck became a symbol of hope and we came with the slogan
that, “Trucks can carry many things, but the Arab-Jewish Truck to Peace trucks will carry
forth the message of hope.”

We felt that a food truck, rather than a moving truck, would provide more visibility
and bring more awareness because it can go to various colleges, mosques, synagogues,
churches, etc and spread the word of collaboration and interfaith understanding.

Q. Where are you getting the truck and the food from?

A: The foundation will act as incubator for collaborative activities between Arabs
(Muslims and Christians) and Jews. Our pilot project is the Kosher and Halal Food
Truck. We are currently doing all the ground work needed to launch the project, from the
truck procurement and retrofitting, to identifying kosher and halal food suppliers.

We are also working with interfaith, Muslim and Jewish organizations in the area
to recruit individuals who are interested in our message and willing to undertake
collaborative initiatives such as the food truck.

Q. Will this truck go to other cities?

A: This pilot truck will be in the Washington metro area. The plan is for a second and
third, and more trucks that will be in other U.S. cities, and possibly in the Holy Land.

Q. Where does the seed money to fund your projects come from?

A: The foundation will fund the pilot food truck. Other collaborative projects, including
food trucks in other cities, will be funded by private donors solicited by the foundation.

Q. What are the major lessons that you would like readers to take away from reading
An Arab, A Jew, and A Truck?

A: Cooperation between Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and Jews whether in business,
art, music, or anything else can lead to interfaith understanding and help to bridge
political, religious and cultural differences between the three Abrahamic religions.
I strongly believe that that the hostilities between Arabs and Jews are a product of
recent history and not deep rooted in ethnicity or religion.

Q. The foundation is tentatively set to launch in summer 2013 with a food truck carrying
both kosher and halal food to churches, mosques, schools, and synagogues across the
country-what message do you want to deliver through this tour?

A: Co-existence. Jews lining up to be served kosher food while Muslims standing at the
other end of the truck being served halal food will demonstrate that we can live together
in the same place at the same time as long as we respect each other’s religious beliefs.
Many of the same people standing there don’t appreciate how much Jews and Muslims
have in common, or the similarities between Kosher and halal foods.

Q. Fall of 2012 was marked by a resurgence of violence in the West Bank-
do you think there will ever be long-lasting peace between Israelis and
Palestinians? If so, what do you think needs to be done to achieve this?

A: I believe that the main stream Israelis and Palestinians want to have long-lasting
peace. But their aspirations for peace are repeatedly hijacked by a minority of fanatics
and religious zealots from both sides. In my extensive travel in the Middle East and in
one-on-one private discussions with government officials as well as with average people
on the street I found a desire for peace and co-existence.

I believe that there will be peace because there is no way for either the Israelis or the
Palestinians to continue to live in the current hostile environment. They will ultimately
realize that a half-loaf solution to their disputes is better than none.

Q. How have your own experiences shaped your perceptions of stereotypes
and cultural divides?

A: I grew up in Egypt, and I vividly remember an Egyptian society where Jewish
businesses flourished and many Jewish families were members of the country’s high
society. I can still hear the laughter coming from our living room where my parents
played weekly card games with Jewish and Christian friends. They discussed kids,
schools, business and the latest community gossip. There was no talk of who was a
Muslim, a Jew or a Coptic Christian. We were all Egyptians.

As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1960’s, I
remember fierce debates between Arab and Jewish scholars. Each side stubbornly stuck
to his or her rigid position and claimed ownership to that piece of land that comprises
the state of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Those debates often disturbed me because
they left me feeling that there was an endemic hatred between Arabs and Jews. Talking
heads, think tanks, politicians and the media spread this concept while ignoring the fact
that Arab societies historically included Muslims, Christians and Jews. The act of 9/11 by
a handful of fanatics somehow became proof that 1.3 billion Muslims not only had hatred
for Jews, but for the entire Western world.

I live in the West. I married a Christian woman. We raised a son who grew up to respect
all religions and we have a grandson who embodies the three Abrahamic faiths.

Q. What is your vision for the Arab-Jewish Truck to Peace Foundation by the year

A: Our goal is to have at least a dozen collaborative projects between Arabs and Jews
by 2015. We will begin with our Kosher and Halal food truck in 2013 which we hope to
duplicate in other cities in the U.S. before taking it to the Holy Land. We plan to leverage
our resources by linking and collaborating with other organizations that have similar
goals both here in the U.S. as well as in Israel and Palestine.
Organizations we have or in the process of linking with:

Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue
Unity Walk
J Street
Jewish Voice for Peace
Seeds for Peace
Neve Shalom-Wahat el Salam (Oasis of Peace)
Valley of Peace Initiative
Olives of Peace
Jewish-Arab center for Peace
Abraham’s Vision
Noor Theater
Children of Abraham

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Praise for the Book

“Brilliant story, when I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.”
Gloria Miklowitz, Award Winning Author.

“An exciting plot full of intrigue, romance, and unforgettable characters. An Arab, A Jew, and A Truck is a must read, good for all ages.”
Libby Traubman, Co-Founder, Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue

New Foundation

The success story in the book has motivated the author and his wife, Lynn Skynear, to form a non-profit foundation named, Arab-Jewish Truck To Peace, that will carry and spread the message of hope Ali and David started. 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.