“Each side stubbornly stuck to his or her rigid position,” he said. “Those debates disturbed me because they left me feeling that there was an endemic hatred between Arabs and Jews, while ignoring the fact that Arab societies historically included Muslims, Christians and Jews.”
Raised in Cairo, Soliman has happy memories of his Jewish neighbors coming over for weekly card games with his parents. “I was always really haunted by how polarized and hostile things became” in later years, he said.
He started to write his novel in 1977, inspired by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Israel, which launched peace negotiations between the two countries. But he put the book aside to work and raise a family, finishing his writing only recently.
“Sadly, all these years later, the issues were the same,” said Soliman, who added that his wife is Christian and his son married a woman who is half Jewish. “I am someone who really believes that people can move past politics,” he said.
Some Washington activists who also happen to be entrepreneurs think Soliman’s timing is perfect. Nick Vilelle, 33, is one of the founders of
which calls itself a “philanthropub” and opened three months ago in the U Street corridor. All the restaurant’s profits go to a rotating list of causes.
“It’s the sort of thing, that, if it’s going to work anywhere, it’s Washington, because we have this socially aware population and this nonprofit population and everybody is young and wants to go out,” said Vilelle, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.
Soliman, he said, is an example “of someone willing to push the envelope and re-imagine activism.”
So what will the food truck serve?
“I’m choosing falafel because both Israelis and Arabs claim it’s their native food,” Soliman said. “Maybe if they can reconcile their falafel differences, they can make peace,” he said and added with a laugh, “Somebody can call Larry David! This really does sound like a sitcom.”