Israeli Arab pro-Zionist Voices Growing Louder and Surer
For me, it began six years ago with Mohammad Zoabi, the first Israeli Arab pro-Zionist to whom I was exposed. Do you remember that video in which Mohammad pleaded, in English, Hebrew and Arabic, to the terrorists who abducted the three Israeli teenage boys to return them home alive and well? He was referring to Naftali Fraenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), murdered by their abductors; this, in addition to the unceasing missile attacks on southern Israel, is attributed with having triggered the war against Hamas in Gaza in 2014.
Zoabi had to hide for many months as his life was threatened for coming out so proudly in favour of Israel, at the end of his video saying:
Israel is here to exist as a Jewish and as a democratic country. [holding up an Israeli flag] Am Yisrael Chai.
In 2017, Zoabi enlisted in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
Over the years, those who have been paying attention have witnessed a gradually growing number of young Israeli Arabs who voice their support of Israel. A number of these, like Zoabi, enlist in the IDF. Some, also like Zoabi, become active in pro-Israeli activism within Israel and internationally. There are, for example, Jonathan Elkhoury and others in the Minorities Project of Reservists on Duty and Yahya Mahamid. They join the voices of Druze, Aramean and Bedouin who are proud of being Israeli citizens, such as Samer Berany, Shadi Khalloul and Mohammad Kabiya, respectively. And sometimes their voices can be more unabashedly pro-Zionist than those of many Jews.
I wonder if Sayid [not his real name], interviewed just over a year ago, is sensing the time when he will be able to come out in the open about his love for Israel.
Yoseph Haddad, a member of the Christian community, has been active in promoting the full integration of Arabs into Israeli life. And, since 2018, he has been CEO of an NGO he and others established for that purpose. The name of the organization is “Together – Vouch for Each Other”. In Hebrew it is: “B’Yachad – Arevim Ze L’Ze” and is familiar as part of the saying from which it is derived: Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze B’Ze, meaning all Jews are responsible for each other’s welfare. It is fitting to use this name for an organization promoting mutual responsibility for all o’s Israeli citizens.
The organization’s website clearly sets out its goals, including the claim that:
Currently, the Arab Israeli educational system does not present youngsters the opportunity to feel connected to Israel and it does not present an accurate picture of Israeli society. On the contrary, it often purposefully deletes materials from its educational curriculum that would lead to a positive connection and feelings of belonging to Israel and at times adopts a narrative that is even hostile to the country. We at Together-Vouch for Each Other have had enough of this situation and have vowed to be the catalysts of change.
They are working to present a voice for Arab Israeli citizens who oppose the approach taken by the anti-Zionist political party, the Joint List. Haddad says that he wants to see more Arabs in the government but not in a separate sectorial party that works against Arab integration into Israeli society.
Here is his latest interview on Israeli TV (main points in English below the video):
The interview discusses the rising numbers of Arabs volunteering for National Service. I am paraphrasing it for easier reading.
Haddad: There has always been talk about how the Arab population needs to integrate within society and contribute to the state. It is already happening. We can see an increase by hundreds of percentage points over the past decade in numbers of volunteers for National Service among Arab youth. In fact, 5000 individuals volunteered this year. The CEO of the National Service told me that for next year another 500 positions will be added to those available within the Arab sector.
Furthermore, we see that as a result of the Corona epidemic, more and more young Arabs want to contribute, not just within the Arab sector, but within Israeli society as a whole. There are three major reasons for this trend: (1) the grants offered to volunteers; (2) a desire to contribute to the community; and (3) understanding that this is the key to integration within Israeli society.
A short videoclip was shown in which Hiat abu Ajaj [Hiat Ali Salach in the video], Director of the Southern Region for National Service, spoke about the impact of Corona. She claims that this period of coping with Corona provided an opportunity for changing social perceptions of those opposing Arabs volunteering for National Service. Their contributions stood out and were positive, expecially in hospitals across the country.
After this, Yasen Orsan, Mayor of Shfaram in northern Israel, said of Arab participation in National Service: This is something that I encourage and I see it as my obligation as Mayor of Shfaram. We are part of the State of Israel and we want to live and raise our children to have a good future. This is the way to bring us a better future.
Haddad continues: We are used to the traditional opposition on the part of the Arab leadership. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but ten years ago, Ayman Odeh [today the head of the Joint List] was the chairman of the committee fighting National Service for Arabs. To hear voices such as these is just amazing.
And, to quote again from the organization website,
we believe that Arab society is an integral part of Israeli society and this demands recognition and acceptance by both sides. We do not believe that there is any contradiction between our origins or our religion and our Israeli identity. The State of Israel is a democratic state that presents equality to all its citizens, on the condition that this is truly wanted.
Our organization has taken on the responsibility of representing the sane voice in Arab society that is interested in being an integral component of the country.
I need to add a caveat here: I have not checked with Haddad or any of the other members of the organization, Together – Vouch for Each Other, regarding how they feel about me labeling them Arab pro-Zionists. But, in my opinion, if they seeking to become an integral part of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish People, then in my book, that makes them pro-Zionist.
Feature image is a screenshot from the Facebook page of Yoseph Haddad.