Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Muslim Soul Yearns (Part 1 of 3) - Yishai Friedman

by Yishai Friedman

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav

He believes that the Arab parties are responsible for the bloodshed in the streets of Israel, prefers Netanyahu and Bennett over Herzog and Galon, and he has no problem with Hatikva. In the Facebook page that he manages, together with a religious, Jewish female teacher from Jerusalem, Abdul Abu-Gosh gives a voice to the silent Muslim Zionists. 

Ten demonstrators gathered on the 22nd of October at the gates of Tel Aviv University, waving signs condemning Palestinian terror and the rampant violence in the streets. There were a limited number of people at the event, but if you managed to get close enough, you could see something that is difficult to ignore: Arabs, mostly Muslims, who were casting blame not the Israeli government, but on the Palestinians and the Arab MKs, as well as the Israeli Left.

Among the demonstrators was a young man armed with a microphone. With Israeli flags around him, he spoke emphatically against the elected representatives of his sector: “We demand that the Arab members of Knesset stop inciting, stop leading the young generation to hatred and doom, divisiveness, treason and wars”, he declared. “We all work, study and live together, and we have come here to extend a hand to coexistence”.

This expression might be surprising coming from an Arab-Israeli, but not if the Arab is Abdul Abu-Gosh – the founder of the Facebook page “ערעבים וימנים מצייצים " (“Arabs and Rightists Speak Out”), which seeks to break down the walls between the Arab sector and the Jewish Right. 

According to Abu-Gosh, this page provides a small opening for what he calls “closet Arab Zionists”. There, you can find more than a few personal stories of Arabs – Muslims and Christians – who have chosen to serve in the IDF; you can read the words of Arabs who express a patriotic view toward Israel, and even watch Muslim women wrapped in hijabs dancing Salsa in Netanya. Two posts have won especially great resonance: a letter written by an Arab-Israeli soldier to Ahmed Tibi, in which he declares allegiance to the State of Israel; and another letter of an Arab-Israeli soldier, who praises the way that the IDF relates to him, which remained positive and fair, even while he was incarcerated in a military prison.

The page, which was begun a few months ago by the Arab-Zionist Abu Gosh and Michal Julian, a religious Jew, has almost 9,000 followers. The page’s number of likes is constantly rising and it is very popular among Jews. On the other hand, its managers are subject to curses and threats from Arabs who live in Israel, in the Palestinian Authority and throughout the world. Only lately, the Facebook pages that Abu-Gosh manages were hacked into and threatening messages were shown, including a picture where he appears like a pig. Abu-Gosh takes out his mobile phone and shows us a long list of messages wishing for his death in various ways, with an emphasis on the operational methods of ISIS. Regarding one of the messages, he is not sure whether to laugh or be disgusted: a resident of east Jerusalem wrote him “first we will kill Abu-Gosh, then we will slaughter the Druze and rape their daughters”.

Have you turned to the police?
“No, I haven’t. There are hundreds of messages like this. Do you know how many radicals want to destroy Abu-Gosh? For the most part they amuse me with their hysterical messages”.

They are not afraid

Abdul Abu-Gosh (25) is a student in Communications at the Open University and a resident of Abu Gosh [S.Z.: an Arab town west of Jerusalem]. His grandfather, Salim Jabar, served three terms in a row as head of the local council, until about two years ago, when he left of his own volition. Abdul’s father worked as head waiter at the Knesset and today he is involved in organizing events. He has a married sister who did National Service, and a brother in ninth grade. Abdul studied at the Mifne School in Jerusalem. He summarizes his years of study there with satisfaction: in the beginning there were those who laughed at his accent, “but later we became best friends”.

As a student in 11th grade Abu-Gosh made a film that according to him was extremely significant for him, and also for the school – “because it was a film on the holocaust made by an Arab student”. His knowledge about the holocaust deepened when he took part in a delegation to Poland. “I went in place of a Jewish student because there was not room for everyone. I remember that he did not speak with me for some time, but I insisted on traveling to see for myself what happened to the Jews in Europe”. 

After completing his studies he enlisted in the Border Police, but did not totally fit in to the military framework. After his request to transfer to another job was not granted, he “pulled some strings” and left the military. “Looking back, it was a mistake on my part. I did not have the patience and the tenacity to stay until I could get a meaningful job. It was difficult for the system itself to adjust to a soldier like me, different from everyone else, and it was difficult for me as well, because in Arab society you are considered a traitor. I remember that when I walked around in east Jerusalem, Arabs who saw the uniform and heard and heard my accent wanted to swallow me alive”.

His activism on the Internet began about ten months ago, before the elections. At first he created the page “Abu-Gosh Havivtana”, which became one of the most popular Facebook pages in the local council. The page has 4,000 followers – a very impressive number considering that there are 7,000 residents in the entire town. In parallel, Abu-Gosh began to post in the older, popular Facebook page, “Arabs Speak Out”. After some time, a disagreement developed among people who wrote messages on the page regarding the correct attitude toward terror attacks. Abu-Gosh was disappointed with the lack of willingness expressed by some of the page’s managers to express a general condemnation of Arab terror, and he decided to leave the page. He teamed up with Michal Julian (36), a religious Jerusalemite who teaches Bible and Literature. The first connection was created when Julian responded to one of Abu-Gosh’s opinions in Arabs Speak Out, and the argument between them became correspondence and conversations about politics and Israeli society. From there, the road to setting up a joint Facebook page was short.

Julian also talks about the curses and stares that she is subject to, but she prefers to focus on positive messages that come from the Arab world, and from the thousands of supportive responses that Israeli Internet surfers send. “There have been many posts that attacked Abdul and me personally, but we are not affected by the threats. Anyone who is photographed like Abdul with the Israeli flag, and explains in Arabic why he loves the State of Israel so much, is not afraid of curses from any sort of radicals, because the only thing they know how to do is threaten.

“Along with the threats, we get letters of encouragement from Arabs in Israel and abroad. Many of them tell us that we are doing important work, and that they totally support us – they are just fearful of expressing this support publicly because of the hostile environment. For example, a businessman from east Jerusalem wrote to us, saying that he is thankful for every day that he sees Jews walking around in the city. More than a few Arabs that serve in the IDF send us pictures and video clips. There are many Arabs who support Israel, but they do not have the suitable stage or the courage to say this outside. We are trying to give these people an outlet, and on the other hand, get the Jewish, and especially the Rightist, public used to seeing that within Arab society as well, there are different and varied voices”.

Part 3: Tibi or Bibi

Yishai Friedman

Source: Makor Rishon, Nov. 13, 2015, Diokan section, issue 953 section, pg. 24-28

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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