by Ari Soffer
From Jeddah with love? How an Arab Israeli soldier's quest to enlist his countrymen led him to an unexpected source of pro-Israel sentiment.
Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen... These may not be countries you would expect to feature in a pro-Israel campaign.
Even in Egypt and Jordan, which have treaties with Israel, you're not likely to find much pro-Israel sentiment among the general public - at least not in public
However, a recent poll of the Arab world, released last month, revealed something surprising: unlike their elders, young Arabs are increasingly abandoning the paradigm of Israel as the root of all evil. The Arab Youth Survey showed that faith in that doctrine, which has long-dominated the Arab discourse, is being eroded, as a new generation with access to information beyond the "official" channels which dominated life before the social media age takes stock of the challenges it faces - from ISIS to dictatorships to unemployment - none of which have anything to do with Israel.
Just how much those attitudes may be changing was inadvertently discovered by one Israeli Arab, who uncovered a hidden wellspring of support for the Jewish state in those countries and more.
The Muslim-Arab IDF soldier - who identifies only as "M." due to concerns over his safety - recounted to the AI Monitor website how a campaign to encourage other Israeli Arabs to enlist in the IDF led him to his remarkable discovery.
He said he was motivated to begin his online campaign after being angered by anti-IDF campaigns run by the radical Arab political parties - themselves a response to a slowly growing movement of Israeli Arabs joining the army.
"I saw the signs that were hung in Arab villages, and I kept track of the Facebook campaign being run by activists of Balad and the other Arab parties under the name ‘TZaHaL ma bistahal’ ['The IDF isn’t worth it']. It infuriated me," he told AI Monitor.
"Activists would show up in the main square of Shfaram with bits of rubble, as if the rubble were from Gaza. They carried big signs too, as if they were trying to say, ‘Look what the army that is calling on you to enlist is actually doing in the Gaza Strip.’ Some of the activists would even paint their faces red, as if they were injured, while they tried to relay their message of ‘Don’t enlist!’ to young Bedouin, Druze, Christians and Muslims.
"I decided to respond to them on Facebook, so I made a page called ‘TZaHaL bistahal’ ['The IDF is worth it'], but instead of getting responses from the young Arabs to whom I was directing my personal campaign, I started to get photos and texts from young people around the Arab world. My jaw dropped."
Some of those who contacted him even sent video messages of support, including one from central Baghdad and another from a woman in Saudi Arabia, many of which can be found on the Facebook page he set up.
The Saudi woman claimed to be "a member of one of the better-known tribes of the Hijaz", and sent her message of support for Israel from the center of the Saudi city of Jeddah.
"I’d like to send a message of peace and love to Israel and its dear citizens. I know it is surprising that a Saudi Arabian citizen sends a message to the people of Israel, but it is a basic principle of democracy that everyone is free to voice an opinion. I hope the Arabs will be sensible like me and recognize the fact that Israel also has rights to the lands of Palestine, or the Holy Land."”
( Video is available here - scroll down when the site opens)
M. also received dozens of photos, including one apparently from an Egyptian policeman which displayed a note saying "We love, love, love Israel and its army" next to his police cap.
He said the project was also inspired by a Coptic Christian he met who fled Egypt due to persecution from the country's Muslim majority.
"I quickly learned that she also speaks Hebrew, like many young people who studied Hebrew at Cairo University.
"So I said to her, ‘Why don’t you do a little something to spread the message, so that people in other countries will see and hear that there are other voices in the Middle East?’ She sent a photo of her passport, and pretty soon I started getting pictures of passports from all across the Arab world. The very next photo came from Iraq."
According to M., the messages he has received - including a great deal of private correspondence from people afraid to go public - may be just the tip of the iceberg.
"After I got the video from Baghdad, I asked the person who sent me the clip what it was that caused him to express support for Israel," he said.
"He responded, ‘You’d be surprised. I’m not the only one. There are a lot of young people here who think like me. Everything that is happening to us here in Iraq — the killings, the terrorism, the veritable bloodbath — showed us that Israel has nothing to do with it. There are many young people living in Iraq today who have no religion. They are fed up with the religious wars between Sunnis and Shiites and want to live their lives without religion.'"
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