Weds night I went to AACI Netanya to hear Richard Corman of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs introduce Yahya Mohammed, an Israeli Arab from Umm al-Fahm, who has become a strong supporter of Israel and a Zionist.
Yahya described how he was brought up in Umm al-Fahm to hate Jews and Israel. But, he never met Jewish Israelis and had no conception of who they were. After he left school he registered for a pre-Army program to learn how to be a mechanic that was supported by the IDF in his town, even though he was not required to serve in the IDF. He noticed on the wall there was a map of the world, with Palestine written in place of Israel. So he complained to the management, he said that since they live in Israel and since the IDF is paying for their education, they should at least show a correct map. The map was taken down, but after that he got threats, including death threats. He was surprised at the extent of the threats over such a small incident. Then he got a call telling him he better go to the police. So he went to the Israeli police and they took him out of the town, and he made a deal with the local Imam, he would stay away for 2 years and his family would not be in danger.
He found a job in Tel Aviv, and although very apprehensive, he discovered that people were friendly to him and he had no problems. One day he was at a bus stop and a Chabad person came up to him, and he was afraid of religious Jews, but when the man told him he should be using tefillin and he told him he was an Arab, the Chabad guy said “doesn’t matter, as long as you are a good person.” That really shocked him, because he had been brought up to fear religious Jews.
He began reading widely and decided that the Zionists were right, the Jews should be here. He made contact with StandWithUs who needed someone who spoke/wrote Arabic, and became a volunteer, then a member of their staff. He now goes around the world speaking at meetings against BDS and in favor of Israel and described some of his experiences. He now lives in Jerusalem and has volunteered to join the IDF.
He was personable and answered questions readily. I put it to him that there is not an Israel-Palestine problem, but rather a Palestinian problem, since Israel is quite strong and prosperous, but the Palestinians are split and very poor. He partially agreed, but pointed out that the Palestinian Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, are very ignorant, uninformed and controlled by a small minority of extremists. They simply can’t break out of their own enforced culture.