When I left Lebanon in 1984 for Canada, I figuratively ripped up my Lebanese passport with no intention of ever looking back. I was done with being Lebanese, and even more with being Arab.
In the years that followed, when I was asked where I came from (which is a common question in Canada), I was irritated, and I answered abruptly that I was Canadian. Most people insisted by asking where I originally came from (I have never lost my Lebanese accent, and so they knew that I wasn’t born here), and I had to admit that I came from Lebanon.
There is much that I have always disliked about Arab societies: the old-fashioned and confining social values, the homophobia, the sectarianism, the antisemitism, the xenophobia, the inability to live in peace with each other and with Israel, and the lack of scientific innovation and social progress. While living in Lebanon, I found intellectual stimulation only from discussions with very few like-minded friends (who also left Lebanon) and from French literature and politics.
When I arrived in Canada, I saw a society very different from Lebanon’s and much closer to what I had read about France. This was my new home, and I felt that I had severed my roots permanently.
It is only after about a decade in Canada that I started being interested in the Middle East again. It happened because of my curiosity about Israel. I had always admired Israel’s success and liberal values, and I wanted to know more. I read many books about the history of Israel, and I came to love that country. I admired Israelis like David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, and Golda Meir, and I reveled at Israel’s amazing progress despite extremely unfavourable circumstances.
As the years went by, I learned about the friendship between former Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Ministers. I met many Israelis and Jews. I started to see the similarities between Israeli culture and Arab culture. I met and read about a number of Arabs who shared my admiration for Israel and my desire for peace.
Slowly over the years, I regained pride in my heritage. I was no longer ashamed to say that I was of Arab origin. I had reconnected with my roots, but at the same time, I had created new roots in the truly multicultural, diverse, and accepting environment of Israel and its friends. I became proud to say that I am an Arab and a friend of Israel.
The metamorphosis that I went through in the period of about 30 years was slow and sometimes uncomfortable, but it uncovered for me the hypocritical and fallacious nature of the accusations against Israel of Apartheid and racism. The reality is quite the reverse. It is Israel that is a model of diversity and human rights, and it is the Arab countries that sorely lack these values. The Arabs who espouse the values of diversity and human rights are the Arabs who consider themselves friends of Israel.
As I showed in a previous blog, there are many Arabs who openly support Israel, but there are also many more Arabs, some of whom I know personally, who support Israel privately but are not willing to take the risk of saying so publicly. As an example of the risk they face even in the West, a few days ago Egyptian Hussein Aboubakr was verbally abused and his speech was disrupted at a U.S. campus simply because he supports Israel.
I urge Arabs who support Israel to come out. Individuals like Hussein Aboubakr must not be left to fight alone, and we must provide more positive role models for Arabs who, like I had done, have given up on their heritage. The bigotry against Israel and against Arabs who support Israel must not be allowed to stand, and none of us should have to be ashamed for being Arab. There have been too many lies and too much prejudice, and those of us who support diversity and human rights must no longer remain silent.