Mohammad Ka’abiya is an Israeli Arab, more precisely a Bedouin. He was born and raised in the Bedouin village of Ka’abiya, in the northern part of Israel.
“How do you define yourself, your identity as an Arab living in the Jewish state?” I asked him when we met last week. The question had been begging to be asked in light of the recent events in Israel.
“I am a proud Israeli,” Mohammad told me with a big smile and sparkling brown eyes. “What is most important to me is the guardianship of the State of Israel, my birth place and the birthplace of my family. For that, I am ready and willing to give it all, from the smallest part of me to my whole body and soul.”
Like many eligible young Israeli citizens, Mohammad joined the IDF. He served as a member of an Operational Squadron in the IAF. Its duties included providing support and rescue as well as other responsibilities which cannot be disclosed.
“I didn’t join the IDF because I am a ‘Muslim Zionist’ because I am not. I joined because I am an Israeli citizen. I was born here and it is my duty, privilege and honor to defend my Home.
“In fact,” Mohammad continued, his expressive eyes full of pride, passion and determination. “I know little about the composite concept of Zionism and I still do not fully understand it. I do know, however, that it belongs strictly to you Jews and that this is the reason you are here. And yes, I do believe that the Jews have a right to their own sovereign State as long as it provides and protects the civil and religious rights of its other minorities. Isn’t it the core of the foundation of the Jewish state as expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence?”
To my question as to whether Israel should change or modify the libretti of Hatikvah, its National Anthem, Mohammad rushed to answer, “No! I believe it should remain as is. As I said, Israel, my birthplace, is a sovereign Jewish state. There is no reason I should not accept its anthem, its emblem or its flag, the identifying symbols and markers of any sovereign nation.
“Having said that,” Mohammad hastened to add, “I personally never sing it. It is a Jewish anthem. I do, however, respect it immensely. I stand when I hear it and when I was wearing my IAF, I saluted and felt great pride filling my essence.”
“When will we see a greater number of Israeli Arabs expressing pride towards Israel, the place of their birth?” I asked him.
“Change will occur,” Mohammad ventured to offer, “when Jews cease to get excited each time Israeli Arabs wrap themselves in an Israeli flag. “You see,” Mohammad hurried to explain as he noticed my surprised expression, “Arabs living in the Jewish state enjoy great freedoms, liberties and privileges. Therefore, there should be absolutely nothing unusual for an Israeli Arab to be proud of their Home. It should be the norm rather than the exception.”
In his current role as a guide preparing young Bedouins for their service in the IDF, Mohammad trains them in military tactics, educates them about their Muslim history, the history of Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish people. Part of his desire and intention is to instill in them pride in who and what they are.
To my last question pertaining to where he envisions the Bedouin sector of Israeli society in a few years, Mohammad said, “The Bedouins have been contributing to the Jewish state since its inception. Many of its members serve in the security forces. 191 of its sons lost their lives while fighting in defense of Israel.
They have been some of the bravest soldiers in the IDF and constitute part of its spearhead. Each day and night, the extremely skilled Bedouin trackers open and close the Israeli borders.
“Due to its unique nature, this sector has special needs that should be addressed by the Israeli authorities. It is towards that end that I am willing and ready to channel my efforts” he continues in his resolute tone. “I am willing and prepared to start at the Knesset all the way down to the Arab streets.
“My dream is to see as many Arabs as possible becoming productive and contributing citizens in Israel, the place many of them call Home.”