What I learned from my first FB friend from Egypt

Every now and then I pause and notice and realize that my Facebook feed is pretty monotone and monochrome.

Same news stories shared from similar political vantage points. Similar opinions expressed with similar passion and emotion. A bunch of self-promotion about people’s own music, projects and books (I wouldn’t know anything about that.) And, of course, a healthy smattering of posts that attempt to convince the world to go vegan.

Facebook has become a customized newspaper where what I view and what is presented to me by the complex algorithms of Silicon Valley trick me into believing that most of the world thinks like me, believes like me, even lives and eats like me. (What a wonderful world, right?!)

Any “friend” who veers from my “perfected” perspective and understanding of the world can be (and, I admit, sometimes is) cleared from my feed with one simple press of the “Block” button and I am saved from ever having to hear from that person again.

And as much as it might be comforting and confirming to be presented with a “reality” that almost entirely reflects and supports my thoughts, beliefs and opinions, I know, deep down, that this is not okay. That this does not and will not foster necessary communication between people, will not challenge us to understand the multiple “others” of our world, and definitely will not help us to be able to live peacefully with them.

So, in an attempt to expand my exposure to different and differing ideas, I very recently ventured out on a virtual journey and sought out new “friends” on Facebook. Friends from lands I’ve never been. Lands, as a Jew, I wouldn’t feel comfortable entering. Lands I am not even allowed to enter because of my Israeli citizenship.

Friends who potentially have different worldviews than mine because how we all view the world is very much a product of where we view the world from.

With our global society’s overabundance of social media platforms, we are the first people in the story of humanity who have the luxury to virutally jump over the fences and leap over the walls that have been built to separate us from each other and try to speak with the very people that we’re not supposed to speak with because “there’s nothing to talk about”. Or because there is too much to talk about.

And if I have the merit to live in this generation with such a luxury, how can I not take advantage of it? Especially if I live in one of the most conflict-ridden regions on the planet where those walls are tall and those fences are long?

So that’s what I did and so far it’s been interesting, though I’m still very much at the beginning of this journey. But I already have new “friends” from all around the Middle East and beyond.

Today in fact, I, a Jew, was speaking, at the same exact time, to a Christian from Uganda and a Muslim from Egypt. Sounds like the opening line of a joke, I know.

But it was awesome. The Christian woman from Uganda thought because I was from Israel and Israel is in the Middle East, I must be Muslim. She was actually shocked when I told her I was Jewish. I was the first Jew she has ever spoken to, she told me.

And then there is Ahmed, the Muslim from Egypt I was speaking with. Alexandria, Egypt to be exact. Someone who I kind of found randomly. Not knowing his political or religious beliefs, I sent him a friend request.

He accepted and we began chatting right away.

The first thing he wrote to me was “I’m happy to have a friend from Israel!”

Wow. Okay. Wasn’t expecting that. Off to a good start here. Let’s see where this goes, I thought.

As the conversation unfolded I eventually asked him, “What do you think about Israel?”

The moment of truth.

I already answered the question for him in my head and was just waiting for his own words to confirm my educated assumption.

He answered, “Your question is very important. I have written articles (in English) about that. Want me to send them to you?”

“Yes!” I shouted through the screen.

And he did.

And I read them.

And I was shocked.

Not because he ranted and raved against Israel and argued against any attempt to support the legitimacy of its existence. Not because he celebrated Nakba ever year and supported every past Intifada. And not because he believed that the Jews stole the land from Muslims and it needed to be given back.

I was shocked because, in his article, he expressed his full support for Israel and its right to exist.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.

While I was searching for views and opinions that were different than my own, my first Muslim FB friend from Egypt turns out to be a Zionist. 🙂

By sharing his article, Ahmed told me that he wants me to know, and other Israelis as well, that, while they are in the minority, there are Egyptians who support Israel and believe that the 7+ decades of fighting against the Jewish state have been wrong and unjustified.

Again, not what I was expecting.

Eventually, Ahmed asked me if I could help him to share what he wrote and I, of course, said yes.

So, here’s my first attempt to share his words, his views, his thoughts and his opinions when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.

Please read it. Share it. His is an important voice to be heard.

* * *

The road to light…

By Amhed from Egypt

They taught us from a young age that Israel was the first enemy. Everything around me fed that thought, in the media, in the curricula, in government speeches.

Everything around me was pointing to it, the Arabs always pinning their failure and their problems on the existence of the State of Israel.

If a bombing happens, they say that it was Israel that pushed the terrorists to do so.

If a businessman comes with a deal of carcinogenic pesticides, government state in the media that Israel is the one who brought these pesticides.

If a train accident occurred because of the government’s neglect of the transportation system, government would come out to us in the media and say that Israel is behind the incident.

All this and I look at our situation and see that we stand without moving forward and the state that Arab describe as always is the cause of our backwardness and retreat which progress to forwards.

All thoughts in Arab minds that the Jews and the sons of the State of Israel do not accept diversity, and they hate the Arabs completely.

All this and I am still in the process of misleading I did not see a Jew or an Israeli. I was always hearing at intervals that the Egyptian government was arresting people for supporting the State of Israel and accusing them of communicating with the State of Israel.

The State of Israel has always been subjected to distortion in the Arab media, making it difficult for the Arab citizen to understand the truth.

This situation continued until my mind denied these beliefs that did not exist and  began to be consciously formed and read. The social networks made the world a small village. In the schools they mentioned that the beginning of the Jewish presence on the land of Jerusalem was in the beginning of 1948, although the Jews on this land extend to the most From 3000 years ago where the Kingdom of Israel existed before the advent of Islam and before the Arab invasion for centuries.

The Arab media is always talking about “the Israeli massacres of the Arabs,” but they conceal what happened to the Jews in the massacre of the Frhod, the massacre of the Jews of Aden or the massacre of the ink and many other massacres that took against the Jews over the years.

They also did not mention the expulsion of the Jews and the confiscation of their property and their displacement from Egypt, Morocco, Iraq and other Arab countries.

Arab Muslims always cry for a land they have lived in for hundreds of years, the land of Andalusia, and believe they have the right to return to this land (Land of Andalusia). But they did not see that what Israel did in 1948 was a right to return to the land.

The media did not take the full picture comes half the scene. In the previous year, many Israeli citizens were killed by a stabbing. I remember a scene that was covered by the Arab media: “Palestinian youth behind an Israeli soldier with a knife and then the soldier turned around and killed him”.

The Arab press condemned the murder of the Palestinian youth without taking into consideration that this was a self-defense and a natural reaction to a person who is a reckless man trying to kill the Israeli soldier.

And repeatedly condemn the shelling inside the Gaza Strip without considering that the bombing is the Israeli army’s duty towards Israeli citizens, where they protect them from rocket launchers set by Hamas next to houses and hospitals.

What is funny is that the numbers of those killed in internal crises in Syria, Egypt, and Libya are hundreds of times killed by the Israeli army in defense of its land and its people.

All of this did not end my journey to the bright road. In dealing with people living inside Israel, I found many differences and religious and ethnic diversity that the State of Israel contains. There are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Baha’i, Druze, and atheists in terms of religions. There are African-born people with black skin who live and receive all the rights that white people have.

I saw that Israel is the real democratic state in the Middle East and maybe the whole world. In our Arab countries, we always remember that Israel distinguishes between non-Jewish and Jewish origins, but all these allegations were false and unfounded.

From here I saw that Israel is the lamp to light the way for the countries of the Middle East and perhaps the whole world in all aspects of life, in terms of democracy, human rights, education, health and so on. This leads to a society capable of establishing a civilization away from the lies of the Arabs.

In conclusion, ask everyone to rule their minds before judgment, Nothing is always dictated to you, Your beliefs and thoughts are not always absolute.

You have to go to the other side and stand there and see what they see, you should look at the position from the opposite side of your face so that the picture is complete. When I did that I intended to support the State of Israel.

———

To Ahmed, I want to say thank you. Because even though your opinions about Israel do indeed reflect and support my own, you have still taught me something very valuable: the need and the importance to have the courage to take a look at something you have been looking at for years and look at it from a different side, from the other side, and see what it looks like from there. Because when we do, we might actually see things we’ve never before seen and understand things we didn’t think were in our ability to understand.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh is the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (www.becomingisraeli.com), a compilation of blogs and essays that speak of the inspiring and the sometimes wacky and crazy experience of making aliyah. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. He teaches Jewish history at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod HaSharon. He is also a musician and in 2010 formed Holy Land Spirit, an uplifting and spiritual musical experience for Christian groups visiting Israel.
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