Nowadays, truth is more precious than ever. Most Americans have never met an Israeli Jew and even fewer have met an Israeli Arab. Because of a biased media, what we often “meet” are stereotypes of each group.
Thanks to StandWithUs, whose mission is to educate people about Israel thereby “combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues,” Tobay Hadassah and the Mid-Island YJCC in Plainview, NY were able to host a visit from Yahya Mahamid.
Yahya is a 20-year-old Israeli Arab from Umm al-Fahm, home to an anti-Israel Islamic movement, a place where swastikas were not uncommon. He didn’t receive much of an education, which is really a shame because he’s so bright, but he was well-schooled, like most Arabs, in hatred of Jews and Israelis and denial of Israel’s statehood.
But Yahya is also a contemplative young man who is open to experience. His views began to change when he was 16-years-old and began working in an Israeli hotel in Tel Aviv where he interacted with Jewish Israelis, leading him to question what he had been taught. In 2016, when three Jewish Israelis, teenagers like himself, were kidnapped and murdered, he wondered “why?” When two Israeli Arab Druze policemen at the Temple Mount were murdered by terrorists from his hometown, Yahya wondered why no one from his community or any other Arabs were protesting the killing of these Arabs, who happened to be Israelis.
But what really got him thinking was his encounter with a Chabadnik. One day, leaving the hotel, he was approached by this man, (holding a lulov and etrog — used in Sukkot ceremonies) who asked if he had put on tfillin (Jewish ritual items used daily by devout men) that morning, invited him to do so and also to participate in the Sukkot ritual. It was five minutes before Yahya was able to interrupt and say, “I don’t mean to waste your time but I’m not Jewish.” The man replied that “whether Yahya was or was not Jewish was not important. What is important is to be a good person.”
Yahya was thunderstruck. This contradicted what he’d been brought up to expect from Jews, that they were racist and would view him as a second class citizen. Here was a Jew who, like the other Jewish Israelis at the hotel, treated him as an equal, as capable of being “a good person” like any other.
Yahya says this is what occupied his thoughts for two hours on the bus ride back home. He began seriously questioning his education/indoctrination and began to trust his own ideas and to educate himself. His path eventually led to him becoming an Educator for StandWithUs.
Yahya says he is a proud Israeli because “I believe in democracy, in freedom, in human rights.” Thus, his beliefs are in alignment with the values and practices of Israel. Israeli Arabs are not required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), yet Yahya, who has embraced Israel as his country and his identity as an Israeli Arab, volunteered and will begin when he completes his tour with StandWithUs.
Yahya has paid a high price for his beliefs. When he began defending Israel, his life was threatened at Umm al-Fahm and he had to escape. Yahya now resides in Jerusalem. He believes there is a future for himself and for other Arabs in Israel. Yahya says he enjoys all the freedoms and opportunities of other Israelis.
As for the BDS movement, similar to other Arab Israeli and Palestinian Zionists such as journalists Bassem Eid and Khaled Abu Toameh, Yahya believes that, “BDS is not doing any good at all by spreading lies and misinformation about Israel.” He answered a question about groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and other supposedly pro-Palestinian groups that they are not helpful to nor representative of those they claim to support.
Finally, Yahya encouraged us to speak out against injustice and against the lies that are being spread against Israel. Share Yahya’s insights and his truth.
No one can remain silent.