Back in 1994, I was still a middle school student in a small Kurdistani town called Amadiya, which had been under the control of Saddam Hussein until 1991. I recall our history teacher stepping out of the curriculum line and saying, “Although the books favor Arabs over Jews, history indicates Jews lived in Jerusalem prior to Muslims.”
The teacher got away with this statement because Kurdistan was then outside the control of Saddam. Otherwise, he could have easily been executed for making such a comment to students.
The comment made by our teacher stuck in my head, so I always questioned whether the Arab media conveyed the truth regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.
This month, I was fortunate to visit Israel. Understanding and analyzing a nation requires profound knowledge. While Israel is far from perfect, I learned there are many reasons to respect the country, and that the portrait of Israelis as portrayed by the Arab media is misleading.
When I arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, the passport control officer separated me from the rest of the travelers and asked me to walk to a corner office where I should wait to be called. I was questioned about my visit to Israel. The officers were very professional and respectful. I did not feel any racism or ill treatment that suggested a predetermined suspicion because of my background. At the end of the questioning, an officer stepped forward with my password and entry permit, saying, “Mr. Amedi, you are good to go.”
When I entered the airport’s main terminal, I noticed many signs in Arabic. “Perhaps it is an international facility, and that could be why Arabic is used,” I thought. One of the first steps in foreign travel is to buy local currency, and I was intrigued that the Israel shekel is printed in Hebrew, Arabic and English!
Then later, during the trip, an Israeli public figure confirmed that Arabic and Hebrew were the official languages of Israel! When you travel in Israel, you will see that all public signs are printed in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Perhaps I should draw a comparison to how Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq treat the Kurdish language. But that is the not the purpose of this article.
Anyone who follows Middle East politics will agree that Arab media continuously accuse Israel of violating the rights of Palestinians by trespassing on Muslim holy sites. However, having witnessed many mosques in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Acre and Jerusalem, I saw nothing of the kind. And in Haifa, I heard the Islamic prayer call loudly from a nearby mosque.
Israel is also accused of decimating the Arab population that remained in Israel after 1948, but I found that to be baseless.
WHILE IN Acre, I noticed a man who appeared to be a guard standing in front of a building. I approached him and introduced myself as a Sunni Arab from Mosul. Had he known that I was Kurdish, I thought, he might have hesitated to speak with me comfortably.
“How’s your life here?” I asked.
“We are doing well and thanks to God,” he said firmly.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes I am. Where do you suggest we go? Gaza under Hamas? The West Bank and Fatah’s corruption? Or in your country, Iraq, where everyone is beheading each other?” He went on and listed all the regional countries that were going through chaos.
“You know, I’m disappointed by your words,” I told him.
“Well, I am sorry. I don’t mean to bother you, but this is the truth,” he said to me while tapping me on the arm.
The conclusion is clear and warrants no further elaboration.
Muslim and Arab hatred against Jews can easily be seen just by watching Arabic media channels. The majority of Arab media outlets mislead their audience about Israeli affairs, and fail to convey stories in an honorable way, constantly accusing Israel of committing massacres.
After visiting Israel, I realized that the hatred is a one-way street. The Jews are pacifists who go out of their way to avoid discriminating against Israeli Arab citizens.
On three different occasions, I intentionally and bluntly criticized Arabs in front of Jewish Israelis. On all three occasions, the people I encountered felt uncomfortable, and chose to either remain silent or change the subject.
There is an Israeli town located north of the West Bank called Umm el-Fahm, which is home to the Islamic Movement. When the movement attempted to extend its activities to the West Bank, it faced fierce opposition from Fatah and was forced to return to Israel, where it is practicing its activities freely. It must be noted that the Islamic Movement does not recognize the right of Israel to exist! This was confirmed to us by an Israeli authority.
One of the regional claims against Israel is that Jews of Western backgrounds feel themselves superior to those from the East. However, the accusation could not be proven. The mayor of Jerusalem – the Israeli city that is politically, historically and religiously so important in global affairs – is Moshe Lion, whose ancestors are from Basra, Iraq.
Regarding living standards, Israeli public services – such as electricity, water, roads, highways, traffic, transportation and sanitation – are like services provided in a Western country. Global companies like Google, GE, Intel, and others are seen in the suburbs of Haifa.
“I am impressed by the public sanitation of your towns,” I told an Israeli figure.
The response I got was, “It is very important to us that women take a leading role in municipalities, because women do a better job than men in organization, sanitation and beauty.”
Jews are constantly ridiculed for allegedly being stingy, and even willing to kill for money. What I found funny is that Jews are far more generous than people in many other nations. My experience in Israel and dealing with Jews showed that they are like Iraqi Arabs, who are known for their generosity. I also noted, unfortunately, that prices in Jewish-owned shops are far lower than in those shops owned by non-Jews, especially when they realize that buyers are not Israelis.
AT THE END of my visit, a friend walked me to the Tel Aviv train station to return to the airport. We walked through Rabin Square. “Is this where 300,000 Israelis protested against the government for the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in 1982?”
While laughing out loud at the question, he said, “Yes.” The topic is outside the purpose of this article, but it is certain that Lebanese Phalangists conducted the massacre without informing Israel.
After arriving at the airport, checking my luggage and getting my boarding pass, I arrived at the security zone. Again, I was separated from other travelers and was told to sit down in a waiting area. An airport security officer arrived and, after confirming my identity, asked me to follow him – as he helped carry some of my belongings. The officer started the security check and was extremely thorough and precise.
While checking my carry-on bag, he found a bag containing a hand lotion and a dark chocolate bar, which I intended to give to a friend in Tel Aviv. “Sir, this lotion is exceeding the legal weight, and you cannot travel with it,” he told me.
Disappointed, I asked if there was anything he could do to help me get the gift to my friend. I understood that such a request was farfetched and unrealistic. It is not the responsibility of airport security officers to resolve passengers’ problems. Their job is to ensure that people are safe to travel.
The response was rather surprising: “Let me ask my boss, and I will let you know if I can help you.” The boss refused, and the gift ended up in the garbage bin, as would be the case in any airport. However, the willingness of the officer to help is a proof of the goodness of the Jews, which I experienced throughout my trip. Also, it is important to note that the officer already knew I was a Muslim, because my country of birth was clearly written on my American passport.
At the end, the officer stepped toward me and said, “Sir, we are done. You may take your belongings and go to your gate. Have a safe flight.”
While repacking my belongings, I complimented the officer and relayed that I had a positive experience in Israel. We chatted about Israel and the USA, and I told him I would want to live in Israel if I could convince my wife to move there.
“If you convince her, you can always migrate here. You are very welcome,” he told me!
I shook my head thinking, “And this is a nation that is supposed to hate Muslims.”
The writer is a Kurdish-American political analyst.
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