An inside ally

Brigitte Gabriel is a Lebanese Christian, and one of Zionism's strongest defenders in the Arab world.

Brigitte Gabriel 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Brigitte Gabriel 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu faces increasing international pressure to make concessions for peace, he has allies in some unlikely corners who are begging him to turn a deaf ear to any proposals. These allies are Arab supporters of Israel who say they have an insider's knowledge of the Arab mentality that the Western world has yet to grasp. These self-described Arab Zionists assert that the only way for there to be peace in the Middle East is if there is a strong Israel. Among the most vocal is Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian who lectures worldwide about Israel's valiant quest to preserve the ideals of democracy, authors best-selling books defending its right to exist and launched an organization devoted to warning the West against the dangers of Islamic fundamentalists. Israel has been sending all the wrong signals for the past 15 years, "empowering those who wish its destruction," Gabriel says in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "The only language Arabs understand and respect is strength. Israel needs to get back its image of being a strong fighter instead of an appeaser." Forcing Israel to accept a two-state solution is not going to work unless the Palestinians first are forced to clean up their act and eliminate hatred from their schoolbooks, teach tolerance to their people, and preach acceptance of Israel and the Jews as a neighbor, she says. She also expresses concern that US President Barack Obama is "so desperate to appease the Islamic world," it may end up hurting Israel. WITH HER staunchly held right-wing views, Gabriel might be mistaken for a member of the far Right in the Knesset. In fact, the 44-year-old mother of two was born and raised in Lebanon, where she was taught to believe that Israel is the enemy. Now, she sings an entirely different tune. She has even received death threats because of her views, which she professes loudly and often. Because of her fears for her and her family's safety, she does not divulge where she lives or the names of her family members. Growing up in an Arab country, her parents and teachers raised her to believe that Israel and Jews were evil. "I was told that the only time we will have peace in the Middle East is when we kill all the Jews," she recalls. That's what all children were educated to believe in southern Lebanon. But as she grew older, Gabriel learned otherwise. When the Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians declared a jihad on the Christians in Lebanon in 1975, they massacred thousands of Lebanese Christians for no reason other than their religion. Gabriel, who was then 10, saw her childhood home destroyed. Her family lost everything. They were forced to move to a bomb shelter, where they remained for seven years. To stay alive, she ate grass and crawled under sniper bullets to get water from a spring. The bomb shelter was subsequently destroyed by Muslim fighters, and in 1982, a mortar shell severely wounded her mother. Israel was the only place where they could go to seek medical help. Gabriel accompanied her to an Israeli hospital. For her mother, that hospital visit was a life-saving experience. But for Gabriel it was a life-altering experience. She saw respect, humanity and compassion she didn't realize existed beyond her immediate family. She began to question what she had been taught by her teachers and country about Jews and Israel. From the beginning, Gabriel was shocked by the scene she saw in the emergency room where there were hundreds of wounded people from all backgrounds - Christians, Muslims and Jews - and they were all being treated with care and respect. "The doctors treated everyone according to their injury, not according to their background," says Gabriel. "They treated my mother before the Israeli soldier lying next to her. They didn't see religion, they didn't see political affiliation, they saw people in need and they helped." Had she been a Jew at an Arab hospital, she imagined sadly, she would most likely have been lynched and thrown out in the street to die. She befriended relatives of Israeli soldiers in the hospital and was moved by their strong desire for peace. She was touched by their ability to reach out and show warmth to the enemy. "For the first time in my life, I experienced the values of the Israelis who were able to love their enemy in their most trying moments." She realized she had been sold lies by her country about Jews and Israel. "I was betrayed by my country and rescued by 'my enemy' Israel, the Jewish state that is under attack for its existence." TWO YEARS later, she moved to Jerusalem, where she found work as a journalist. "It was the most incredible experience, being able to report the news... and [give] information that was not filtered through Arab propaganda." Rising quickly to the position of news anchor for World News, an evening Arabic news broadcast for Middle East Television, she covered the security zone in Lebanon and the Palestinian intifada in the West Bank. She married an American war correspondent and moved to the US in 1989, where she launched a TV production and advertising company. After September 11, she felt stirred to do something to warn the Western world about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalists. She founded American Congress for Truth, a nonprofit organization devoted to motivating Americans to take action against terrorism and the threat radical Islamic fundamentalists pose to Western civilization. While 9/11 had a dramatic impact on most Americans, it struck a particularly sensitive chord with her. "It reminded me that the entire world is threatened by the same radical Islamic theology that succeeded in annihilating the 'infidels' in Lebanon." Today, the ACT organization has expanded to 55,000 members and 255 local chapters across America. Her inside information often enlightens audiences when she appears on news and radio shows and the lecture circuit. Her books, part memoirs, Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America (St. Martin's Press) and They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It (St. Martin's Press) were New York Times best-sellers. GABRIEL FINDS that her biggest fans tend to be Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians "who understand the reality of Arab hatred and don't care about political correctness," she said. "They stand up and cheer for anyone who states the case for the protection of Israel without apologizing for their love of the Zionist state." However, she has no shortage of critics who use words like "Islamophobe" to describe her. A scathing New York Times Magazine interview called her a Crusader and asked whether she was underwritten by the CIA or an agent of the US government. Pierre Tristam, a Lebanese Christian journalist who lives in the US, mocks Gabriel for "making a career out vilifying Muslims." "In her view," he says, "every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim. That not only discredits her as an alleged journalist or analyst. It puts her in league with garden-variety bigots and backwoods survivalists." Tristam, one of the few Arab Americans columnists for a mainstream news publication, has been a member of the editorial board at the Daytona Beach News Journal since 2001. He added, "Every country has its Brigitte Gabriel. She is Lebanon's Ayaan Hirsi Ali (there are few things to be admired in Hirsi Ali; there are none in Gabriel). This is sheer Islamophobic bigotry." And what about her former neighbors back home in Lebanon? Most of them secretly applaud her efforts, she insists. They do so secretly because if they expressed support for her or for Israel in public, they may be punished by the authorities. "Lebanon was torn and ruined by Muslim radicals. Even though the Christian Lebanese say things against Israel in public, inside their homes they cheer Israel on, hoping Israel will crush the Islamic fanatics. They would never dare express these views in public out of fear of death threats. They write me letters and thank me for speaking out, telling me that I am their voice." Now, she says, if only she could convince the Israelis as readily.