He calls himself an ‘Arab-Israeli-Zionist’ and he is proud of this name. No matter what his immediate family, neighbors and most of the Arab sector in Israel and beyond think and how they treat him, for his bold statement made name, Yahya Mahamid acts the part of being a Zionist.
Yahya Mahamid, is 20-year-old and he ‘got it’! He raises the flag of Israel with pride and soon will be joining the Israel Defense Force (IDF) as a freshman.
I had an opportunity to have a short conversation, over the telephone line, with Yahya, when he was on his way to San Diego to speak on behalf of the organization StandWithUs (SWU), a Zionist organization that stands with Israel and battles the perfidy against Israel, mostly on campuses around the world.
Let me remind the reader what Zionism is. It is not a ‘racist’ term. Zionism is a movement, originally for the re-establishment and now the development of the nation state in the ancient land of Judea/Israel, what is now called Israel. Zionism was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann.
Yahya was born in the Arab town Umm al-Fahm in the Haifa District of northeast Israel, its population in 2015 was 52,500, nearly all of whom are Arab citizens of Israel. The town, situated on the Umm al-Fahm mountain ridge, the highest point of which is Mount Iskander, is overlooking Wadi Ara and is considered to be the social, cultural and economic center for residents of the Wadi Ara and the surrounding Arab villages. Though it is part of Israel, unfortunately, in Umm al-Fahm they practice strong hostility toward Israel.
The Arabs of Israel make up 20% of the Jewish state’s population and they have the same rights but not the same obligations. They vote, pay taxes, they get social support and medical insurance, and their children go to public schools funded by the state. But they do not serve in the army as the Jews and the Israeli-Druze, they do not opt to help protect the country.
Yahya Mahamid grew up in Umm Al-Fahm, a town well known for its negative sympathy toward the country of which it is a part. It is the home of the Northern Islamic Movement that is a terrorist organization and is banned by the government of Israel. In that town you often see the Nazi Swastika symbol and hear that Hitler did a good deed murdering six million Jews and he should have gone all the way and finish the job, end the existence of the Jewish people on this earth. In Umm Al-Fahm you are taught to hate Zionism.
So, like any other Umm al-Fahm-born kid, Yahya was educated to hate Israel and Jews. He was taught that at school, mosque, and the media; he heard ample conspiracies about Jews and Israel and grew up very anti-Israel. But circumstances took him in a totally different direction when, at a young age of 17, in 2012, something happened which has led him to see everything in a different light.
The chain of events lead Yahya to become, as he defines himself, an Israeli-Arab-Zionist.
Yahya Had to Get a Job
Yahya had to leave his environment and get a job. It was in Tel-Aviv where he got his first job at a hotel. Apprehension accompanied him at first. To his surprise, though he did not speak Hebrew, the Jews understood his circumstances and came toward him and helped him acclimate. Yahya’s first manager was a religious Jew who embraced him and in return Yahya started to open up toward the Jews he worked with and met along the way. The opinion of what he heard and was previously taught was melting away fast.
One day, during the Sukkot Holiday, while standing at the bus stop, a [religious] Chabad member approached Yahya to make the holiday prayer and do the holiday’s customary and symbolic shake the Lulav. When the Chabad fellow ended his pleading for Yahya’s prayer, he turned around to tell him that he was not Jewish. The religious Jewish fellow replied: “It is not important of what religion you are, so long you are a good person.” That gave Yahya a long pause of thinking.
Another, Major Turning Point
In 2014, just before Israel had to launch the Protective Edge War against Gaza, Yahya turned on the TV to learn that three Israeli teenage boys – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel – were kidnapped. He became overwhelmed with emotions. He developed an affinity for Jews and these boys were almost his age. He knew it was all so very wrong, he remembered what the Chabad fellow told him and decided to do something to condemn the wrongdoing.
Yahya turned to social media and found the campaign, ‘BringBackOurBoys.’ To support the effort one had to take a photo with his or her country’s flag and send a note of solidarity.
Yahya took a selfie photo with the flag of Israel and wrote his solidarity note and sent it to the campaign headquarters. Only two hours later he received a call telling him that his photo has gone viral, an international reaction. An Arab Israeli boy who could get into deep trouble by showing support for Jews, in some cases even face violence, was a phenomenon one cannot ignore.
His mother was supportive. His sister was under pressure. Some supported Yahya’s act openly, some did covertly and some did not. He was caught between two worlds. The threats have poured in from all directions, some threats on his life, and Yahya had to go to the police and ask for protection.
But the police had no manual for an Arab Zionist who had to be extracted from his hometown. Six men were arrested for threatening Yahya’s life and he had to quit his job. There was no place for him to hide from Arabs who did not get the opportunity to know Jews the way Yahya did.
When we spoke, I [NG] asked Yahya – a very confident and well-spoken young man – probably the most asked question: “Where does the hate of Jews derive from?”
Yahya: “It is incitement and sheer and blind hate for Jews propelled by lies, misinformation and more often than not coming from both sides – Arabs and Jews.”
NG: “how do we go about finally achieving peace?”
Yahya: “There must be more tolerance. We must work to break the deliberate myths that exist in the Israeli-Arab sector as well as the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians. We also must take the next step to peace, stop the incitement one hears in school, media and mosque.”
Soon Yahya will be joining the IDF (Israel Defense Force-Israel’s military). Until then he has devoted his life to fight the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction Israel) movement around the world, representing the organization StandWithUs.
Since StandWithUs is an international organization educating about advocating for Israel and Jews, Yahya’s new path in life fits the mold well. To hear from an Arab-Zionist that Israel is not the evil the Arab and Muslim world paints the Jewish state to be, is an opportunity to shine light on the truth.
Each one of us is a ship and each person whom you come across is a passenger; you are the captain and your duty is to navigate the ship of your life steady as you go. And Yahya is such ship.
For now Yahya may be a lone soldier in his quest to normalize coexistence of Arabs and Jews, but we may be looking at a greater picture. He just may be the future generation of Israeli Arabs.