“I have heard a lot of terrible things about Israel,” said Fatima El-Harabi, 30, a writer from Bahrain. âI thought the Arabs were living there under oppression, that the war there never ends. But then the Abraham’s accords were signed and the atmosphere started to change. A connection with the Israelis was established via social media, and I received an invitation to visit Israel, âshe continued.
âI decided to put aside my hesitation and see Israel with my own eyes. So, I traveled, I met Jews, I met Arabs, I also met Palestinians, and I was amazed.
“None of what I was told was true,” said El-Harabi, who is from Saudi Arabia and has already published five books.
“There are people who look like me, there is no sense of war there, the streets are full of restaurants and beaches, and I have even met people who have become my friends. However, when I got back to Bahrain there were some harsh reactions, they said I was a traitor, but many others were just curious. People wanted to know more about Israel, so I joined “Sharaka (The Gulf-Israel Center for Social Entrepreneurship) and I traveled to Israel for a second visit.
This is what the author said last week on the prestigious stage of the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, America’s oldest public affairs forum, which has hosted the most prominent public figures, including presidents. The audience there was overwhelmingly liberal, perhaps even progressive, but unlike what usually happens in pro-Israel events, they didn’t interrupt anyone this time. Instead, they listened.
“She puzzled me a bit,” a woman who heard El-Harabi told me, “that’s not how I thought of Israel.”
Also among the speakers were Chama Mechtalty, a Moroccan multidisciplinary artist; Hayvi Bouzo, a journalist who grew up in Damascus in a mixed family – Syrian, Kurdish and Turkish; Omar Al Busaidi from Dubai; Lorna El Khatib, Israeli-Arab-Druze, and Dan Feferman who made their aliyah in Israel from the United States.
They were all there to introduce the Jewish and non-Jewish American public to the benefits of the Abrahamic Accords. They held three meetings a day throughout the San Francisco Bay Area: in Jewish communities, on campuses, and even in private homes.
Needless to say, the San Francisco Bay Area is possibly the most anti-Israel place on American soil. During the Gaza war in May, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls, an Israeli diplomat told me that anti-Israel protests were taking place on every street corner, but a young delegation made up mostly of Arabs. has sowed doubt in the hearts of American progressives.
This could be because the speakers conveyed a message about Jews and Arabs refusing to be enemies instead of another clichÃ© slogan about Israel as the oppressor.
During a delegation meeting at a synagogue, a member of the audience asked, “How can you present the Abraham’s Accords in a positive light, when they were made by a dictator like Benjamin Netanyahu?” The Syrian member of the delegation replied: âI have lived quite a long time under a dictatorship, my family is still suffering in Aleppo and Damascus, and I cannot even be in contact with them as it could endanger them. you have to love Netanyahu, but even the leaders you don’t like can do great things, and peace between Arab countries and Israel is a good thing. ”
After his answer, the spectator who asked the question almost disappeared in his chair because he did not expect such a response from a Syrian journalist.
Chama Mechtalty addressed the audience in the language of art. She says she grew up in Casablanca and is of Amazigh origin. When she grew up, she discovered that her paternal grandfather was a Jew who had converted to Islam. âI live with a lot of identities,â she said. âSpiritually, I also feel Jewish, and my art is based on many cultures of Morocco and the region, both mosques and synagogues.
“When I was looking for a university in the United States, I actually felt connected to Brandeis University, which is identified as a ‘Jewish university’, and I felt at home there,” she said. .
Mechtalty also mentioned that she promotes peace through her art and indeed in her jewelry collections you can find the Star of David.
The Palestinian question has been brought up in every meeting, and always from the same point of view: it is very well what you are trying to do, but you neglect the Palestinian cause – because apparently it is the main problem in the Middle East.
Members of the delegation made it clear that they were not attached to any political position. The Dubai MP said that with regard to the United Arab Emirates, by signing a normalization agreement with Israel, the Gulf State “has not abandoned the Palestinians, and we want the peace accords to include them. also”.
âWe always help them, despite their hostility, but we cannot remain their hostages. If the Palestinians find it difficult to make peace, are we supposed to continue with the old ways of boycott and hate? We tried, it didn’t work. So now we want to show them that peace with Israel is good for everyone. “
Dan Feferman, researcher at the Jewish People Policy Institute presented the Israeli position with considerable talent and in-depth knowledge of American politics. While Lorna El Khatib, who identifies as Arab, Israeli and Druze, said âthe Abraham Accords gave Arab Israelis access to the Arab world. And although Israel is not a perfect country, it is a lie to say that it is an apartheid country â.
The Middle East is now divided into two groups. On the one hand, there is the group which includes Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, the jihadists and all those who hate Israel. On the other, there is a new growing community of Jews and Arabs who support peace through mutual respect, while seeking to end hostilities, with common interests that can help whoever chooses the path of peace. .
Ironically, the first group, the one that continues to insist on boycotts and hate, consists of many progressives who support BDS, traveling from campus to campus, spreading the lie that Israel is an apartheid state that commits crimes. of war. So which band do you prefer? The one who promotes normalization and peace or the one who promotes demonization and hatred? This question was asked at one of the meetings, causing embarrassment among progressives.
It is usually the pro-Israelis who feel uncomfortable in these forums. But a Judeo-Arab group, especially Arab, made some sort of change this time around.
Progressives who met the delegation heard things that gave them goosebumps and that’s great. When Sharaka founder Amit Deri asked me to join the delegation, he told me that they had found a better way to fight demonization. “Arabs and Jews who speak different languages. Not against Israel, not against the Palestinians, but for peace, for normalization.”
The number of Sharaka members in Arab countries is only growing, there are already branches in Dubai, Bahrain, Morocco, and there are also supporters who are joining the virtual activity from other countries as well. There are also those who oppose this idea, and the more it grows, the more people will oppose it.
Sacramento, the capital of California, is not known for its sympathy towards Israel. Even its Jewish mayor, Darrell Steinberg, had previously expressed very hostile views towards Israel. “I do not recognize the Israel I love,” he wrote during Operation Guardian of the Walls. And yet he came to the meeting with Sharaka’s delegation.
I saw him sitting in his chair, looking surprised at what he heard. He was joined by an Egyptian businessman, Kais Menoufy. I spoke with the two after the event, they were both excited. Menoufy was among the first Egyptian officers to cross the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, he also captured the first Israeli prisoner, and for his part in the war he was awarded one of the highest medals of honor in Egypt. âI liked the message,â he told me after hearing the speakers and inviting them all to Sacramento’s most prestigious restaurant.
âI want to help and contribute,â he said. He also came to another meeting, held at Gina and Daniel Waldman’s house, to continue the dialogue. Gina founded the organization “Jimena”, which deals with the heritage, culture and history of Arab Jews, a chapter less familiar to American Jews.
When Shabbat came, the tour ended. The delegation was staying in Palo Alto, with Rabbi Serena Eisenberg and her Israeli husband, Dr Yaron Zimler. The Arab members of the delegation sang with us âShalom Aleichemâ, which is a traditional Jewish poem commonly sung at the start of a Shabbat meal and which means âpeace be upon youâ.
Some of the words were similar to the Arabic greeting âsalam alaikumâ so they wanted to know more about the song. They were told that there was no more appropriate song for this delegation and for tonight, since this song is about angels of peace, and they really are angels of peace.
The Arab members were touched, and there was a moment of silence, during which I even noticed a few tears, and perhaps the start of a whole new era in Arab-Israeli relations.