Jews around the world were inspired last month when Arab-Israeli teenager Mohammad Zoabi cloaked himself in an Israeli flag and spoke into a bedroom video camera, “I am an Israeli and will remain an Israeli. Israel will remain a Jewish and a democratic country.”
What few realized is that within days after the video went viral, Israeli police arrested three men in his own family for plotting to cause him harm in retaliation for his stance. His cousin, Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi, called her young cousin “a sleazy, mixed-up kid who has identity issues.”
Still, more voices like the young Zoabi’s have emerged in the month since the kidnapping of three Israeli teens and the weeks since the launch of Operation Protective Edge.
A young Israeli Arab named Bissan Salman blogged on July 23 that she refuses to choose between her Arab and Israeli friends.
“My tears choose the side of peace,” she wrote. “We are tired to hear about more killings. We are tired to run every time we the sirens…. Don’t judge, pray. Pray for this to be over.”
But as the fighting in Gaza rages on and rockets continue to plummet on Israel, these young voices are lost. There is another voice, however, a growing one, that is bubbling above the surface. That voice has little to do with Israel and everything to do with fighting Hamas. It is the voice of Arabs – Muslims – calling on their peers to fight the inexorable advance of political Islamism over Islam.
Dr. Qanta Ahmed, author of Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, told JNS that while the media focus is on the war in Gaza, similar wars are being waged across the world. Islamism, she said, is the driving factor in the conflicts between Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and Iraqi government forces, the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani Army, the Afghan Taliban and would-be Afghan democratic leaders, Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists and the Nigerian government, and Jama’at Al-Nursa rebels and the Syrian regime.
“Muslim militaries are not held to global condemnation in the way the Israel Defense Forces [are] – despite their targeted attacks, pre-strike warnings and efforts to contain civilian deaths,” said Ahmed.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), which works to provide a platform for Muslim Americans who advocate for liberty, freedom, and the separation of mosque and state, expressed similar sentiments.
AIFD has brought together dozens of U.S. Islamic groups to the form the American Islamic Leadership Coalition. To be a member, agencies have to sign on to a list of 17 principles. The last of the principles is recognition of the state of Israel.
“I don’t believe Israel is a religious issue for Muslims,” said Jasser. “Hamas and other radical Islamic groups have propagandized the issues for decades, and the latest conflict demonstrates that. It is constant warmongering. Hamas creates, starts these wars, commits acts of terror, and then uses the war as a platform to say all its grievances are Israel’s fault.”
Jasser said that while he hopes Israel deals a heavy blow to Hamas, he does not believe the war will have any long-term impact because it is not about Israel but rather “about Hamas and their corrupt ideology.”
Jasser says his group tries to stay quiet on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it prefers not to feed the widespread notion that if that crisis were solved, it would end global terrorism.
“As a Syrian, I can tell you nothing is further from the truth. [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad displaced and killed hundreds of thousands of people and Israel had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Tawfik Hamid is a former member of the Jamal Islamiyah terrorist organization. Thirty years ago he broke from its grip to move to the U.S. and begin a fight against radical Islam. Recently, he founded the International Center for Countering Radicalism (IC4CR.org). He told JNS he believes radicalism needs to be fought on multiple fronts, among them a more accessible and peaceful interpretation of the Koran and getting accurate information to Muslim populations because hate is often based on misinformation taught in Islamic schools and mosques.
Ahmed, Hamid, and Jasser are frustrated by the international media’s preference for sensational sound bites at the expense of the full picture.
“Many people look at what is happening in Gaza as if Israel is the aggressor,” said Hamid. “But Egypt offered a cease-fire and Israel immediately accepted it. It was supposed to start on July 5 at 9 a.m. Hamas refused the cease-fire. The full responsibility for any killings after July 5 lies with Hamas.”
He added that Hamas accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing of Muslims and the U.S. of being anti-Islam but what is not reported is the number of mosques in both Israel and America.
“If this was the case, if they were anti-Islam, why would they allow these mosques and Islamic schools to be built? Compare the numbers to the synagogues and churches in the Muslim world – there, these places are being destroyed.”
A recent Pew Research Center study of Muslim perceptions of Hamas found that support for the terrorist organization was on the decline. But Jasser said the study should be taken with a grain of salt.
“This is no silver lining unless we find an alternative to Hamas – not just we [as] Muslims, but the West. President Obama has been missing in action, and if a vacuum is created it will be filled with Arabism or Islamism,” said Jasser.
“This is the beginning of change, but Arabs who think like I do, they are very few,” said Hamid. “That does not mean these views could not one day dominate, but they need to be empowered.”
Hamid’s Facebook page has 2 million “likes.” He surmises that 10 years ago that number would have been only 200.
“If we can support this momentum, it can change,” he said.
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