Finding Truth: From Egyptian Muslim to Arab Israeli
I was raised in a conservative Muslim society. My family was more religious than average - they sent me to Quran recitals every week since the age of seven, along with the regular Islam education at home and school. I wore Hijab at the age of 11, and by the time I was 13, I memorized half of the Muslim holy book Quran by heart. I learned the culture to my core and it was a huge part, if not most of my childhood. Who I am today is a direct result of the way I was raised.
Hatred of Jews was a part of my society and my education as far back as I can remember. It was a part of our very existence. At the age of eight in my Quran recitals, the teachers would “teach” us about Israel and about Judaism, spread the hate and how it’s a must, about how we can never forget the obligation to hate Jews and to refuse to accept peace with the “yahud.”
We were taught about how we as “future mothers” should raise our sons to be martyrs and that it must be our goal in life. We put on shows for the parents with all of us children in the group, little girls, holding plastic knives and practicing murder of Jews and Israelis, and the families cheering for more. I grew up to know later on that the organizers of the Quran recitals are the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother organization of Hamas.
As a child it was very hard for me to realize the truth or to search for it myself, I was being systemically brainwashed by a terrorist organization, by media, and school. But something was very obvious to me: one should never cheer for murder.
Most of my childhood and through my teenage years, I kept my thoughts about the overwhelming hate around me to myself. I dedicated my private time and used my strong feelings as an inspiration to learn and grow. It started with learning English from kids’ shows on TV and then reading in English, which gave me the first glimpse of truth about Israel.
Just a few years ago, when I was 21, I discovered that one of our Egyptian national holidays, the 6th of October, was built on fake historical facts of the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Israel. All that I have learned about the greatest war in Egyptian modern history was fake - fabricated to make Egypt the sole winner of the war with Israel. Each year they host an annual military parade that perpetuates the lies, making it so ingrained in the national identity that it is seemingly impossible for the historical truth to ever become known by the common Egyptian.
This was a turning point in my perception about Israel - I started doubting everything I know about Jews, Judaism, Zionism and the demonized Jewish state. I was shaken to my core when I had conversations with friends and family members about how many of these lies they believe, and their answer was that I must be the one lying, it couldn’t be everyone else, and it couldn’t be possible that the Jews might be telling the truth.
In my studies, I was never taught about the Holocaust other than being told it was a positive event in history because many Jewish people died. I was told that again and again. I came across the true stories for the first time ever, as a 21-year-old woman, when a French friend suggested I read “Night” by Elie Weisel. It was surreal in a way that I could only find the chance to read the book the very night my father passed away. Reading privately from an ebook on my phone, I read it all that one night, not realizing how significant it would be.
The human connection I felt that night with every word Elie wrote touched me in every way possible. Suddenly his struggles in the ghetto and in the camp became mine, his feelings about his father mixed with my own feelings about the loss of my own father. I could feel the pain and agony inside of my heart for losing one member of my family, and I was overwhelmed to think about his feelings throughout this horrible time, and the feeling of every Jewish person that went through the same or worse.
A few months more of reading were enough to encourage me to decide to come to study in Israel. I started searching for master’s degree opportunities and I sent my resume. I wanted to come to see for myself, as an Arab Muslim woman. I wanted to see the truth of people, learn the Jewish culture, meet Israelis and connect as humans. Something that is much more important than politics and hate for me.
Due to political complications between Egypt and Israel, I wasn’t allowed by the Egyptian government to go to Israel for studies. So I flew to India to get my Israeli visa from there, which meant for me that I won’t be able to go back to Egypt, once I enter Israel, without being held captive and questioned by the Egyptian authorities. So I left Egypt to India knowing that I left everything I knew behind in search for the truth.
Since I came to Israel, every day has been a surprise for me. It is amazing to see the lies unraveling in front of my eyes. Most of what I have seen here in Israel from Hermon to Eilat is warm-hearted people who are more likely than not to be very welcoming of me and inviting me to their homes with so much peace and excitement.
I see the diversity of the Israeli society, in religion, color, ethnicity, languages and backgrounds. For the first time, in the streets of Jerusalem, I saw a Haredi man in his black suit, a Muslim woman in a veil and a Christian priest standing next to each other waiting for the same bus, which I can never imagine happening in my own country.
With passion and determination, I hoped to find a way to speak up about the truth that I now see, about the lies that I grew up to, to educate and change, and maybe stop the hate at one point. I have now lived in Israel for several years so far and it’s the safest I have ever felt in my life as a woman. I walk the streets and look around and I see is a land well-taken care of, full of love and hope. I see a nation maligned for no other reason than the same hate that drove my family and community and leaders to incite and Israel again and again: hatred borne of resentment and lies. Ignorance of history. And the only way we can make change is if every single one of us is a part of the conversation.
My chance encounter with Elana Heideman was clearly destined - perhaps by our shared admiration of her mentor who awakened so much in me, Elie Wiesel. Walking with her through Yad Vashem and learning the truth of how much this hate can achieve in a world of apathy and indifference was a life-changing experience. Carrying on the mission of turning memory into meaning, I can only hope that my memory of growing up immersed in an unfounded hatred will serve a greater purpose in the world. And I am proud to do this from within the amazing country of Israel.