I’m an Israeli Arab. I’m Embarrassed—and Hamas Is to Blame | Opinion

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Vice President and Dean of Research at University of Haifa

By : Mouna Maroun Published On: Nov 21, 2023 at 12:53 PM EST

What is it like to be an Arab in Israel right now? In a word, horrible.

I’ve spent the majority of my life in Israel’s north, a beacon of coexistence where Jews and Arabs have lived side by side in harmony. Yet today, for the first time in my life, I understand why Jews are afraid of us.

Like all Israelis, I was glued to the news on the morning of Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists infiltrated the country and indiscriminately murdered and kidnapped men, women, children, the elderly, Jews, Arabs, and foreign nationals. The staggering numbers are now permanently etched in our minds: over 1,400 murdered and 240 taken hostage. Like all Israelis, I was devastated.

When I saw an elderly woman being abducted and taken into Gaza, I felt that it could have been my own mother, who is now 95. When I read reports of young children being slaughtered, I thought of the son of my best friend. He used to play as a baby with his small, delicate fingers slipping through my hair. Now grown, he’s serves on reserve duty in the IDF, and I lose sleep every night wondering if he’s safe. And when I saw pictures of the Arabs and Bedouins who were killed, I saw myself.

Against this backdrop, the paranoia, tension and fear that Jews feel when they encounter Arabs is understandable. As a researcher who studies how the human brain works, I can tell you that when the brain experiences grave stress, it’s natural to generalize your surroundings as a coping mechanism. The suspicious looks that I was accustomed to receiving when traveling in and out of Ben Gurion Airport are now being directed at Israeli Arabs across the country.

I’m embarrassed. And Hamas is to blame.

Mouna Maroun

The author, Mouna Maroun

The other question I’m frequently asked is, “Do you condemn Hamas?” Asking Israeli Arabs this question misses a fundamental aspect of just how much we’re intertwined with Israeli life. Does it make sense to ask an Israeli Jew if they condemn Hamas? Of course not.

This is why the world needs to understand that Israeli Arabs reject Hamas and its ideology just as much as Jews do.

Another question I’m asked is, “Don’t you feel bad for the Gazans and what is happening to them?” Certainly, I do. Every day, I think about the many Gazan children crying out for their mothers, just as I can’t stop picturing the Jewish children in Hamas captivity. For those captive Israeli and Palestinian children crying similarly out of fear, I ask: Who is feeding them? Who hugs them when they cry? Who is telling them everything will be okay? And in this instance, Hamas is also to blame for cynically weaponizing their fear to further an agenda of terror.

Showing empathy for one side in a conflict does not negate the capacity to have empathy for the other. Rather, it shows that you’re human. Arabs do not need to choose a side in this conflict.

For the sake of humanity, I implore the Arab community to move forward and to cleverly and responsibly understand the Jewish narrative, as we have been asking them to understand ours for 75 years. For the first time, as an Arab minority we are requested to stand with empathy and understand the majority’s narrative.

At University of Haifa, we’re preparing to do just that. While the beginning of the school year has been delayed due to the war, the University’s administration is brainstorming ways to turn down the temperature on campus so that our students are reintegrated into a peaceful environment.

<span class="cap">Medical staff chat in a makeshift emergency underground hospital in the parking lot of the Rambam Health Care Campus (RHCC) in Haifa in northern Israel, on October 12, 2023. Thousands of people, both Israeli and Palestinian, have died since October 7, after Palestinian Hamas militants entered Israel in a surprise attack leading Israel to declare war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip enclave.</span><span class="credit ar23-credit">THOMAS COEX / AFP</span>

In the city of Haifa, there are mixed neighborhoods and mixed apartment buildings. At the University, Jews and Arabs learn and grow together. This is the paradigm that Israel must replicate in order to move on from the tragedy of Oct. 7.

I’m not upset when I see the posters in Hebrew around campus stating, “Together We Will Win,” because I know that Arabs are included in that fight.

Together we can use our voice to speak against rising levels of discrimination we’re seeing.

I was also asked recently if I ever see myself leaving Israel to a place with a much larger Arab population, like France. My answer is clear: I’m not going anywhere. Israel is my home.

For Jews and Arabs alike, this country is special. When each of us sees an olive tree, we’re in awe of this majestic force, of nature’s ability to grow out of the arid desert soil.

If Jews and Arabs are adamant about not going anywhere, it’s up to both communities to determine what’s next in a healthy and productive way.

<span class="cap">Soldiers carry the coffin of fallen Israeli-Druse soldier, Major Jamal Abbas, who was killed in the Gaza Strip, during his funeral on November 19, 2023 in Peki&#8217;in, Israel. At least 55 Israeli soldiers have died in the Gaza Strip since the start of its ground invasion, part of its campaign to destroy Hamas, the militant group who governs the Palestinian territory.</span><span class="credit ar23-credit">AMIR LEVY/GETTY IMAGES</span>

On Oct. 7, Hamas did far more than kill 1,400 people. It also set back any hope we had for peace, gearing us all up for another generation of nothing but violence. But for every tragedy, there is a silver lining. A recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) indicated that 70 percent of Arabs in Israel identify with the State of Israel. IDI reports the highest percentage of respondents who feel part of the state since they began asking this question in 2003. This demonstrates that the Arab community in Israel aspires to further integrate into society and distance itself from bad faith actors like Hamas.

Israeli Arabs and Jews are like salt and pepper: They both belong on the table, and once they’re sprinkled into a dish, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between them. We must embrace and cherish our shared destiny by working with each other, engaging in meaningful dialogue, and understanding that when it comes to coexistence and shared life, there’s nothing to fear.

Prof. Mouna Maroun is the Vice President and Dean of Research at University of Haifa and the former Head of the Sagol Department of Neurobiology at the school. She is a first-generation university graduate, the first woman from her hometown of Isfiya to earn a PhD and the first Arab woman in Israel to hold a senior faculty position in the natural sciences.