Muslim in a Jewish Land
Sayyed, Ph. D.
I boarded EL AL flight LY 0008 for Tel Aviv on November 14,
2005 with my wife, Kiran, my mind was busy arranging and re-arranging
the list of things I intended to accomplish. I wanted to use
my first visit to Israel to feel the strength of the Jewish
spirit that refuses to give in to evil forces despite thousand
of years of anti-Semitism. It was not Israel’s suicidal sacrifices
that I wanted to investigate but the foundations of Israeli
determination to live in peace.
many things that I wanted to talk about with Israelis, the
foremost among them
being their reluctance to do something about the bad press
continues to paint them as villains. Although I understand why the media,
which reasonably covers most events accurately, chooses to
ignore all rules of ethical
journalism when it comes to Israel, I could not fathom Israel’s reluctance
to challenge the negative press effectively. Media bias against Israel reminded
me of the Nazi era German press that was recruited by Hitler’s Minister of
Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels who picked up every hate-laden word against the
Jews. Just like the German press who refused to print the truth about the
gruesome atrocities in Europe’s death camps – or claimed that
it was all an exaggeration,
the media today also ignores the Arab terrorism. I wanted to see if there
was any truth in the media allegations that Israel was an apartheid
I knew that
a true Jewish State could not be undemocratic since democratic
concepts were always a part of Jewish thinking and derived
directly from the Torah. For instance when in the Preamble
to the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that all
men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, he was basically referring
to Torah that said that all men are created in the image of
God. I was confident that Israel cannot be racist or discriminatory
since it is based on the idea of the covenant between God and
the Israelites, in which both parties accepted upon themselves
duties and obligations underlining the fact that power is established
through the consent of both sides rather than through tyranny
by the more powerful party.
of the Jewish State was confirmed when the entry form that
I needed to fill before landing in Tel Aviv did not ask for
my religion as is the law in Pakistan. Also, unlike Saudi Arabia,
no one in Israeli immigration demanded from me any certificate
As the El
Al approached the Promised Land, I continued to shuffle the
list of charges made routinely against Israel by its enemies.
live in a perpetual state of fear
From Tel Aviv to Tiberias,
Jerusalem to Jezreel, and from Golan heights to the Gaza border, I
could not find any evidence of fear. In fact the people
felt so secure that none of the stores, gas stations, market places, or
residences we went to, and where it was known that we were Muslims, deemed
to either search or interrogate us. Especially when Kiran and I went to
the Ben Yahuda Street in Jerusalem on a Friday evening, we found it bursting
at its seams with people of all ages. The ground was shaking with music
boys and girls were so busy having fun that they did not bother to even
around. Tourists were busy making deals and the whole crowd seemed to throb
with the beat of the music.
I could not
help but compare Israel’s sense of security with the environment
of insecurity that exists in Muslim countries. From Indonesia
to Iran and from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, people are not
sure of anything. In Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and the
port city of Karachi, I was constantly advised not to make
big purchases publicly for it encourages robbers to come after
you. I did not hear news of any rape, honor killing or hold-up
As a Muslim I am much
more sensitive to the absence of democratic freedoms in any society.
And I do not believe that
anyone but a committed anti-Semite
will deny that Israel is not a democracy. Democracy in Israel is proportional
and representative, but democratic coalitions, necessary in order to effect
any decision making also have its problems.
first day in Caesarea introduced us to the Israeli democracy.
The air was full of political debate and discussion. Ariel
Sharon’s decision to leave the Likud and form a new political
party dominated the hotel halls and underlined the problems
caused by the necessity of having democratic coalitions. "The
object of a free and democratic Israeli society is to reach
satisfactory compromise but often the conclusions are less
than satisfactory – especially for the majority. It involves
coalitions and unity which are also checks and balances on
any potential abuse of minority rights. It is a better system
than the American representative Republican system – which
is really a representation of power and special interests.
In the U.S. you get a democracy for the few. In Israel you
have a democracy for everyone."
I tried very
hard to find any Muslim state that has true democracy and where
religious minorities are accorded equal democratic rights,
but failed. The map of the Muslim world is too crowded with
kings, despots, dictators, sham democrats and theocratic autocrats
and the persecution of minorities is an essential part of Islamist
social behavior. But here, protected by Israel’s democratic
principles, the Muslim Arab citizens of Israel are afforded
all the rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship. When
the first elections to the Knesset were held in February 1949,
Israeli Arabs were given the right to vote and to be elected
along with Israeli Jews. Today, Israel’s Arab citizens are
accorded full civil and political rights entitled to complete
participation in Israeli society. They are active in Israeli
social, political and civic life and enjoy representation in
Israel’s Parliament, Foreign Service and judicial system.
faith in democracy also explains their refusal to respond to
Islamist terrorism in violent ways. Despite my being aware
of the human weaknesses which allow anger to subjugate the
best of intentions, I could not find Israelis acting in vengeance
against their Arab compatriots. My experience as a Muslim was
also instrumental in expecting the worst in human behavior;
Muslims under the influence of radical Islam have been unleashing
their terror against non-Muslims even when the charges of anti-Muslim
offenses were determined to be false.
that it requires a superhuman effort to ignore the atrocities
meted out to you and remain free of vengeful emotions. In my
experience of Muslim societies, minorities have never been
allowed the benefit of the doubt. Hatred of non-Muslims and
outbursts of violence against minority faiths among radical
Islamists have remained a norm rather than an exception. As
a non-Wahhabi Muslim I have personally faced their barbarism
and have watched Christians, Hindus and other minorities being
persecuted on false pretenses. I thought that if Wahhabis in
Saudi Arabia can sentence a teacher to 40 months in jail and
750 lashes just for praising Jews, it will not be unreasonable
on the part of Israelis to punish Palestinians for throwing
stones at worshippers at the Western Wall and burning down
the tomb of Joseph.
in this section, Israelis have proved the world wrong. Despite
daily provocations, they have managed successfully not to descend
to the same level of depravity as their Arab enemies. The world
is used to daily violence that is unleashed against religious
minorities in the Muslim world. Only a couple of days ago the
Muslim faithful in Pakistan had broken through the walls of
a Church, torching and tearing open its doors. They were reacting
to a rumor that a Christian had desecrated their holy book,
the Quran. They smashed the marble altar of the Holy Spirit
Church and shattered its stained glass windows. They torched
a Christian residence and the neighboring St. Anthony’s Girls
School. Within moments flames were licking the walls and black
smoke filled the sky. For days the Wahhabi clerics kept on
calling their Muslim followers to come out from their houses
and defend their faith by unleashing a reign of terror against
if an Israeli may someday find it justified to copy what Wahhabis
have been doing in Iraq and other places – abducting,
murdering and beheading "infidels". Most recently,
the body of a Hindu driver, Maniappan Raman Kutty, was found
with his throat slashed in southern Afghanistan for no evident
reason but his faith.
was nothing in history that could have substantiated my fears;
Jews, despite being subjected to the most barbaric acts of
terrorism have yet to react in vengeance against their perpetrators.
And I concluded that my first visit to Israel will help me
in untangling the knot of Israel’s insistence on continuing
to remain a target of Islamist terror.
citizen of Israel do not have equal rights
As our air-conditioned
bus negotiated the mountainous curves of the road to the heart of Galilee,
I could not miss the rising minarets identifying a number
of Palestinian Arab towns dotting the hillsides. The imposing domes of
mosques underlined the freedoms that are enjoyed by the Muslims in the
Large Arab residences, wide spread construction activity and big cars underlined
the prosperity and affluence of Palestinians living under the Star of David.
On my way
from the city of David to the Royal Prima hotel in Jerusalem,
I asked my Palestinian taxi driver how he feels about moving
to the territories under Palestinian Authority. He said that
he could never think of living outside Israel. His answer blasted
the myth spread by anti-Semites that Israel’s Arab citizens
are not happy there.
Arab informed me that Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights.
In fact, Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East
where Arab women can vote. In contrast to the non-Israeli Arab
world, Arab women in Israel enjoy the same status as men. Muslim
women have the right to vote and to be elected to public office.
Muslim women, in fact are more liberated in Israel than in
any Muslim country. Israeli law prohibits polygamy, child marriage,
and the barbarity of female sexual mutilation.
I found out that there are no incidences of honor killings
in Israel. The status of Muslim women in Israel is far above
that of any country in the region. Israeli health standards
are by far the highest in the Middle East and Israeli health
institutions are freely open to all Arabs, on the same basis
as they are to Jews.
Hebrew, is an official language in Israel and underlines the
tolerant nature of the Jewish State. All the street signs call
out their names in Arabic alongside Hebrew. It is official
policy of the Israeli government to foster the language, culture,
and traditions of the Arab minority, in the educational system
and in daily life. Israel’s Arabic press is the most vibrant
and independent of any country in the region. There are more
than 20 Arabic periodicals. They publish what they please,
subject only to the same military censorship as Jewish publications.
There are daily TV and radio programs in Arabic.
taught in Jewish secondary schools. More than 350,000 Arab
children attend Israeli schools. At the time of Israel’s founding,
there was one Arab high school in the country. Today, there
are hundreds of Arab schools. Israeli universities are renowned
centers of learning in the history and literature of the Arab
the constraints that a non-Wahhabi is faced with while performing
religious rituals in Saudi Arabia, Kiran (my wife) could not
hide her surprise at the freedoms and ease with which peoples
of all religions and faiths were carrying out their religious
obligations at the Church of the holy Sepulcher, Garden Tomb,
Sea of Galilee, newly discovered Western Wall Tunnels, Western
Wall, tomb of King David and all the other holy places we visited.
communities in Israel enjoy the full protection of the State.
Israeli Arabs—Muslims, as well as many Christian denominations—are
free to exercise their faiths, to observe their own weekly
day of rest and holidays and to administer their own internal
affairs. Some 80,000 Druze live in 22 villages in northern
Israel. Their religion is not accessible to outsiders and Druze
constitute a separate cultural, social and religious Arabic-speaking
community. The Druze concept of taqiyya calls for complete
loyalty by its adherents to the government of the country in
which they reside. As such, among other things, the Druze serve
in the Israel Defense Forces. Each religious community in Israel
has its own religious councils and courts, and has full jurisdiction
over religious affairs, including matters of personal status,
such as marriage and divorce. The holy sites of all religions
are administered by their own authorities and protected by
A Hindu journalist
who came to visit me talked about the openness that Jewish
society represents. He told me that more than 20% of the Israeli
population is non-Jewish of which approximately 1.2 million
are Muslims, 140,000 are Christians and 100, 000 are Druze.
Another non-Jewish Israeli told me that Christians and Druze
are free to join even the defense forces of the Jewish State.
Bedouins have served in paratroops units and other Arabs have
volunteered for military duty.
The big houses
owned by Arab Israelis and the amount of construction that
was going on in the Arab towns exposed the falsity of propaganda
that Israel discriminates against Israeli Arabs from buying
lands. I found out that in the early part of the century, the
Jewish National Fund was established by the World Zionist Congress
to purchase land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. Of the
total area of Israel, 92 percent belongs to the State and is
managed by the Land Management Authority. It is not for sale
to anyone, Jew or Arab.
Waqf owns land that is for the express use and benefit of Muslim
Arabs. Government land can be leased by anyone, regardless
of race, religion or sex. All Arab citizens of Israel are eligible
to lease government land.
I asked three
Israeli Arabs if they face discrimination in employment. They
all said the same thing; normally there is no discrimination
but whenever homicide bombers explode and murder Israelis,
some Israelis feel uncomfortable dealing with them. But that
uncomfortable feeling is also very temporary and does not stay
visit to Israel has not only consolidated my belief that Israel
is vital for the stability of the region but has also convinced
me that the existence of Israel will one day convince the Muslims
of the necessity of reformation in their theology as well as
through the Israeli desert brought another important aspect
of life to light; Prophets are not the only ones who can perform
miracles – people who believe in themselves can also
perform unbelievable acts. Acres and acres of sand dunes have
been transformed into the best possible fertile land; Wheat,
Cotton, Sunflowers, Chickpeas, Groundnuts (Peanuts), Mangoes,
Avocados, Citrus, Papayas, bananas and any other fruit and
vegetable that Israelis want to consume is grown within Israel.
In fact, Israelis have proved beyond any doubt why God promised
them this land – only they could keep it green.
is described repeatedly in the Torah as a good land and "a
land flowing with milk and honey". This description may
not seem to fit well with the desert images we see on the nightly
news, but let’s keep in mind that the land was repeatedly abused
by conquerors that were determined to make the land uninhabitable
for the Jews. In the few decades since the Jewish people regained
control of the land, tremendous improvement in its agriculture
has been witnessed. Israeli agriculture today has a very high
yield. Agriculture in Israel is very effective, and is able
to cover about 75% of domestic needs, despite the limited land
the development and transformation that the land has gone through
because of the Jewish innovative spirit, hard labor and commitment
to freedoms for all times to come, I am convinced that it is
true that God created this earth but it is also a fact that
only an Israel can keep this earth from dying.
is editor-in-chief of Pakistan Today and Muslim World Today,
California-based weekly newspapers, president of Council for
Democracy and Tolerance and adjunct fellow of Hudson Institute.)