Yoseph Haddad, a 33-year-old Israeli Arab and disabled IDF veteran, teaches fellow Arabs that they need to defend Israel alongside the Jews. An exclusive Israel Today interview.
Israel Today: What experience inspired you to encourage Israeli Arabs to defend the Jewish nation?
Haddad: When a female suicide bomber blew herself up in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, not far from where I grew up, among the 21 dead were four Arabs. A month later I enlisted in the Israeli army (IDF). I understood that it is not because we are Jew or Arab, but that we are Israelis that they kill us. I knew that I needed to defend my country.
What was it like serving as an Arab in the Israel army?
I served in Golani (an elite combat unit). The experience changed my life and made me a better person. In the IDF we treat each other as brothers. We protect each other. Soldiers became a real family. They say Arabs do not need to serve. Why not? This is our country. We should all defend our country. Yet, I was the only one in my village that enlisted. In the Second Lebanese War a Hezbollah missile passed by me and hit a wall. The explosion threw me in the air and when I landed on my stomach my spine was broken. I spent a year in rehabilitation. Even so, I still pass on the importance of serving in the IDF to the next generation.
Haddad has initiated a program to insist that Israeli Arabs are taught about the Holocaust. We asked him why he thinks this is important.
When we understand that our Jewish brothers, and I say brothers intentionally, went through a holocaust, we appreciate one another more. We must teach about this to our children. In school we only hear about the Holocaust briefly, something that happened during WW2. It felt like they were hiding something. We learned plenty about the Nakba (the so-called Palestinian tragedy). This is wrong. We live, work and interact with Jewish people all day long. It is only when we better understand each other that we can live better lives together. Anyone who denies the Holocaust is a complete idiot. It is just another dangerous false narrative about Israel.
Are your ideas gaining any traction among the Israeli Arabs?
Our non-profit “Together – Vouching for Each Other” was founded only last April. The media has been very cooperative helping us express our views. The majority of people tell us, “We are with you.” I also have some contacts in the Knesset interested in what we are doing. We are not a political organization, but we build good relationships with the people who can contribute to improving Jewish and Arab relations in Israel. Primarily Jewish and Christian groups are the ones supporting our efforts, although it was an Israeli Arab business who were the first to support our program.
What about Israel’s national anthem Hatikva which begins, “As long as within our hearts, the Jewish soul sings…”
I will not ask my country to change this beautiful national anthem. I sing our anthem, but I change it a little. I sing, Nefesh Israeli (Israeli soul sings) instead of Nephesh Yehudi (Jewish soul sings). It makes me feel a part of my country.
What about the concept of Israel as a Jewish democracy?
For 70 years people have been trying to change the fact that Israel is a Jewish state. Arab Knesset members want to make it only a democratic, not a Jewish state. Arabs need to understand that this will never change. Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state. For me this is not a problem. Call it whatever you want. What matters is that Israel remains democratic for all its citizens.
What about the new National Bill which specifies Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people?
The bill changed nothing for us. However, it was like a poke in the eye. Even the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education conceded eventually that there is a problem with the National Bill after the Druze people protested. I accept the bill but would remove the decision that Arabic is no longer considered an official language. When I explain to people around the world that Israel is not an apartheid state, I ask them how Israel can be an apartheid country when Arabic is an official language. Now I cannot say that anymore. The bill was an unnecessary slight towards our Arab citizens.