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by Ilana Shneider
Monday, Sep. 07, 2015 at 10:13 PM
Abe Haak – a Jordanian-born Palestinian Arab, faculty member at NYU where he teaches translation and Arab journalism, a leading voice in pro-Israel advocacy and frequent contributor to The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post – discusses his life-changing journey from confirmed anti-Zionist to Zionist and pro-Israel advocate.
Abe’s parents were born in British Mandated Palestine. In 1948, after the re-establishment of the modern State of Israel, his mother fled to Jordan. His father, who was born in Nablus (Schechem in Hebrew), remained there after the Jordanian annexation of 1948 and received Jordanian citizenship. He later moved to the so-called “East Bank” or present-day Jordan, where Abe was born.
Throughout his childhood, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments were pervasive in his family, a result of the Arab leadership directing all of its emotional and political energy on blaming Israel for their misery and underdevelopment.
He recalls that when he was growing up in Jordan and other parts of the Middle East, the only expression of Palestinian nationalism and identity was a call for the destruction of Israel. Abe internalized the notion that Israel was a colonial entity and Jews “were awful people who were out to destroy the world”.
When he moved to the US as a teenager, his worldview began to shift. “The US changed me. It gave me the intellectual and emotional space to start doubting, thinking, reading and exploring alternative narratives.”
While on a trip to Chicago to visit friends, Abe met an Israeli graduate student with whom he got into an argument about the Israeli-Arab conflict. The student challenged him to find a single instance of Jews stealing land from Arabs before 1948. When he got back home, he began researching the conflict but couldn’t find any evidence to corroborate his claim of land theft, which was one of the pillars of the Arab narrative. He began to doubt his own knowledge. “If Jews didn’t push the Arabs off the land, what else was not true?” he wondered.
He delved into secret research in the hope of confirming the Arab narrative and his own assumptions, but to his surprise, each time he examined Israel’s alleged “crimes”, he was shocked to discover that Israel came out “cleaner” than when he first started the research. He realized that what he was taught throughout his childhood was a lie.
At the same time, he was also beginning to develop an American identity, which distinguished his path from other Arabs who come to the US with the same emotional “baggage” but didn’t leave it behind and didn’t change their views on Israel. Instead, they held on to the grudge, hatred and false narrative of expulsion and dispossession throughout their whole lives, and transmitted it to their American-born children.
“What differentiates me from the others is my refusal on being deceived, even if the deception is done by the people I love. For me, knowledge and truth – not tribal or family loyalties – are paramount” he explained. He felt an urgent need to pierce through the veil of disinformation, to put the missing pieces together and to debunk anti-Israel propaganda which was used by Arabs to blacken Israel’s image. “No matter how many times a lie is repeated, it’s still a lie”, he said.
The final nail in the coffin of his life-long held beliefs was the collapse of the Arab narrative of Jews as “alien colonialists”, combined with Arab denial of the Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel. “To understand the Arab psyche, one must understand that Arabs have an amazing capacity to deny facts before their eyes. Most Arabs are living in a massive bubble and a collective conspiracy to deceive. You can safely assume that everything you hear about Israel in the Arab press is a lie”, said Abe.
He felt that he finally had to choose between becoming a man of the world or to remain a prisoner of his upbringing. He chose the former.
His transformation from an anti-Zionist into a Zionist happened gradually, and without developing negative feelings towards Arabs. Abe insists that his pro-Israel stance is also a pro-Arab stance and that the Arab obsession, hatred and rejection of Israel is the biggest obstacle which prevents them from achieving their full potential. “This is a human rights issue, a right or wrong issue and not a nationalist or tribal issue. There is a great injustice being done. Arabs are self-victimizing and their suffering, which is very real, is self-inflicted because their leadership took them down a path of confrontation and war.”
Over the years, Abe also developed an admiration for early Zionists who came back and established a first world society in in the midst of an extremely hostile environment. “Israel maintains a record of human rights unequalled in the Middle East. By rejecting Israel, Arabs are rejecting the best they could be” he says. He describes his feelings towards Israel over the past two decades as “intense love”.
Abe believes that most Westerners fall for anti-Israel propaganda due to lack of knowledge. They are fed a small part of an emotionally engaging story, and without researching the conflict, they make up their minds early with very little factual information. As a result, they make a huge emotional investment into the anti-Israel narrative, to which he refers as an emotional trap.
Abe takes his task to educate Westerners who are repeating false history and are drifting into overt anti-Semitism very seriously. When presented with indisputable facts, people are often shocked when, for example, they discover that Palestinians have been languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria for 67 years and are denied citizenship just because their ancestors were born in British Mandated Palestine. “The reason there are still misinformed people out there is because we are not getting the message out. Most Western anti-Zionists are not aware that Palestinians in Lebanon cannot buy land or open a shop, and cannot practice in 72 professions even though they are born there and they die there. This is the real Apartheid.”
Abe is optimistic that even hardcore anti-Zionists can be transformed when presented with facts. “There is no alternative to patience and hard work. We have to be better truth tellers than they are because they are better organized and they will always outnumber us. For us, failure is not an option because we can’t lose North America to BDS. We lost Europe already. North America is where the propaganda war around Israel is happening and we have to do a good job. We can’t give up. We have to win the anti-Israel propaganda war and we will, because we have the truth on our side.”
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