Another Israeli “Apartheid” fail.
But Duke tennis standout Nadine Fahoum is an Israeli that does not hate. As an Arab growing up in Haifa, Fahoum was exposed to the political discord and periodic violence inherent to the conflict. Thanks to Nadine’s parents, however, she was given the opportunity to understand the other side.
“We don’t think about coexistence, we just live it,” Fahoum said. “It’s not something that my family has to think too much about. We just do it. It’s normal, that’s how it should be.”
Nadine’s mother, Wafa Zoabi Fahoum, a lawyer by trade, was formerly the head of Beit Hagefen, a non-profit organization in Haifa that works toward improving relations between Arabs and Jews. She and her husband, Anan, made the unusual decision to send their daughter to the Reali Hebrew School, rather than choosing a school predominantly composed of Arab students. When Nadine enrolled, she was the only Arab student there.
Consequently, from a young age Nadine was completely surrounded by Jewish people. And even though her family had many Arab friends, most of Nadine’s friends were Jewish kids.
“I never noticed it,” Nadine said. “When I was with Jewish people, I felt welcome…. All the time I heard both sides. I heard the Jewish side, and I heard the Arab side. And I’m somewhere in the middle trying to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. When you hear everything, it’s easier for you to see the whole picture.”
At the age of nine, Nadine began playing tennis at the Haifa Tennis Center where she was, once again, the only Arab. She was also the most talented athlete. Under the tutelage of her first coach Eli Tzarfati, Nadine won her first national championship at the age of 11, competing almost entirely against Jewish opponents.
“I knew for people to actually see me I had to be the best in the country,” Nadine said. “Otherwise nobody was going to look at me. No matter who you are or what you are, you have to be the best for people to notice you. It’s tougher for an Arab person to be noticeable because we are the minority.”
Two years after her championship Nadine began attending Wingate Academy, a sports-centric school outside of Tel Aviv that provided exceptional amenities and opportunities for its athletes. Every day, Nadine drove an hour from Haifa to Netanya to practice with the best men’s and women’s tennis players in Israel.
Nadine was dominant on the court, earning a spot on the Israeli national team each year from 2003-2008. She was an Arab representing the Jewish state of Israel. But despite this honor, she still was profiled and screened more intensely than her Jewish teammates.
Apart from her experiences with airport security, though, Nadine was generally not discriminated against in her everyday life. She always felt that other Israelis deserved to experience her peaceful coexistence with both Arabs and Jews, and so off the court Nadine continued to work for the cause. As a member of the Freddie Krivine Foundation, which her parents were both actively involved with, Nadine taught tennis to both Jewish and Arab children together.
“Very few people had this path,” Nadine said. “I’m very fortunate that my parents sent me to a Jewish school. Hopefully many other people will have this opportunity.”
While Nadine’s Jewish friends graduated from high school and began their mandatory service in the Israeli army, Nadine was conflicted with the decision of whether to continue her schooling or turn professional. Just six weeks before school started in the United States, Nadine rushed through the SATs and her application and was accepted to Old Dominion University.
In the United States, Nadine was no longer recognized as the Arab tennis player, and there were no spectators watching her break barriers for the next generation of Arab athletes in Israel. The pressure to promote coexistence, along with the anxiety over turning professional, melted away at Old Dominion, and her performance on the court reaped the benefits.
“To her, it’s just a tennis match,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “She doesn’t put the whole world on her shoulders when she walks on the court. The situations that she’s been in and her family’s been in, she keeps things in perspective very well.”
Nadine was dominant during her three-year tenure as a Monarch. As a freshman, she was a Colonial Athletic Association Co-Rookie of the Year, and then was named to the CAA First Team in both singles and doubles as a sophomore. In her final year at Old Dominion, Nadine was voted CAA Co-Player of the Year.
“Nadine has a lot of self-discipline,” said her brother Fahoum Fahoum, who also attended the Reali Hebrew School, played tennis at Wingate Academy and currently plays at Old Dominion. “I learned from her to work hard and appreciate your achievements, but keep your head down to earth. There’s always room to improve.”
Nadine decided after her junior year she wanted to improve elsewhere, and after assessing her possibilities, she became the first senior transfer in history to join the Duke women’s tennis team. Ashworth explained that not only did she fit in academically, but she was also already familiar with several of the girls through junior tennis competitions. The players were confident she would be an asset and a team-oriented player.
It didn’t hurt that she was gifted with a racket in her hand. After just two matches this season, Nadine has picked up her 100th career win and helped a promising Blue Devil squad jump to a 2-0 start.
“There’s not a shot that she can’t hit,” Ashworth said. “A lot of girls are very one-dimensional, but she brings so many dimensions and so much depth to her game that it’s hard to play against her, and we saw that… when she was at Old Dominion.”
Depending on her performance this year, Nadine will once again have to decide if she wants to turn professional or continue her studies in graduate school. But regardless of her choice, she will continue to play tennis because she loves the sport, and she will continue to fight for coexistence in Israel because the cause is close to her heart.
“It’s tough for Jews and Arabs to forget,” Nadine said. “They rely on historical things. You just have to start new—we are at this point now, and we have to solve it. Don’t look back because it’s never going to be solved this way. You just have to work from this point on how to solve it…. You don’t have to agree, you just have to live peacefully with each other.”