Exclusive: From Jew-Hating Gazan to Lover of IsraelAt a café in Beit Jala, where Gideon (fictitious name due to security concerns) met with me for an exclusive Israellycool interview, the 22-year-old described what was supposed to be happy time in his childhood –a field trip to “liberated Gaza.”
“We were in this big bus, and we entered this street, and when we went in the ‘settlement’ street, it was smooth and nice,” he recalled of this 10 shekel trip to the ruins of Gush Katif. The guide proudly pointed out where “martyrs” killed Israeli soldiers, bravely causing the Jews to retreat. Once inside, he and his schoolmates were more than eager to mock Jewish settlers and to loot whatever was left.
“I remember I saw the kippah on the street with the Star of David – so the children put it on and made fun of it and spit on it,” he said. “When we got to this place on the second level [of the regional community center], there was this basketball court, and we were shocked that it was nice. We didn’t have anything like this in Gaza.”
He visited the hothouses that were this farming community’s specialty.
“I remember how brilliant they were in how they made it. And I thought: ‘Why don’t we have these plants in Gaza? Trees like they have?’ It was organized. Homes were nice.”
He had watched the 2005 pullout on television, ironically cheering the IDF as they tore thousands Jews from their homes and farms.
“I saw the image of the Jews screaming and soldiers hitting them,” he said. “I was very excited about that because they were going out. And then I started hearing the sound of blowing stuff up. I asked my family about it, and they said now that they’re kicking them out, they’re blowing up their houses so they don’t leave anything for us.”
Gideon grew up in a middle class Christian home in Gaza City not far from the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, where the sounds of those expulsions came. He attended UNRWA schools (even though he did not consider himself a “refugee”) where he was taught that Israel is to blame for Palestinian hardship. But his family’s finances deteriorated once Hamas took over.
As he matured into adolescence, he realized how Hamas leadership – and not the settlers – are the true Palestinian oppressors.
“I remember when Hamas controlled Gaza. I was like 12 years old, and I saw how they treated Palestinians. They killed them, beheaded them, threw them from the roof.”
The period he describes was the small-scale civil war that took place between Fatah and Hamas after the Disengagement, which emboldened Hamas to rule Gaza after taking credit for the Jews’ retreat. Gideon’s family rooted for Fatah, and when Israel re-entered Gaza in 2008 in what became known as “Operation Cast Lead” to stem Hamas rocket attacks, he was conflicted.
“I was struggling with myself,” he recalled. “ On the one hand I was happy Hamas was being killed, and I hoped Israel would destroy Hamas and bring back Fatah. But I also knew people who died, and it was also the enemy killing them.”
During that time, his family refused to let Hamas fighters place a rocket launcher near their home, chosen because it was a Christian household. Once he entered a government-run high school, Gideon felt continually persecuted as a Christian. Teachers and students pressured him to convert to Islam first by persuasion and bribery and eventually by force via the “sharia police.”
“I said: ‘I don’t believe in Muhammad. Why should I believe in that?’ So they said that I’m an ‘infidel’ because I don’t believe in Muhammad and insult him and blah, blah. So the Hamas students attacked me.”
He avoided high school and decided to flee to the West Bank when he received a permit to go to Bethlehem for Easter. It was around that time that he engaged in self-study, particularly of English, and delved into the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. At first, it was Jesus’ teaching of “love thy enemy” that led him to soften his traditional Jew-hatred.
But one event completely changed his perception of Israel as enemy. While trying to cross into Jerusalem in 2012, he was stopped by Israeli border police and taken to the station. At one point, he sat with a “shin bet” (secret service) agent face to face, expecting a Hollywood-style interrogation by torture.
“I was shocked by the kindness of the soldiers there, by how nice they are and how they spoke with me. They didn’t hit me.” During questioning, he was impressed that the Israeli officers were actually concerned that he wasn’t being exploited as an underpaid worker in the Palestinian territories.
“I started to change when I started to see them as a human because that’s what makes a difference,” he said.
These days, he has made his home in the West Bank, but, unable to get a residence permit, he’s afraid that one day he’ll be deported back to Gaza, where his life would be endangered and where he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his new life’s mission: speaking out on behalf of Israel.
Kay Wilson, the outspoken survivor of a vicious 2011 Palestinian stabbing and fellow Israellycool contributor, has taken Gideon under her wing as part of her personal mission to give freedom-loving Arab youth shelter and a voice. Gideon contacted her after her attack, expressing how sorry and horrified he was. They have been friends since. She has recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money towards a car, studies, and travel abroad for Gideon so that he could carry on with his mission.
“His courage to speak out in favor of modern and historical Israel is astonishing,” Wilson told Israellycool. “I have witnessed first hand how his convictions have changed the minds of well-meaning but ignorant people. These people had considered donating to charities and institutions that promote a fictitious and libelous narrative, lies that stir up enmity towards Israel and the Jewish people.”
Gideon today is a firm believer in Zionism and the possibility for Jews and Arabs to live in peace, as neighbors. He opposes the two-state “solution” which he believes would only create more division and discord. Now, if Jews were forced to leave their homes anywhere in the West Bank, he would fight for them. The good lives that he glimpsed amidst the destruction shouldn’t be the target of envy or resentment, but of inspiration.
“I love these people,” he said.