08:39 GMT25 January 2020
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    In Israel, where more than 50 percent of its Arab citizens don't recognise the country's right to exist, the voices of those, who dare to challenge the popular opinion, are met with fierce criticism. And while the fear of being unpopular paralyses some, others say they are not afraid to speak up.

    She is an odd duck in Israel's landscape: a middle-aged Muslim woman, who is in favour of Israel and goes against those who oppose it. 

    Sara Zoabi, a lecturer on defensive driving who in her free time volunteers with a pro-Israel advocacy organisation called Arabs With Israel, says she is not afraid of the backlash directed at her.

    "I am a proud Israeli Muslim and I am a Zionist, as I recognise the Jewish people's right to this land. But unlike what some people call me, I am not a traitor, as Jewish connection to this land is even mentioned in the Quran."

    Although Islam's holy book can be interpreted differently, there are some passages that illustrate the Jewish imperative to enter the land of Israel, such as Surah al-Maidah 5:20-21.

    "...when Moses said to his people: O, my people, remember the favour of Allah upon you when he appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you which he had not given anyone among the worlds. O my people, enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you and do not turn back and thus become losers."

    Going Against the Flow

    Zoabi believes that many Muslim clerics choose to neglect these facts in their preaching, and claims that they are guided by jealousy towards the Jewish people. She explains that the BDS activists she is fighting around the world as part of her volunteer work are blinded by their hatred.

    The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement kicked off in 1950s, after Israel won the war of independence against several Arab states. Back then the defeated countries vowed to boycott and consequently destroy Israel.

    The modern movement appeared years later, in 2005, when several US colleges tried to link Israeli policies with the racial segregation practices of South Africa. By making that comparison, BDS proponents hoped they would be able to convince people to adopt the same type of boycott and sanctions campaign that led to the downfall of South Africa's apartheid regime.

    "How can you call Israel an apartheid state," questions Zoabi, "I feel no discrimination or persecution. I can work wherever I want, I can study whatever any Jewish citizen can study and I can vote."

    Likud Despite All Odds

    And she doesn't hide who she is voting for - the hawkish Likud party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    "He is the best leader Israel has ever had. All I want is for the media to let him do his job instead of persecuting him."

    Netanyahu, who is involved in a series of graft probes that threaten his personal and political future, is known for his right-wing policies that include a rapid expansion of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which continue to be considered occupied Palestinian land under international law. 

    During his ten years in office, Israel has constructed more than 19,000 residential units in the West Bank, 70 percent of which were established in isolated settlements, with the idea to connect these outposts later, creating a network of towns.

    But he will also be remembered for widening the rift between Israel's Jewish and Arab populations and for using Arabs for his electoral purposes.

    The most notorious incident occurred in 2015 when Netanyahu - who tried to encourage a bigger turnout during elections - posted a video calling on his supporters to go out and vote, warning that if they fail to do so, the rule of the right-wing government would be overturned by the Arabs.

    However, the video that stirred an uproar and that drove many Arab supporters away from Netanyahu doesn't bother Zoabi.

    "He has done a lot for this country in general and its Arab citizens in particular," she insists.

    According to Makor Rishon, a news website associated with right-wing circles, the Netanyahu government approved a $4 billion budget for the development of the Arab communities in Israel. The plan that was approved in 2015 included investment in their education as well as the construction of necessary infrastructure and money for fighting unemployment.

    "Whatever he does is never good enough. He is too right-wing for the left, and he is too left-wing for the right," complained Zoabi, who said she is paying a high price for her opinions, which are considered too radical in a mostly conservative Muslim society.

    Overcoming the Pain

    While over the years she did develop a thick skin when it comes to BDS activists, and even managed to overcome the pain caused by the fact that her family renounced her because of her volunteer work and unpopular opinions, she becomes sensitive when speaking about her son.

    Just like his mother, 22-year-old Mohammed is supportive of Israel and its Jewish identity. When he was 16, he had to flee the country after receiving threats on his life following his heavy pro-Israel campaign on Facebook during the notorious 2014 Israel Gaza Conflict that saw more than 2,000 Palestinians killed, most of whom were civilians.

    The threats, however, couldn't silence the Zoabis.

    "My son and I were the first to speak up and say openly what many in our society prefer to keep to themselves - supporting Israel is not a sin, it is an obligation of us as the citizens of this state."

    However, not many Muslims think this way. A survey conducted in 2017 by Israel's Haifa University found that only 58.7 percent of Israeli Arabs recognised Israel's right to exist with 49 percent objecting to the notion that Israel was a Jewish and a democratic state. 

    The voting pattern among Israeli Arabs also indicates that they do not relate to the Jewishness of the state. In September elections, for example, Jewish parties received only 20 percent of votes, compared to the Joint Arab List, who are against the notion of the state of Israel, which received 80 percent of the vote.

    "It is insane that people who hate Israel sit in our parliament. They speak against the Jewish state while getting money for their parliamentarian work," complained Zoabi, referring to members of the Joint Arab List, who have built their reputation in fighting for the rights of the Palestinian people and against discrimination targeting Israel's Arab population.

    But Zoabi says it seems to be changing.

    "In the past there have been very few people who thought the way I do but our numbers are growing. We are still a minority but our voices are heard and we will make a difference."

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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