HER STORY #50 - Hadiyah

Background

My name is Hadiyah, which means "gift" in Arabic. 

I’m 25 years old and originally from Isifya, a small village in today’s northern Israel, which is really close to Haifa. There are about 11.000 people who live there.

I was born there, and I studied there until the age of 12 in the local school. Then my parents decided they wanted me to study in Haifa in a private Arab school, because the education wasn’t good in our village. I studied there until I graduated from high school.

Then I took a year off, in which I worked, saved some money, and went abroad for the first time in my life – with two of my friends. In the same year I did the Psychometric [Psychometric Entrance Test, standardized test in Israel to enter higher education] and also passed my driver’s license, and then in 2010 at the age of 19 I started studying in university.

I received two undergraduate degrees from the University of Haifa: one in psychology and one in law. I finished them in 2014, and I started my master’s degree before I finished my bachelor’s degree. I was accepted to a special program because of my high grades. I also did my master’s degree in law, with a specialization in administrative and civil law, which I finished in January, 2015.

After that, in March 2015, I started my internship at a big law firm, the same law firm where I work today. I finished my internship in February 2016, studied hard for 2 months for the bar exam, and passed it in May 2016. The day after, I was on my way to Thailand, where I stayed for about three weeks. I took a couple of months off, and came back to work at the firm as a lawyer in August 2016.

Law

Why law? I thought it had something to do with justice. I wanted to achieve justice for my community, as a Palestinian Arab living in Israel, and I also wanted to work for women’s rights, and fight for minorities that are being marginalized and oppressed, like the LGBTQIA community.

"Getting the Meritorious Student Award and the Dean’s Excellence Award"

"Getting the Meritorious Student Award and the Dean’s Excellence Award"

Today it’s very difficult to be a lawyer in Israel because there are so many lawyers. If you want to be successful in this field, you have to do, for example, internships in big law firms.

I could have done my internship in courts or in governmental institutions, but I decided that I could not represent the country in any way. Ideologically – I didn’t see it as an option to do an internship at such places, so I chose the private sector in the end. I wanted to gain some experience from the best lawyers.

I would like to work with the community. I think that representing the community in courts is very important. As I said earlier, it's one of the ways to achieve justice, although you cannot expect to always achieve justice from the Israeli courts, which represent and uphold the colonialist regime.

Druze / Palestinian

I am a Druze. It is a religious group that emerged in 10–11 century in Egypt. Some believe, like I do, that it's a branch of Islam, and some believe it's an independent faith that is influenced by Islam. Anyhow, according to history, Druze are part of the Arab Islamic world, their mother tongue and culture is Arabic, their holy books are written in Arabic, and throughout history they always saw themselves as the defenders of the Arabic nationality. For example, they fought against the Crusades, and Western colonialism.

My village is 70% Druze, approximately 20% Christian, and the remaining 10% is Muslim.

Back in elementary school when I was still a kid, I had been taught that I’m an Israeli Druze. This was the definition of my identity. I had been told that I'm not an Arab at all, and that the Palestinians are only those living in the West Bank and Gaza, and they [school] differentiated them from the Arabs in Israel, which are simply defined as Arabs, not Palestinians. So basically they divided us to three different groups: Druze, Arabs, and Palestinians. And we had been taught that we were Druze, which is something different than Arab.

When I started going to school in Haifa, I met Arabs from different villages: from the Galilee, the Triangle [concentration of Arab towns and villages adjacent to the Green Line, next to Sharon Area], and elsewhere. Each one of them identified him/herself differently. Some identified as Palestinians, some as Israeli Christians, Israeli Muslims, only Muslims and so on. For the first time in my life, I was confronted with many definitions of identity.

The school in my village had taught me according to the curriculum of the Druze, but when I went to Haifa, it was an Arab school, so I was taught according to the Arab curriculum.

There are three school curricula in Israel: Jewish, Arab, and Druze. But it wasn't always like that. In the 70s the Israeli state separated the Druze curriculum from the Arab one, and changed the material that was taught for the Druze. For example the history books were changed, as were the Arabic literature books, and so on. They wanted to divide the Palestinians into fragments, so they made up another curriculum for a specific small religious group, the Druze in this case, and taught them in schools that they are not Arabs, that they have an independent nationality, which contradicts our culture and historical facts.

That is when I began to question what I is my identity. If my mother tongue is Arabic, why did they tell me that I am not Arab?

I started reading a lot of history books and books about religion, about my religion and others – to try to find out about my origins, about who I really am. Where did I come from as a Druze? Was I an Arab? Was I not? What differentiated me from other Arabs?

And I came to the conclusion that everything that I had been taught was nonsense. It wasn’t true. This whole process took me four to five years.

My first conclusion was that I am an Arab.

At the age of 18, after a lot of reading about the conflict (the Zionist-Palestinian conflict; the role of the Druze before, during, and after the 1948 War in defying the Zionist occupation; and dismantling the Zionist narrative that preaches about how Druze always stood by the side of the Jewish people), I understood that I had been sold a lie. I found out that already in the 30s the Druze fought the Zionists like every other Palestinian, so the Zionist narrative about how they fought with the Zionists against the Palestinians is not true.

After I realized that I am an Arab and a Palestinian, I started questioning why the Druze [men] have compulsory service in the Israeli army unlike the other Arabs with Israeli citizenship.

I started reading about that, and I found out that in 1956 the Israeli government decided to recruit Druze men to the Israeli army. I read in the Israeli archives that it was one of the methods of the Israeli state to separate the Druze from the Palestinians, so they could brainwash them more easily. To complete the job, they separated their curriculum in the 70s as I already mentioned.

"The view from my village Isifya"

"The view from my village Isifya"

So, at this point, if you meet a Druze in the street and ask them how they identify themselves, they will tell you that they are Israeli Druze, because they have been brainwashed.

When I found out about all this, I was really angry, and I decided to become an activist and raise awareness among the Druze about the fact that they're part of the Palestinian nation. I also became an activist against the compulsory army service imposed on Druze men.

Refuse

I founded a movement with a couple of friends and activists in March 2014 called, Urfod, Sha’abak Byehmek [Refuse, Your People Will Protect You – translation from Arabic], which is a political movement that provides assistance and counseling services to young Druze men that want to get exemption from compulsory army service. We have lawyers and therapists that help get through the process until they get exemption from the military.

I’m still active in the movement. I volunteer there as the coordinator of the counseling network and I take part in the weekly founder committee's meetings.

One of the goals of the movement is to help young Druze objectors to get the help and support they need. The second aim is to raise awareness among the Druze community about the fact that we are part of the Palestinian nation and also to break all the stereotypes that people in the West Bank, Gaza, and the refugee camps, and Arabs in general, have about the Druze and about them serving in the Israeli military.

The Israelis are very intelligent. They put the Druze that serve in the military at the checkpoints, at the police stations, and in the prisons. So the Druze are the ones who stop you in the checkpoints, and they are the ones who interrogate you at the police station, and the guards in prison that make sure you don't run away.

The Israeli state does this on purpose, so it can build up hate and turn the same people against each other, so it can make the Palestinian nation more fragile and easier to control. This is the aim of the Israeli government, and it actually succeeds somehow in doing this because it has the upper hand.

Palestinians

Last year around August we at “Refuse” arranged some meetings in Jordan – four days of workshops – with Palestinians from elsewhere and other Arabs. Jordan is the only Arab state that we, as Palestinians with Israeli citizenships, can meet with other Palestinians and Arabs.

In the meetings there were Palestinians from Lebanon, from the West bank, Syria, Jordan, and also Druze from Lebanon.

It felt really natural to be with them [Palestinians from elsewhere], and it felt natural that we are all Palestinians and also that we are all different from each other at the same time. Palestinians from Jordan live under very different circumstances than Palestinians in the West Bank or Lebanon, for example.

Every one of us lived in a different place under different circumstances, but at the same time we belonged to the same nation, and this was natural to feel and connect.

Fooled / Relief

The moment that I found out that I was Palestinian was very important to me. I felt that I had been fooled this whole time, and I had been played.

My parents don’t identify as Palestinians, neither do my two brothers. I’m the only one in the family, who identifies as a Palestinian. I have two brothers and a sister, and only now my sister is starting to identify herself as a Palestinian.

It [the process of finding out about Palestinian identity] was important for me, because I felt confused. I didn’t know who I was, where I belonged, to whom I belonged, and it’s very difficult not to know about your identity, especially in a war zone, in a conflict between two nations that are fighting. So I actually felt relieved, when I found out.

Price

But I paid the price of identifying as a Palestinian, not only in the Jewish community – also in my community, in my village, because they see me as different. They have this perception of the Palestinians as only living in the West Bank and Gaza, and that they all want to demolish Israel, that they want to kill all Jews, and hurt us as well. So when I identified as a Palestinian, they found it very weird, like “Why does this Druze girl want to identify as a Palestinian, a group that we know wants to kill us?”

People have so many prejudices. They think that I’m not a nice person because I’m politically active as well. I remember I met guy once from my village. We talked a bit, and then he said, “Oh, you’re actually nice.” I asked him, “Why wouldn’t I be nice? You don’t know me. Why did you think that I’m not nice?” to which he replied, “Because you identify yourself as a Palestinian.” I was really in shock. It was really funny. I told him, “So what? What does it have to do with my personality?”

You see this phenomenon especially in villages where only Druze live, or where they are the majority. You will see it less in villages where the Druze are either a minority, or where it’s mixed [with Christian and Muslim Arabs]. In those villages, the Druze are less brainwashed.

Because I’m A Girl

In parallel to this I’m also an activist for women’s rights.

I come from a conservative family, and I can say that I had a rough adolescence because of being a girl. My parents wouldn’t let me go to the movies with my friends. They wouldn’t let me go to birthday parties if boys were invited because it wasn’t accepted in my community, and they didn’t let me stay late with my friends in Haifa.

So I was oppressed as a woman in my adolescence, and I still am today.

My parents always said that it’s because I’m a girl, and it’s not acceptable in our community. They would say things like, “It’s because we are concerned about you. We care for you. We don’t want you to experience any harm.”

But I know that it’s something bigger than that, because I have seen that boys in my community are allowed to do whatever they want. They stay out late. They can go to Haifa. They can smoke, get drunk, and of course I’m not allowed to do any of that. I wasn’t even allowed, at the age of 14–15, to have male friends – only female friends. I also wasn’t allowed to speak to my male class mates on the phone.

Sometimes I hid things from my parents. I had to lie to them. I would, for example, tell them that I would go out with my female friends, when in fact male friends would join as well.

Always Want To Change Me

When I started my internship in March 2015, I moved to Tel Aviv. When I finished my internship I went back to my village to study for the bar exam, so I lived with my parents. In August 2016, I came back to Tel Aviv.

The relationship with my parents is very complicated. Before adolescence, our relations were normal, but then all my questions and my behavior weren't accepted by them.

I was a very stubborn girl. If they told me that I couldn’t go somewhere specific and didn't explain why, I would go anyway. The thing is that I would always ask them to explain their reasoning to me. If they would have explained it to me, then maybe I wouldn’t have gone, but they would only say that it was because it wasn’t acceptable in my community. It wasn't a convincing explanation for me. My mother is also religious. She would say that according to the religious books, girls cannot do certain things.

I didn’t accept those explanations, and I was very stubborn, which cost me a lot of things. It cost me the relationship with my parents, and to this day, our relationship is complicated. I’m in touch with them, but I feel like they find it hard to accept me as I am. They always want to change me into something else, and to this very day I am forced to hide my authentic self from them.

They want me to get married, to have children, and to have a family. I want to get married but not now.

I think that when I get married and will have my own home and my own family, they will loosen their grip, because as far as they are concerned, as long as I’m not married, they are responsible, socially, for my behavior. That’s how they see it in my community. As long as a woman is not married, her father or her brothers are her guardians. As long as a woman is not married, she stays a "girl” in the eyes of the community, even if she was 40 years old, they would stay call her a "girl" (bint in Arabic), and her father is her guardian. When she gets married, they start calling her a "woman", even if she was 17 years old, and then, obviously, the guardianship move to her husband. This is a very oppressive social system.

I actually think that I accept my circumstances. I know I can’t change them. My parents are not young anymore. They won’t change. They have their stances, values, and principles. I tried to talk to them a lot, but it didn’t help. On the other hand, I also won’t change my values and principles.

Although I accept the fact that they have different values, it still hurts that they can’t accept me as I am, because I do accept them, as they are. I don’t ask them to change, but they do ask me to change.

So I try to minimalize my arguments with them. From Sunday to Thursday I work almost all day, so I very rarely speak to them on the phone, and sometimes I stay in the village for the weekend. My boyfriend is also from the same village, and he currently lives there, so I also go to see him.

First Palestinian

I’m the only Palestinian in this law firm, and I also think I was the first Palestinian to get accepted in this firm. It’s considered one of the top ten law firms in Israel, and not many Palestinians can get into such a position because the firm only accepts students with very high grades, and our profession relies significantly on verbal and writing abilities in Hebrew. For Palestinians, for whom Hebrew is their second language, find it difficult to excel. Luckily I was a very good university student with high grades, and a lot of ambition.

"At the office of my law firm"


"At the office of my law firm"

It is difficult [in law firm], because I only speak in their language, Hebrew. I don’t have anybody here, who is Palestinian, with whom I can speak in my mother tongue. It’s very difficult to always speak in the language that is not yours, and sometimes I also feel that we have very different cultures.

I come from a very different culture, so I sometimes feel that people here don’t understand me and my culture, but generally they are nice to me. They never directed racism to me. But there are a lot of racism and the lack of awareness of their privileges from underneath the surface.

Actually, I think I never identified in my firm as a Palestinian. I did identify as an Arab. Perhaps I’ve only told my close colleagues in the firm about me identifying as Palestinian. It’s just very weird for them to see a Druze who identifies as a Palestinian, because most Druze that Israelis know (and my coworker in particular), are from the army, and the most Druze in the army are brainwashed and identify as Israeli Druze. A Druze who identifies as a Palestinian obviously won't serve in the Israeli military.

Racism

Although racism is not overt in the firm, I do experience it in other spheres of my life. I experienced it at university, for example.

Most of the Jewish students [in my class] were racists, both in psychology and in law. I once put a profile picture on Facebook of the Palestinian flag and a reference to the Nakba [an annual day for Palestinians of commemoration of the displacement preceding and following the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948], and a lot of students attacked me on Facebook because of that. Actually, a group of psychology students asked the admin of our group on Facebook to kick me out of the group because of the Palestinian flag, and because I was a “traitor” [in their eyes].

There is a lot of racism in Israel, in all spheres, at university, governmental institutions, in the media, in the Parliament, on the streets. You experience racism and oppression everywhere.

Changed

I used to be more aggressive than I am today. For example, when I went to university, I was very active and I didn’t mind having arguments with other students about the Zionist–Palestinian conflict. I also did some things to provoke and to raise awareness about these issues. But now I’ve changed my ways a little bit.

For example, here, in my office, I don’t feel any need to start conversations with people about this issue or to drive myself into discussions.

I put all my efforts into Urfod, the movement that I founded, into my community in Isifya, and my Palestinian nation, and I don’t feel the need to raise the awareness of my Jewish coworkers.

But I know some Palestinians that do think that these things are very important, and they put all their efforts into raising the awareness among Jews, and I respect that as well.

Don’t Want To Emigrate

Sometimes I think about my kids in the future, and I feel that I don’t want them to live in such a horrible place, full of violence and contradictions.

But I also know that I don’t want to emigrate. I’m very connected to my nation and my homeland, and I think that it’s wrong to emigrate, because if we all emigrated, what have we done exactly? We need to stay here and fight for a better future, for the next generations and for ourselves.

On the other hand, it’s really tiresome sometimes. All you want to do is live peacefully, away from all of this mess.

"In a trip to the Fagaras mountains in Romania"

"In a trip to the Fagaras mountains in Romania"

Not On the Expense

I hope that someday there will be peace here, but not on the expense of my rights and my nation’s rights. I think that Jewish people should acknowledge their privileges as a majority and as occupiers, and they should acknowledge the occupation. They should acknowledge the Nakba and what happened in 1948. That is one of the important things that needs to happen in order to reconcile someday.

I don't believe in a political solution between the "leaders". I think that we need to do it through education, both nations.

We need to teach our children the values of equality, of accepting differences and giving equal opportunities to all, not one on the expense of another. That’s the key to solving the conflict.

When the occupation stops, when they let the Palestinian refugees return to their homes, when we understand and listen to each other's narrative, and when the Jewish “ruler” acknowledges its privileges and gives them up—only then, when human rights are granted to everyone equally, peace will prevail.