Letting go of Zionism – a personal account

Jess Mouneimne writes about moving from being a Zionist Jew to being a Muslim

I am a pro-Palestinian, South African Muslim Woman. But I wasn’t always. Just seven years ago I was a Star of David around my neck, Zionist Jew who had visited Israel and had been totally oblivious to living conditions just a few minutes away.

I remember as a child proudly placing some of my savings into a little blue money tin outside Checkers in Sea Point. The lady collecting told me I was helping to plant trees in Israel. I close my eyes and I can feel Israel. I hear the Mizrachi music in the sherut heading towards Jerusalem from the airport, I feel the energy and sense of belonging at the Wailing Wall, I feel the overwhelming family love on the Kibutz in the Hula Valley and mostly I can still feel the admiration I had for the young soldiers I would stare at on the busses in Tel Aviv.

For such a small country surrounded by unrest at all its borders, you would think this instability would affect the way Israeli’s live- like it does in Africa- but it doesn’t. Not more than a Constantia housewife is impacted by a Langa service delivery strike in any case.

Israelis are oblivious to the reality on the ground in Gaza. Yes they are aware of their own reality and speak of needing to be 15 minutes away from a bomb shelter at all times but don’t realize the luxury that is access to a bomb shelter. If they knew, they surely wouldn’t walk around believing this terrorist group called Hamas runs around firing countless rockets into Israeli while holding babies as shields?

Israelis are human after all and any sane human with true knowledge of the situation would stand with Palestine?

For decades Israel has kept massive pockets of the global population completely unaware and oblivious to everything – from simple history to human rights and democracy – and I get it!

I was one of these blissfully ignorant not so long ago.

It Wasn’t an Easy Change. I became Muslim in 2007 and with my new religion I felt extremely pressured to change my political views around Israel and Palestine.

I remember standing in the parking lot of the Rosemead Avenue store in Cape Town, inhaling freshly fried samosas with a handful of newly purchased books on Islam.  An elderly woman approached me carrying a pile of books, scarf wrapped tightly around her face.  She knew I was a new Muslim. My white face and awkwardly pinned scarf screamed ‘recently converted.’

“Salaam, here are some books on the Israeli occupation. They are killing the Muslims you know.”

“Shukran.” I said.
I nodded and smiled and walked away feeling uncomfortable and angry.
I had not been Muslim for long and coming from a Jewish, very Zionistic upbringing it was not my new religion, but rather the side of political fence my religion now meant I was sitting on that concerned my family- and myself to a degree.

I had no interest in mixing my religion and my political views. I had visited and loved Israel as my ‘homeland’ and by way of upbringing sided blindly with what Israel told the Jews it stands for.

I was working as a journalist for a local Islamic radio station and covered a Palestinian rally shortly after that incident. There I saw many non-Muslim, white activists standing against Israel and it was the first time I saw Palestine as a human rights issue and not a Muslim issue.  South African Jewish converts to Islam were rare enough; I knew society would not accept a Muslim Zionist and so reluctantly I decided to do some research.

What I found was uncomfortable as hell and I had to consciously undo the brainwashing and indoctrination of imperialism and colonialism- and of unequivocal entitlement.   My people, my persecuted people, some holocaust survivors themselves, were responsible for a racist regime starting to very closely resemble the nightmares of Nazi Germany or at least of Apartheid South Africa.

It’s not easy to air dirty laundry and admit that in my name and in family, exists a pure hatred for another people.

Afif Safieh a Palestinian diplomat said: “No one people has a monopoly on human suffering and every ethnic tragedy stands on its own. If I were a Jew or Gypsy, Nazi barbarity would be the most atrocious event in history. If I were a Black African, it would be slavery and apartheid. If I were a Native American, it would be the discovery of the New World by European explorers and settlers that resulted in near-total extermination. If I were an Armenian, it would be the Ottoman massacres.

I happen to be a Palestinian, and for me it is the Nakba.

Humanity should consider all the above repugnant. I do not consider it advisable to debate hierarchies of suffering. I do not know how to quantify pain or measure suffering. I do know that we are not children of a lesser God.”

Jess is a media strategist, blogger and general seller of words. Twitter: @jessmouneimne



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