Opinion

Mohamed Salah, Don't Boycott Israeli Arabs. We're the Only Reason Palestine Wasn't Lost Completely

An open letter to the Egyptian soccer player from a Palestinian citizen of Israel

Mohamed Salah during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Newcastle United at Anfield, Liverpool, United Kingdom, December 26, 2018.
AFP

The idea of writing to you, Mohamed, came to me during a condolence visit I paid last week in Haifa to the family of Prof. Butrus Abu-Manneh, a native of Lod. There I met the highly esteemed teacher Elias Jabbour, a native of Shfaram. These men are among the most eminent and respected figures this land has ever known. Butrus was an internationally known historian, while Elias, may he be blessed with long life, maintains hope and resolve, in the manner of the generation of his parents.

I spoke with Elias about the future of we Palestinian citizens of Israel. I asked him what he thought about the upcoming general election, especially in light of the results of November’s local elections. “I foresee ill,” he said. He expressed concern about an uncertain future and said he felt we had learned nothing from history.

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We talked about the events leading up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration and about the Arab leadership of the time, which supported Britain and misled the Palestinians. From there it was a short leap to the subject of the Egyptian soccer player Mohamed Salah, whose recent remarks shed light on another aspect of our complex lives here and reveal our complicated ties to the rest of the Arab world. In the wake of our conversation, I promised Elias that I would write to you.

Dear Mohamed, according to recent reports in the media, you threatened to leave Liverpool if the team signs Moanes Dabour, reportedly because he plays on the Israeli national team despite his being an Arab, Palestinian and Muslim citizen of Israel.

I’m not sure that you and millions of other Arabs know what we, “the Palestinians of 1948,” who remained in their homeland despite all the difficulties, have been through. For example, did they tell you how we went to bed one tragic summer night in 1948 and woke up the next morning to the Nakba, which made us unwanted citizens of a new state, called Israel?

Mohamed my friend, I don’t know what they taught you in school about Palestine, which was once a source of inspiration for the entire Arab world. The same Palestine whose people did not fear the gallows and whose sons’ brown skin is exactly the same as yours. Do you know that only thanks to us, the 1948 Arabs, this land was not lost completely? I am willing to bet that your knowledge of Palestine, like that of millions of other Arabs, is made up of a few isolated pieces of information blowing in the wind.

I assume you have never read about the “funeral that left from Acre,” as in the words of the popular song about three Palestinians who were executed for resisting the British Mandate in 1929, or about Sirhan al-Ali, a Palestinian who fought British colonialism and sacrificed his life to blow up an oil pipeline. You probably also never heard about the shooting of Palestinians who hid in the church in Ilabun in 1948, or about the horrible massacre in Kafr Qasem in 1956. Dabour could be a descendant of any one of those heroes.

You might be more famous than Dabour. But without a doubt he prays to God as you do, and dreams in Arabic like you, and dedicates every victory to his people, like you, and then kisses his mother on the forehead, like you. So why do you attack him for no reason? After all, you both live in Europe as foreigners, momentary heroes, until your fame fades away.

Yes, Mohamed, perhaps you are a victim too. You are a victim of the ignorance about us, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. You should know that our remaining in the land thwarted the original plan to empty the homeland completely of its native Arab residents. For 70 years we have been dealing with the attempts by Israel to uproot us, and at the same time to deal with the Arab lies that claim our remaining here is a form of testimony to “collaboration” with the Zionist movement. Israel imposed a siege on us, but the harsher and more painful siege was the one imposed on us by our Arab relatives.

But nonetheless, Egypt remained in our thoughts throughout those years. We would collect reports on the situation there from the broadcasts of Sawt al-Arab, Voice of the Arabs, from Cairo, and supported it from afar. We continued, despite the Nakba and the disasters, to believe with all our heart that one day victory would come. We would melt at the voice of Gamal Abdel Nasser, fly to the stars every time we heard a song by Umm Kulthum on the radio and felt as if we dangling our feet in the Nile with every ballad of Mohammed Abd el-Wahab.

I spoke about you, Mohamed, during the condolence call for Butrus Abu-Manneh. I will reveal to you that he was one of the Palestinians who remained in their homeland after the Nakba. His parents’ wooden house was at the end of the road between Ramle and Lod. His father was a postal clerk and his uncle worked at the Palestinian airport. In 1948, they heard gunfire but did not feel endangered because they were sure the formidable Arab armies would arrive soon to help them. On July 10, the Israeli Haganah forces captured the airport in Lod, despite the resistance of 50 Palestinian fighters who stayed to defend it, alone, without international Arab reinforcements.

How simple is this story, and how painful. My dear Mohamed, we here have been fashioned out of honor, and we will continue to watch over this land with nobility in the future. We have only one request: Don’t patronize those who love you and are closer to you than anything, because when we lie down at night, we pray to God to protect us from our friends and relatives. We will work things out with our enemies by ourselves. You should know, my dear friend, that ignorance is a catastrophe and education is the spirit of life. It would be better to learn from history and draw the conclusions it provides.

This is a condensed version of an article that was written in Arabic and published in the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. It appears here in cooperation with Ofek: A Horizon for the Arabic Media, a joint project of the Nazareth-based I`lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.