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The Bedouin Activist

The Bedouin Activist

A proud Israeli Bedouin questions American-Jewish apathy.

by Ismail Khald

Two years ago, a few proud Bedouin Israeli citizens like myself asked: what is our position and status in the State of Israel in the midst of its current situation? After all, Bedouins are part of Israel's success story. During current times, when Israel is being attacked and accused of being a racist state, an 'aggressor and an oppressor', we decided that the smallest and probably most effective thing we could do is to spread our story as part of Israeli society.

I, Ishmael Khaldi, am Israeli. I served with the IDF, with the Israel police, and with the Israeli Defense Ministry. In the last year, I have lost two Bedouin friends on army duty (God bless their memory) defending the State of Israel. My friends and family feel that we have a common destiny with the Jewish people in Israel: our grandparents created this land with Jewish immigrants who arrived during the 1920s, '30s and '40s to build a democracy.

Because of this connection to the State of Israel, I cannot stand on the sidelines during Israel's time of need. I feel that I must speak up and be heard.

I recently returned from a two-month campus speaking tour in North America, mostly organized by Hasbara Fellowships. This was the fourth tour I had done over the past year. I've traveled the United States coast to coast (of course, being a Bedouin nomad, I mainly took Greyhound!) and flew for a ten-day tour across Canada.

The tour was certainly miraculous -- a Bedouin shepherd who had never been to any major city before, all of sudden found himself in downtown Manhattan! It proved to be one of the most adventurous, challenging and enriching experiences of my life.

I came to the U.S. and Canada to speak on college campuses about Israel, as one who certainly holds a perspective that is rarely heard -- a proud Israeli that is not Jewish. I came to share one man's tale of Israel's culture, society and politics from the perspective of a Bedouin minority in the Jewish State.

Arriving in North America, committed to defending Israel from the poisonous venom of hatred and attacks that I had heard much about, I expected to see the same commitment on campuses among the Jewish students. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case.

I had heard much about the struggle of pro-Israel student activists, attempting to counter the unbalanced, biased and false accusations made against Israel. I had not come to North America to preach that Israel was perfect. As all Israelis know, Israel has problems like all nations of the world. Still, many students tried to stop me from speaking. There were even students who had the audacity to compare me to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, making false claims that I was doing the same for Israel.

The United States has always been described as being the 'land of the free' and a home for free speech. How can New Hampshire's slogan read, "live free or die" if the student union is allowed to ban me from telling a cultural story? I can't believe that the hatred for Israel is so strong that student governments are able to defy their own dignity as free American citizens, in order that the truth about Israel should remain a secret.

I was not as shocked by the Arab questioners as I was with the personal threats, and the severe apathy of the majority of Jewish students.

The deep-seated hatred manifested itself clearly throughout the country with the many loaded questions asked by anti-Israel students. For example, a Muslim student at Rutgers University completely ignored the fact that Israel is a free state and asked, "How could you support a Hebrew state if you're not Jewish?" Another questioner asked, "Don't you think that if Israel didn't exist, then the Palestinians wouldn't have any problems?"

In Milwaukee, I was asked, "How many Palestinian old men and women have you humiliated while serving in the Israeli police?" How can such a question be asked? Only if the truth were known, that Israeli soldiers have on many occasions helped Palestinians.

The situation I encountered on many of the campuses in North America and Canada was horrifying. I was not as shocked by the Arab questioners as I was with the personal threats, and the severe apathy of the majority of Jewish students.

In my years of speaking to people, I've never received threats or personal attacks like I did speaking on campuses. There were threatening incidents at both the University of Florida and at California State University. Both were chilling. The crowd in Florida was one full of anger and hatred, yet I had to stand before them unsure of the enemy who had sent threats earlier that day. In California I spoke facing a young student who wore a T-shirt with a swastika on it, chewing on a piece of paper as some sort of protest against my talk.

Even more upsetting, I expected to see many more Jewish students aware of the situation in Israel, but that wasn't the case. I expected the Jewish students to realize that the situation was not only affecting Israel and Israelis, but Jews all over the world.

On the other hand, the Arab students and their supporters knew almost all the last minute news clips from the Middle East. How can Israel's voice be heard if the Jewish students don't have the facts or the knowledge to speak up? I don't take the mass of Jewish students to task for not agreeing with all of Israel's policies, but I do take them to task for not caring about Israel or what happens there. It is the apathy which allows the anti-Israel propaganda to strengthen itself more and more over time.

As a personal aside, sixty years after the horrors of the Holocaust, Israel is going through one of the most critical times in its history. More than 60 years after my grandparents joined their destiny to that of the Jews coming to the Land of Israel, I feel that history is somehow moving backwards. Anti-Semitism and hatred towards Israel is soaring. Comparing me, a Muslim Bedouin who supports Israel, to the Nazis is just another clear piece of evidence.

History will not tolerate us if we keep our voice silent.

And yet, 60 years after the horrors of the Holocaust, I felt that on campus, the Jewish voice is silent. Where are the Jewish students fighting back? My commitment in these crucial days, while Israel is struggling for its right to exist, is to continue the heritage of my grandparents and to stand together to fight for the State of Israel.

History will not tolerate us if we keep our voice silent. We must roll up our sleeves once again to build a better future for Israel and all of its loyal citizens. Israel's right to exist is my right and my people's right, just as Israel's destiny is our destiny.

But just as history demands for me to fight for Israel, history also will not tolerate a generation of Jews who don't care.

This article originally appeared on

October 23, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 40

(40) Janine/Yasmine Laura Bronson, January 12, 2012 5:17 PM

Bravo, well said, Ismail Khald, I graduated from California State University Los Angeles, hardly any Jews there...

Bravo, well said, Ismail Khald. I recently graduated with my Master's degree from California State University Los Angeles during this past summer 2010, when there were hardly any Jews there at the time, or prior to that... An orthodox Jewish couple slept on our sofa in the salon the day of my Bachelor's of Science Graduation which was held on a Saturday morning (I was living on campus back then) with their little baby (they don't tend to drive on Shabbat) to attend the ceremony without breaking the laws of the Day-of-Rest (Shabbat, or Sabbath) and strongly felt anitsemitism, not only from hostile students, but professors as well, expressing their personal views that Israel be anihilated and not Iran, totally shocking me to my core, and I burst out crying not understanding how this could happen, and like you, when I attempted to speak up, got severe opposition, even death threats and was physically assaulted... Last year and this year I've been attending Jerusalem Peace Making tours and wish to write an article to share with the world! I too served in the Israeli (Zahal) Army and was at the National Defence College in Kfar Shmaryahu for two years, and am proud to be an Israeli, in fact have triple nationality (born in London England am British by birth, both Grandparents were from Great Britain, but have lived for dozens of years in America, even lived shortly in Norway, Canada, and up north as far as Alaska... I am attempting to learn Arabic, I speak some French, and a few words of other languages as well, but more importantly, I think I "speak" the universal language of peace and have an important message to share, and have coined a new word which is a verb, that is as follows: To "vee" and hope it catches on one day, soon! Last summer I was at our Tabeetha Church of Scotland School reunion, and saw the lovely peace mural the school children are constructing on the wall... Hope to share more information soon! Vee safe and sound! Blessings Yasmine (Janine)

(39) Anonymous, May 24, 2011 7:21 PM


lets find out how many other dems agree with obama on israeli border

(38) Nurit Greenger, March 3, 2007 11:17 AM

We, Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors Los Angeles want to make contact the writer Ismail Khal

The untold Israeli Bedouin story; Israel is very proud of its Beduin citizenry.
Bedouin, also Beduin is an Arab of any of the nomadic tribes of the Arabian, Syrian, Nubian, or Sahara.
Many Beduin [in small] (mostly shepherds) tribes live all over Israel. Over the years they advanced; stopped moving around, rather stayed in one place and worked the land. They also became citizens and serve in the IDF. They send their kids to local school and some even achieved university degree.
To help defending Israel—and boy-oh' boy she needs a lot of help in this department—from the constant attacks on her for being a racist state, an aggressor and an oppressor a group of Beduin decided that the most effective way to do this is to spread the Beduin story of being part of Israeli society.
I was not as shocked by the Arab questioners as I was with the personal threats, and the severe apathy of the majority of Jewish students, says the writer--Ismail Khald
The American campuses are promoting the 21st century neo-Nazi and anti Semitic movements! HELP DISSEMINATING THE TRUTH ONLY!

(37) Monique Bental, February 17, 2007 2:20 PM

We need more Imail Khald to remind us of the imminent danger we are facing once more!

It is appalling for me to read about the apathy of the Jewish students on campus. It reminds me so much of WWII, and after the war when we said "Never again."

(36) Dr. Fredrica Mann Breidenstein, July 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Thank you ,Ishmael, for your commitment to action to preserve freedom and Israel.

Thanj you, Ismael, for taking an active role in spreading the truth about Israel as a democracy that embraces freedom and democracy within its borders and humanitarian concern for people everywhere, including helping its Palestinian neighbors, though their governments are hostile to the existence of Israel. Your writings are all the more inspiring because of your personal story woven throughout. Shalom, Freddy

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