Through our shared grief, a new Israeli nation is emerging – from all its citizens

On the chilly morning of October 7, Israel was awakened by the sounds of sirens, explosions and mass shootings. I was woken up by a call from a friend who was herself a survivor of Hamas terror.

“Wake up!” She screamed on the phone. “We are under attack.”

I checked my phone—it was about 7:40 a.m.—and found news alerts in three languages ​​reporting rocket fire from Gaza. I thought it was just another round of the usual rocket attacks and went back to sleep. It wasn’t until I woke up again half an hour later and started scrolling through social media that the horror began to sink in. Not long after, I received news of a friend’s sister who was killed defending our border, and another friend from university who has been missing since the attack. Their names are Eden Nemri and Idan Shtivi.

Hamas, the Iranian regime’s Palestinian terror proxy that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, murdered 1,500 people, wounded 7,000 and violently kidnapped at least 220. But it didn’t stop there. Hamas and its sponsor in Tehran had bigger plans. As with previous Israeli-Palestinian escalations, they sought to move the battlefield deep into Israel’s home front, with the aim of destabilizing Israel from within by inciting ethnic violence between Israeli Jews and Arabs within the country.

As early as May 2021, these attempts were partially successful, and ethnic conflicts broke out across the country. Not this time, undoubtedly to Tehran’s dismay: the Israelis have had enough! October 7th was a terrible day, but it achieved what many of us thought was impossible: it united the entire country.

October 7 will be remembered not only as Israel’s bloodiest day, but also as a turning point in modern collective Israeli history.

Muhammad Zoabi
The author, Muhammad Zoabi.

The horror at the scenes and the horrific stories have not only shocked all Israelis, but also marked a drastic change in the attitude of Arab Israelis towards the country, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Historically, during the Israeli-Palestinian escalation, the Arab community in Israel has tended to be more compassionate towards the Palestinians, largely due to our exposure to the suffering of the Palestinians.

But on October 7, it was that same revelation that made us feel more Israeli than ever – when we saw not only the footage of our mass murder, but also the celebrations of it in Gaza shared on social media. We saw clearly what would happen if the other side had the upper hand, and this sparked a deep sense of solidarity in the Arab community and strengthened the shared sense of being Israeli.

According to a major poll conducted after the Hamas attack, over 80 percent of Arab Israelis opposed Hamas’ attack and nearly 70 percent supported Israel’s right to respond and defend its citizens. Only 5 percent of respondents expressed support for Hamas’ actions.

Many social initiatives emerged and offered Arab Israelis the opportunity to help and volunteer. Leaders across the Arab community’s political spectrum condemned the attack and rejected Hamas’s calls for Israel’s Arab citizens to join the attack on Israel. Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Raam Party, said it best when he condemned Hamas’s atrocities, saying they were “contrary to the teachings of Islam.”

This shift is no coincidence. Hamas’s indiscriminate massacre of Israeli civilians left at least 100 Israelis from the country’s Arab community dead. It reminded us that in our chaotic regional geopolitical reality, we Israelis are all one to our enemies, so we might as well own it.

Arabs and Jews together
Arabs and Israelis take part in a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One of the Arab victims murdered by Hamas was Awad Darawshe, a medic from a suburb of Nazareth who was stationed at the Nova music festival when the attack began. Many of his colleagues fled for their lives, but Awad refused to do so. He insisted on staying put and helping the injured who streamed into his station. His family members told Israeli media that Awad told them he was safe because he spoke Arabic, not realizing that his Arabic would not protect him from the barbarism of Iran’s terror proxies. Awad was murdered while trying to save lives.

We also heard the story of Amer Abu Sabila, who was shot dead by Hamas terrorists while trying to save a local Sderot family. And we heard from a local Negev Bedouin who was driving along the highway with his wife that Saturday morning when a group of terrorists blocked his path. The Bedouin begged the terrorists not to hurt him and his wife, to which one of the terrorists replied: “You.” [Arab Israelis] “More Jewish than Jews, you deserve to die.” The terrorist then shot the man’s wife, a Hijabi Muslim. He lived to tell the tale.

Unfortunately, the fact that hundreds of us have been murdered, injured and possibly raped and kidnapped, some in an attempt to save Jews, does not help us escape our traditional role in Israel as scapegoats and punching bags, especially in right-wing circles and for the incompetent failed politicians. Our current Kahanist government, which unforgivably failed us on October 7, has decided to exploit the war to foment unrest in the West Bank, crack down on Israeli civil society and joint Arab-Jewish initiatives, in addition to preserving freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, it’s nothing new. Since this government took office, and especially since the outbreak of war, it has turned us Arab Israelis – one in five Israeli citizens – into a fifth element, enemies from within. The anti-Arab minister of “national security” has warned of Arab unrest playing into the hands of our enemies while ignoring the overwhelming support of the Arab community for the country, the armed forces and fellow citizens, and also ignoring the advice of those in charge of the police and others Security services that applaud Israeli Arabs for their contribution to the war effort and insist that there is no internal threat from Arab Israelis that has the potential to threaten stability on our home front.

This is nothing less than a historic change. October 7 will be remembered not only as a deadly, bloody day, the deadliest in Israel’s 75-year history, but also as the day of the rebirth of the modern Israeli nation.

I can only hope that our shared collective grief and trauma will ultimately lead us to strive for peace and reconciliation, both internally and externally, rather than even bloodier cycles of violence and escalation.

Muhammad Zoabi is a queer Israeli activist living in Tel Aviv. He originally comes from Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.