From the River to the Sea? Arab Citizens of Israel Say, No Thanks to ‘Liberation’

(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
November 8, 2023

Palestinians and their allies have justified and even celebrated Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in Israel as a blow against Jewish oppression. But the 2 million Arab citizens of Israel have overwhelmingly responded by drawing closer to the Jewish state.

Among Arab Israelis, prominent media personalities have helped lead an unprecedented surge in support for their country and opposition to their self-proclaimed liberator Hamas. Pro-Israel arguments that were previously almost unspeakable in the Arab mainstream have in recent weeks gotten a respectful hearing.

Yoseph Haddad, a 38-year-old Christian Arab influencer, has rocketed to fame in Israel with his outspoken advocacy for the country in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Haddad told CNN on Oct. 22 that Hamas’s attack was a wakeup call for the Arabs who constitute about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

"We literally felt that Hamas could have conquered the south and then the center and also the north of Israel, where the majority of Arab Israelis are staying, and we had a very bad feeling about it," said Haddad, who has more than 1.5 million followers across social media. "Immediately my friends and colleagues here said, ‘That’s the last thing that we want. We don’t want to live under a terrorist organization. We want to live in a democracy, and that’s what the state of Israel is.’"

In this way, at least, Hamas’ barbarity on Oct. 7—killing and abducting hundreds of civilians, including dozens of Arab Israelis—has strengthened Israel and weakened those who accuse the country of apartheid or genocide.

"It’s astonishing that around the world, some prominent Jews have condemned Israel for its self-defensive reaction to terrorism," Nimrod Nir, a social scientist and pollster at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Washington Free Beacon. "But here in Israel, the vast majority of Arab citizens legitimize the country’s response."

Haddad noted that a number of Bedouin Israelis heroically saved Jews on Oct. 7. He said many Arabs agree with his advocacy for social integration but have been silenced by the types of extremists who constantly threaten him and his family. However, the "silent voice" of Arab society has grown louder since Hamas’s attack, he said.

Lucy Aharish, 42, Israel’s first Arab mainstream news anchor, endorsed the country’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in an Oct. 13 "message to the world."

"Our beloved country is under attack … [from] a brutal, barbaric, inhumane terror organization," Aharish said in English from her seat on Reshet 13 news. "Don’t be mistaken. We experience difficulties, disagreements, and major disputes, like any other country on this globe. But it does not mean that we will not protect ourselves and our children, our homeland."

"As a Muslim, this is not Islam—what Hamas is doing in the name of religion—this is not being a Muslim," she told CNN days later. "This is being a monster."

Nuseir Yassin, the 31-year-old travel blogger behind the popular "Nas Daily" franchise, directly addressed the tension in Arab-Israeli identity when on Oct. 8 he declared himself Israeli first and Palestinian second.

"But from today forward, I view myself as an ‘Israeli-Palestinian,’" Yassin wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "Sometimes it takes a shock like this to see so clearly."

Yassin, who has tens of millions of followers on social media and had previously criticized both Israel and the Palestinians, said Oct. 7 made him realize, "I do not want to live under a Palestinian government. Which means I only have one home, even if I’m not Jewish: Israel."

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy replied to Yassin’s post in Hebrew, "You’re a king. [We] love you."

According to a recent survey that Nir conducted for Hebrew University, 77 percent of Arabs oppose Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, and 66 percent believe Israel has the right to defend itself in response. Seventy-five percent expressed willingness to volunteer to help the victims, as many have already done.

During previous eruptions of Israel-Palestinian violence, Nir found sentiments were almost the inverse of today’s, with most Arab Israelis siding with Hamas over Israel. When Israel and Hamas clashed in May 2021, Arab-Israeli riots destroyed hundreds of Jewish homes and synagogues and left five people dead.

Nir said a major difference between now and then is the more constructive rhetoric from Arab-Israeli media figures and leaders, even as Hamas has called for a popular uprising against Israel.

"When ‘Nas Daily’ did what he did, for example, there was no Arab newspaper, radio show, TV station, or influencer who didn’t talk about it," Nir said. "Even those who didn’t know his name met this debate everywhere they went, and that didn’t exist before."

Meanwhile, Mansour Abbas, the head of the Islamist Ra’am party, has repeatedly condemned the terrorism of Oct. 7, including in an interview on Tuesday with the Arab-Israeli station Radio Nas.

"The massacre is against everything we believe in, our religion, our Islam, our nationality, our humanity," Abbas said, adding that Hamas’ actions do "not represent our Arab society, nor our Palestinian people nor our Palestinian nation."

Days earlier, Abbas demanded the resignation of Iman Khatib Yassin, a member of his party who denied that terrorists killed babies or raped women on Oct. 7.

But Khatib Yassin has refused to step down, and her comments were not anomalous. A popular Arab-Israeli actress was indicted last week for cheering Hamas’s attack on Instagram—one of dozens of such cases. Days later, three Arab Israelis were arrested on suspicion of plotting another terror attack on Israelis.

Thabet Abu Ras, the co-executive director of Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit that promotes Arab-Israeli integration, told the Free Beacon that the Jewish state’s war against Hamas is just as bad as Oct. 7 and will quickly reverse Arab citizens’ newfound goodwill toward Israel.

"We cannot disconnect ourselves from our people, the Palestinians, any more than we can disconnect ourselves from our country, Israel," Abu Ras said. "We must have an immediate ceasefire or Arab-Jewish relations will be set back 10 to 15 years."

Israel has vowed to continue the war until Hamas’s capacity to threaten the country is destroyed.

To the extent Arab Israelis remain opposed to terrorizing the Jewish state, it will be a break with the Palestinian mainstream in Gaza and the West Bank. Public opinion polls in the territories have long found overwhelming backing for the stabbing, shooting, and suicide bombing of Israeli civilians in the name of national resistance.

In 2008, for example, 84 percent of Palestinians approved of a terror attack in which a Palestinian gunman shot 19 Jewish children at a school in West Jerusalem, killing 8 of them, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Supporters of the Palestinians around the world appear to hold similar views about violence against Israel. That includes in the United States. A high-quality poll of American Muslims released last week found that 58 percent believe Hamas was justified in its actions on Oct. 7, which are said to include torturing families in their homes and raping women.

In Washington, D.C., on Sunday, tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters chanted for Israel’s destruction: "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!" Slogans daubed outside the White House included "Death to Israel" and "Glory to our martyrs."