Good Jew, Bad Jew by Naima Nas, Egypt

Back when I was ten years old, there was no such thing as a good Jew for me. These mythical creatures had tried to kill me and my mother from the sky forever– I took a dim view of that. They were all bad and they were all Israelis.

Ten years later I found out that not all Jews are Israelis! So, 2nd edition:  “Not all Jews are bad, only Israelis are.” And, as a consequence, (warning: what follows may cause severe cringing) I would chew my own arm before I shake the hand of one of them!

And ten years later, I ended up breaking that ridiculous promise I made to myself.

In my defense I did not know she was Israeli. She looked like me, and for a glorious ten minutes or less I basked in the warmth of proximity and thought she was “one of us”. By the time I realized “what she was” it was too late. I liked the girl, and if I am being totally honest, there was only one thing wrong with her: she was Israeli. But, with a peace treaty in place, I took a guarded chance and continued talking to her.  It never once occurred to me that her own family found our friendship just as strange and threatening to her as it was to me. I had discovered a third version of the story: “Israelis are still bad but not all of them”. Some are shockingly human!

Now pause!

What fundamentally prevents us from interacting with those who we identify (willingly or otherwise) as enemies is that we, at least, temporarily lose the ability to think of them as people. All the complex layers that constitute humanity are hidden behind the impregnable wall of fear, sometimes confused with hate.


I had a semi-final definition: “A human being preferably not an Israeli and definitely not a Zionist = Good. But a Jew who is a Zionist – Israeli or not = Bad!”

Fast forward, twenty years later:

The average Zionist to me is now someone with pride in his/her nation she/he feels she/he belongs to. It is a national identity. (Put aside for a moment the bones we have to pick over regarding how it was created and at what cost.) It is simply a sense of belonging that translates as patriotism to most Israelis. Believe me, twenty years ago even I would have asserted that the two words have absolute opposite meanings. Zionism equaled imperialism and equaled the suppression of another nation’s identity/patriotism, so it is wrong.

This does not mean I am supportive of Israel and hostile to Arabs. Let me be crystal clear. I am Egyptian and ferociously so. I am Muslim and fiercely proud of it. It is just that I am no longer sure that compartmentalizing human beings in boxes that identifies them as “good” or “evil” based on their national identity is sane.

Now you are probably asking yourself: what is a “Good Jew” after all these years of wandering and wondering? The first one I ever got to know well is the daughter of a God-fearing woman who raised her children with almost nothing. She is also a mother of three children who she brought up very well, and she wants nothing more than an end of all wars. She loves her country and she is just no different from any other person I know…No different from any other GOOD person I know. And there are many others like her if you can just ignore the labels for ten minutes.

Naima Nas,

Yala Young Leaders

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