Philippe Assouline, a columnist for Times of Israel, shares the inspiring story of Boshra Khalaila, an Arab woman from the Galilee, who challenges critics of Israel simply by describing the rights and freedoms she routinely enjoys as an Israeli. She volunteers her time, travelling as far as South Africa, to defend and sing the praises of her country.
Boshra is a secular, independent, and patriotic Israeli Arab woman. Her first contact with Jewish Israelis came at age 18 when she enrolled in Haifa University. “I am a liberal, free woman, with all the rights that I could enjoy. I compare myself to other women my age in Jordan, the territories, Egypt, any Arab country. They don’t have the rights that I have: freedom of expression, the right to vote. They are forced into marriage at a young age, and religious head covering, despite their own convictions. With me it’s the opposite; I have everything.”
Boshra was part of a team of five people, including another Israeli Arab and a Druze, who were sent to South Africa with “Faces of Israel” during Israel Apartheid Week. “I study in the same educational institutions, ride the same buses, shop in the same supermarkets. Everything that they say is absolutely false. And I do feel that I belong to my country.”
At an Islamic, Arabic-language radio station in Johannesburg, the interviewer, a religious Saudi man, asked her why Israel doesn’t let Muslims pray or go to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. “I told them that in my own small village in the Galilee there are not only one but two mosques and two imams who both get a monthly salary from the state. The interviewer was in shock. I added that I could go pray at Al Aqsa mosque at will, freely.”
“I said to him: ‘In Saudi Arabia, can a woman drive a car?’ He said no. I said: ‘I can.’ And he was silent. I asked: ‘Can a woman in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia meet a man and get to know him before getting married or is she just forced into marriage at a young age?’ He said no, she can’t. I said: ‘I can.'”
Boshra went on to correct other popular misconceptions that the host had, including ideas about the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. She informed him of the supplies that Israel provides to the strip on a monthly basis, and she reminded him that Egypt also enforces the embargo. She asked him why it was Israel and not Egypt, an Arab county, that provided for the territory’s necessities. “He was speechless. He was often speechless during our interview.”
Boshra goes on to say, “It was important to me that people know that there are Arabs that live in the state of Israel, and on this trip there were [people] from all backgrounds…that didn’t know that there were Arabs in Israel. They thought Israel was a country exclusively of Jews. It was very important to me to correct this misconception.”