“I am the operations officer at the IDF ground forces training base at Tze’elim,” Ala Wahib says at the start of our conversation, his eyes twinkling with excitement. “I am like the mother and father of that place,” he adds. “The only thing is that I don’t really have anyone to share it with, so I make sure to pat myself on the back every now and again, and say ‘dude, you’re awesome. Look how far you’ve come.’”Read the whole thing.
The truth is that he deserves these accolades. It is not every day that a Muslim Arab, hailing from a village whose residents largely do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, comes to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. And he doesn’t only serve: Major Wahib, 32, is currently the highest ranking Muslim officer in the IDF. He is enormously patriotic, a true Zionist. Precisely the kind of person we like to see lighting the torches during the national Independence Day ceremony every year.
“In my village, they can’t understand what could possibly motivate me to protect a country that is not my own. In the army there are people who know me and would go all the way with me, but there are those who don’t know me and don’t really know how to relate to me,” he says.
So why did he decide to give this interview, with his face exposed and his full name in print? “Because it is important to me to show the Arab public what they are missing. There are quite a lot of people [in the Arab community] who want to enlist, but they are afraid and they don’t know if they will be accepted by their environment. It is important to me to show them the road I’ve traveled, and to make them understand that it is possible.” Regardless, he doesn’t take his hand off his gun for a second during the entire interview. “It is my security. It is my only means of protecting myself,” he says.
His Hebrew is fluent, without a hint of an accent, and he could easily be mistaken for an average Tel Avivian. A map of the training grounds hangs on his office wall, and his green eyes constantly sweep it, making sure again and again that everything is under control. Every once in a while a soldier will knock on the door, asking permission for this or that mission, and one of them, noticing the newspaper crew, can’t resist and says “write that he is the best commander there is.” Wahib tries to hide an embarrassed smile and tells the soldier to get his backside back to the field.
He describes himself as a “Zionist Israeli Arab.”
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