Ala Wahib is the highest ranking Muslim serving in the Israeli Defense Force – but he is not the only Muslim serving in the IDF. He considers himself a “Zionist Israeli Arab.” In his home village of Reineh, where he moved back to from Israel about a year ago, he lives in his own home, by himself, and in this village he is considered a traitor. After a visit to a Nazi extermination camp in Poland, wearing the Israeli uniform, Ala said Israel was there in a position of power, and now “cannot be broken.” Read how his Christian girlfriend affected his family and life in Reineh.
Four years ago he went on a tour of Nazi extermination camps in Poland, together with his fellow officers, as part of the IDF’s Witnesses in Uniform program. “As a child,” he says, “I grew up in a society that denies the Holocaust. When I arrived in Poland I was shocked. I cried a lot. It was difficult to contain this thing called genocide. There was something very powerful in the fact that I was standing on Polish soil, holding an Israeli flag and donning the uniform of the Israeli army, but this time from a position of power. It was proof that we can’t be broken.”…
I believe in the Muslim faith, and I will never abandon it, but I think that Zionism is more than a religion. It is something that fully represents my sense of belonging to the State of Israel and to Israeli society, and the immense commitment I have to protecting and guarding the country of which I am part.
Major Wahib is the second son of the second of two wives of his Syrian father. Ironically, he says his family could live with his enlistment in the IDF, but they couldn’t live with the the fact of his Christian girlfriend. Because of family pressure and Ala’s fear of violence, that relationship ended, but he “severed” all family ties to the family of his mother, but his father supported him. Today he says his only family is that of his now deceased father’s “other” wife and her children.
Wahib said he participated in this interview to send a message to Arabs, that there are “a lot of people [in the Arab community] who want to enlist, but they are afraid….” He lived in a Jewish community for a few years, but returned to Reineh one year ago.
He has no contact with any of the people in his village, and the only friends that ever visit are his colleagues from the army. “In Arab society it is customary to be involved in each other’s lives, there is no privacy,” he says sadly. “I often prefer the company of the cows that graze down here. They don’t judge me, they let me live my life in peace.
I built this house to show everyone all that I’ve achieved – in our society the size of your house is a social status symbol. But today there is nothing tying me to this place. When people ask me where my home is, I immediately answer that my home is my room on the base.”
Ala says he thinks he will leave Reineh soon, but has many memories in his house, which he built and decorated with his Christian girlfriend.