British Muslim, twenty eight year old Hafeez grew up in a predominantly Muslim area where 'Israel was Satan'. 'The level of hostility towards Israel', he explains 'went from suspicion to out and out hatred and anti-Semitism..'
A visit to Pakistan as a teenager, brought the young man face to face with the 'glorification of radical terror groups' and he drifted towards radical Islamism. By the time he reached British university, 'a hub of anti-Israel activity... where my anti-Israel activism was given oxygen and thrived', Hafeez was already deeply committed to the 'Israel and the Jews are evil' idea'.
'I'll admit it', he says ashamedly, 'I was anti-semitic, but no one wants to admit that, so you use the term Anti-Zionist as it is somehow acceptable'.
Hafeez admits adopting the anti Israeli propaganda without question.'I have never, even as a university student, actually had a conversation with a Jewish or Israeli person' he explains, 'still, I was out there handing out leaflets calling Israel a Nazi state, calling Israelis racists, even attending central London rallies supporting terror groups such as Hizbollah..the narrative in my mind was clear; there was once an Arab Muslim Palestine, the Jews flooded in from Europe, stole the land and displaced the Arabs..'
That conviction deepened over time until one day, Hafeez came across the book by renowned Harvard scholar Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel.
'This was the first time I'd read anything positive about Israel and it caused considerable doubt within me' explains Hafeez. 'Some of the arguments Dershowitz put across were completely contradictory to what I believed and as I sought to disprove them, historical fact seemed to shatter many of my beliefs..I continued researching, looking at pro and anti Israel arguments, eventually deciding that I needed closure on this..it was having an impact on my life and a distance emerged between me and my friends..I was now hesitant to condemn Israel so quickly and they didn't approve of me reading 'Zionist propaganda'..
Realizing that 'a belief I was ready to die for', was based on lies was shattering and proved too difficult to deal with. The understandably shaken young man decided that 'the only way I'll know the truth is to go to Israel and see it for myself'.
The illuminating visit to Israel has transformed Hafeez's life. 'The idea of an apartheid state was dispelled within half an hour of arriving in Jerusalem' he says, '..I saw Arabs, Jews and Blacks going about their everyday business in malls, coffee shops and all over..calling Israel an apartheid state is nonsense and is actually offensive to those who suffered under apartheid in South Africa..I spoke to Israeli Arabs who loved being Israeli and were proud they had family in the IDF! We are constantly 'fed' that Israel is this anti-Muslim nation, yet many Israeli Muslims serve in the IDF and are part of every facet of Israeli society..Israeli Arabs are in fact the best educated, freest and most prosperous Arab population in the Middle East.. '
The thoroughly democratic nature of Israeli society has amazed Hafeez who 'even met some Jews who are hostile to Israel and actually make excuses for Hamas..it is interesting and confusing at times..'
'Such a life transforming realization can't be easy to digest..' I say and Hafeez agrees, going on to describe dealing with a wide range of emotions. 'First you fight against fact..its not easy to admit I was wrong and what I've dedicated my life to fighting for..and was ready to die for, was a pack of lies..you feel lied to and deceived..these lies make you hate Israel, hate Jews..and hatred is not healthy'.
The enlightened Hafeez who once described British media as 'inherently anti semitic' is 'free of that hatred'. Instead of 'propagating for a one state idea that sees the end of the Israeli state', he now sincerely wants Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace. 'Hatred free life is a lot happier' he says, 'even with the threats I receive..I really do feel sorry those who send me hate mail or stare at me full of hatred when I speak..'
I mention Born On The 4th of July hero Ron Kovik whose greatest post Vietnam lesson was to question everything he was told and I ask Hafeez what his biggest lesson would be.
'I've learnt a few life lessons' he replies, 'I think it is vital to question what you are told.. look at this scenario for many people like myself, we're told something that isn't true and it makes us hate..that's the problem, there are so many misconceptions about Israel, so many lies and we don't question them, the BBC said it, so it must be true right?'
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