Israeli Arabs who make a difference

April 26, 2017
Israeli-Arab actor Norman Issa. (WikiCommons)

In 1948, it was hard to imagine the day when Arabs would have the same opportunities as Jews to make their mark as citizens of Israel’s democracy. Sixty-nine years later, Arab-Israelis represent 2.1 million people among Israel’s population of more than 8 million and are increasingly contributing to the advancement of their country, across a variety of fields. Here’s a sample of 10 Arab-Israelis you should know about.

Lucy Aharish

Aharish was the first Arab-Israeli to become a presenter on prime-time TV. She works on the evening edition of i24News, as well as a morning show on Channel 2. A native of Dimona, she was 5 years old in 1987, when a terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail into her family’s car. She says she identifies as an “Israeli, woman [and] Arab Muslim” and lit torches during the official celebration of Israel’s 67th Independence Day. She faces criticism from Israelis and Arabs: Haaretz deemed her an “Uncle Tom” after the torch lighting, and after she spoke out against the kidnapping of three Israeli  teenagers in 2014, social activist Hanin Majadli said she suffered from “an identity crisis.” 

Rasha Atamny

This month, Atamny became Israel’s first female Muslim diplomat, appointed to represent the Jewish state in Ankara, Turkey. Atamny, who is from the small Arab village of Baqa al-Gharbiya, studied psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and participated in the school’s Model United Nations Club. During her time in college, she was selected to serve as a youth ambassador for Israel at the U.N. in New York for three months. In a blog post at the time, she wrote, “The discrimination against Israel is very prominent in the UN, and disappointing.”

Hossam Haick

Haick is the internationally known Israeli scientist behind Na-Nose, a technology that uses so-called “volatile organic compounds” found in patients’ breath to literally sniff out conditions such as cancer and kidney failure. A professor at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, the Nazareth-born Arab Christian claims more than 170 research publications, 28 patents and numerous awards. In 2016, the Technion entered a licensing agreement with a Canadian biomedical company to use the Na-Nose system to detect streptococcus, chickenpox and even the common cold, among other illnesses, from exhaled breath.

Norman Issa
Arts & Culture

An Israeli-Arab actor, Issa founded Elmina Theatre, a multicultural theater for young people. The Port of Jaffa-based theater aims to provide entertainment and bring together Israelis from different backgrounds. Issa is married to a Jewish woman, Gidona Raz, who runs the Elmina with him. On the Channel 2 Israeli comedy show “Arab Labor,” Issa plays the lead role of Amjad, an Arab-Palestinian journalist in Jerusalem. He also had roles in the movies “The Syrian Bride” and “My Lovely Sister,” and was born in Haifa to Maronite Christian parents.

Hassan Jabareen
Civil Society

The founder and general director of The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Jabareen is known for his human rights work with the Palestinian community. He is an adjunct lecturer for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University and was a senior Robina Visiting Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School in 2012-13. Former Israeli High Court of Justice Chief Justice Aharon Barak once told a group from the New Israel Fund touring the Supreme Court building that “Jabareen should sit on this court one day.” 

Salim Joubran

Since his appointment in 2004, Joubran has served as the first permanent Arab justice on Israel’s Supreme Court. Born in 1947 in Haifa, Joubran, a Christian, studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is an expert in criminal law, according to Haaretz. Before his permanent appointment, he was a district judge in Haifa and then a temporary member of the Supreme Court. In 2014, he came under fire for remaining silent during the singing of Israel’s national anthem at the swearing in of the court’s chief justice.

Ayman Odeh

A member of the Knesset, Odeh is “a legislator preaching the coexistence of Arab and Jew in a time of dashed hopes, almost daily acts of terror, and regional chaos,” David Remnick wrote in The New Yorker. Odeh is the leader of the Joint Arab List faction, the third-largest party in the Knesset, and a voice for the Palestinians in Israel. The 41-year-old Haifa native, who used to protest the State of Israel and face interrogation by the Shin Beit, supports a two-state solution. In February, he protested the bulldozing of homes in Umm al-Hiran.

Ayman Sikseck
Arts & Culture

Sikseck is an Arab-Muslim author of two novels and numerous newspaper articles in Hebrew. The Jaffa-born writer gained recognition when he won a story competition held by the Haaretz newspaper, which led to a deal for his first book, a semi-autobiographical novel titled “To Jaffa,” in 2010. His second novel, “Tishreen,” was published in 2016. In media interviews, he has said that he writes in Hebrew in part to give the Israeli world a window into Arab life. “Arabic is marginalized,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “For me, writing in Hebrew has made me exist in Israel.” Sikseck currently works as an English news broadcaster for i24News.

Khaled Abu Toameh

Abu Toameh began his career at a newspaper affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization and then went on to work for the Jerusalem Post, a Zionist paper, for 14 years. “People ask, ‘When did you become a Zionist Arab? What’s your story?’ ” he said in a 2013 lecture at Columbia University. “I have no story. I’m a journalist. As a journalist, I have no problem working for any newspaper that provides me a platform and that doesn’t interfere with my writing.” Abu Toameh’s reporting on the Palestinian territories, most notably on corruption in the Palestinian Authority, has won him international prominence. He regularly lectures to journalists, academics and lawmakers, and has been a producer and consultant for NBC News since 1989.

Reem Younis

Younis and her husband, Imad, had to sell their car to finance their high-tech startup, which they launched in 1993. It may have seemed a risky move for the Nazareth couple, but it’s since paid off: Their company, Alpha Omega, now has dozens of employees, with sales representatives around the globe. The company’s technology is often described as a “GPS for the brain,” helping neurosurgeons locate the right spots in patients’ brains to implant electrodes that combat diseases. Beyond her work as an innovator, though, Younis traverses Israel as a booster for technology and entrepreneurship among the underserved Arab population, and sits on a number of nonprofit boards.

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