Room 251 in the Zell Miller Learning Center was overflowing with around 60 people coming to hear Yahya Mahamid, an Israeli-Arab speaker for StandWithUs, on Monday, Oct 30 at the Dawgs for Israel meeting.
Mahamid, a 19-year-old from Umm Al-Fahm, Israel, spoke to the audience about the experiences he had in his hometown which lead to him to being offered a position as a speaker for StandWithUs, which is an international nonprofit Israel education organization.
Rachel Schwartz, president of Dawgs for Israel, said she was excited for Mahamid to speak not only because of his experiences living in Israel, but also because he is an example of someone standing up for what the organization supports.
“Even if you remove him from the situation of his position in Israel, I think Yahya’s story is really inspirational for anybody who’s thinking about going against the grain,” Schwartz said. “I hope all the people there could see that as part of his story and something they could take into their own lives.”
Mahamid said he decided to post a picture on Facebook of him with an Israeli flag and a sign that read “#bringbackourboys” after the three Jewish teenage boys went missing in Israel in 2014.
“Before, I didn’t have Jewish friends, I didn’t have a name to the face,” Mahamid said. “After scrolling through the news, I said to myself, somebody has to stand up and condemn this because it has to stop. Violence will get us nowhere.”
Soon after sharing the post, Mahamid said he saw over 400 notifications on his phone and then saw the post had been circulating throughout Israel, particularly in his town.
“I log into Facebook to see that this picture is being circulated all over the Arab media, Jewish media,” Mahamid said. “Before I could draw a conclusion for how I feel about this, I saw that this picture was being circulated in my town, and I click on the comments only to see that I’m being called a traitor and a spy by my own community.”
Mahamid said he and his family began to receive violent threats after the post, and the threats increased after he began advocating against anti-semitism and violence in Umm Al-Fahm for StandWithUs last year.
“After years they realized this social pressure isn’t working, therefore they began the pressure to be on my family,” Mahamid said. “There was a bomb next to my car and people shooting into my neighbor’s home thinking it was my home. That was five months ago.”
Although his actions have put him and his family in danger, Mahamid said he believes it is important for him to continue traveling and sharing his story with people who are not aware of the conflicts going on in his home.
I do this because I believe. I believe in freedom, I believe in democracy and I believe in human rights,” Mahamid said. “Israel doesn’t only hold hope for Jewish people, but a hope for the entire Middle East, an example. I know how important that is, so I’m willing to put my life on the line for it.”
Mahamid said it is difficult to understand all of the conflicts and what life is really like in Israel without actually experiencing it, but hopes through traveling to educate people he can help more people learn.
“In the Arab world, it’s really rare to find voices like this. Israel is demonized in the Arab world,” Mahamid said. “What gives me hope is that people are waking up to it. We don’t have to agree to speak, we just have to listen to each other.”
As he closed his presentation, Mahamid said he, among other people living in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, need the help of students to educate people about the ongoing violence.
“You can help me greatly by opening your eyes, by educating those around you,” Mahamid said. “It’s been 70 years and it’s been enough of this, we want to see peace.”