• Sun. Sep 25th, 2022

From hijab and abuse in Egypt to freedom in Israel


Egyptian Media Watch’s Egyptian translator Meira grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, unaware that she was Jewish. Only when extremist Muslims tore down the family home while shouting “Out with the Jews!” Did the parents reveal the family secret.

As a child, Meira attended a school run by the Muslim Brotherhood. There she learned that «the Jews are descendants of monkeys and pigs, and they have horns, tails and a big nose». When it dawned on Meira that she herself was a Jew and had to flee to Israel, she ended up in a serious personality crisis and felt that her whole life was a big lie. When she came to Israel in her teens, she looked around to find out where the Jews were hiding their horns and tails.

«In Egypt we lived in a private villa with garden, swimming pool and horses. We lived with my uncle’s family, my grandmother and grandfather. ”

The happy memories bring a smile to her face.

«The family owned a furniture factory where they made special wardrobes, chests of drawers and tables for wealthy people. On the doors was the name of the family engraved. Our family was special and very closely connected – my father’s brother married my mother’s sister and I grew up with three brothers and my cousins. Grandma and Grandpa started teaching us from an early age, and the home was open and liberal. We lived as Muslims, but did not mix with our neighbors. “

Meira remembers strange ceremonies that took place in the home:
“Every Friday Grandma went to a table in the corner of the room. There she lit two candles and hid her face. Afterwards we gathered for a big family meal. Sometimes Grandpa said some words I did not understand about a particular cup he sent around so everyone could drink from it. For me it was a family tradition. Only in winter was a tasty apple dipped in honey sent around. I did not complain either or asked unnecessary questions. We children played, we grew up together and were taught in the elementary school run by the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria. “

She shakes her long hair and plays a lot with it during the interview. Perhaps it is an expression of the newfound freedom she enjoys that she did not know before. At school, like all her friends, she wore the hijab (religious headdress), which covered her hair and listened to the teachings of religion and Islam, Egyptian history, and the Prophet Muhammad. “Every day when I got home – already while I was out on the street, I took off my hijab and loosened my hair. I could not stand school and religious education. Violence was common in school – there were blows from the teacher at even small things. They did not explain to us what was allowed or forbidden, instead they beat us and pulled us by the hair or ears, they even threw chairs at the students! The children looked at the teachers, and in their free time they beat each other – instead of talking I went there to the fourth grade. I told my parents about the brutal treatment, but I really had no choice. It was the school closest to our home, and my parents were busy at the factory.. “

Alexandria once had a rich Jewish life
Alexandria was founded in 334 AD. of Alexander the Great in Macedonia, and the city has been an important trading city for millennia. There was from ancient times a living Jewish environment in the city, described in ancient Jewish scriptures. Over the years it weathered, but in the 19th century it flourished again. In the 1940s, about 15,000 Jews lived in Alexandria, but in the years following the creation of Israel, most moved to the new state. In the area where Meira’s family lived, there were almost no Jews left, and those who lived in the city lived alone. When Meira grew up in the 1990s, the famous Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue and school in the Jewish community stood empty.

In the Muslim school, Meira taught that Judaism and Zionism were the worst evil.

“We learned that the Jews were descendants of monkeys and pigs, and that they had horns, tails and a big nose. I fully believed that. Even when I got older and went to school in a Coptic- Christian school, which was more open-minded, the Jews continued for me to be the devil myself.I had no idea that my parents and grandparents were attached to the few Jews in Alexandria.They hid it from us so we would not tell it to our friends at school and put us in danger. ”

A Dark Night
In 2005, Meira’s life changed after one of her father’s younger brothers secretly emigrated to Israel, studied Judaism on a Yeshiva, and became a paratrooper in the Israeli military. She knew nothing about it until the day fanatical Muslims came to reconcile with the Jewish family.

“Somehow the rumors about my uncle reached the Salafists, an extremist Muslim movement with great influence in Egypt. The whole family was gathered at home early in the evening when we suddenly heard shouts outside. I still remember clear that I saw them through the window – thirty people in white clothes with beards and big white caps. They held burning torches and shouted: “Death to the Jews!” as they approached the house. Grandfather, father and uncle jumped out through a back door , while my brothers and cousins ​​hid in the attic.We women kept ourselves down because we did not think they would harm us who belonged to the “weaker sex”.

The agitated Salafists knocked on the door with sticks and whatever else they could get their hands on until they managed to break in – they destroyed everything in the house when they entered. They smashed glasses and tables, chairs and cupboards and ravaged wildly as they shouted, “Out with the Jews!” We were sure they would lynch us. Mom tried to talk to them and explained to them that the men were not home, but they hit her in the head so she fainted. I was on the second floor and saw her lying on the floor with her head in a pool of blood and I was sure she was dead.

Then they went up to the attic and found my brothers and cousins. Screaming, they took them down. I had been hiding in a room when I heard gunshots. I was sure they were dead and crying quietly so no one could hear me and find me. After some time – it felt like an eternity they left the house. I came out of my hiding place and saw that they were well. The Salafists had pulled my mother out into the yard and left her there, so I started shouting for help. The men came home with the police, who listened to our complaints and investigated the case – but they never found the perpetrators.

At the end of the dark night, Grandpa gathered all of us children in the chaos that wasbeen our beautiful home and explained to us why we had been persecuted. He revealed to us that we were Jews and I felt my whole world burst into rubble. All the education I had received in school, in the community where I lived and in the songs I listened to on radio and television, where the Jews were described as animals – not as humans. I remember we took part in demonstrations for the Palestinians during the Second Intifada – the terror that the Palestinian Authority had launched in 2000-2005 after Ariel Sharon went up to the Temple Mount. We sang the song, which was written for Muhammad Al-Dura from Gaza – the Palestinian boy, allegedly shot in Gaza in September 2000, and shouted along with him. And then I was suddenly a Jew! I felt on my nose to find out if it was too long. I looked at myself in the mirror and did not realize it was happening to me – a 15-year-old girl who realized that her whole life is a lie! “

“They called me Pharaoh!”
In the wake of the pogrom, Meira’s parents decided to leave Egypt and emigrate to Israel. They did not feel safe being in a place where people would kill them just because they were Jews.

“We stopped at school for fear they would hurt us,” she continues.

“My uncle mentioned the idea of ​​emigrating to Israel, and grandfather and father agreed. We children, and especially my cousin and I, were against it. We were angry at them for not telling us long before it all happened. We wanted to stay home. We wanted the life we ​​had before we knew we were Jews. I saw the worst when they said “Israel” to me – helmeted people walking around in green uniforms and weapons , or people with the traditional side locks – peot, long noses and black beards. Jews walking the streets with horns and tails between their legs. It was so stupid – that it could be right, the brainwashing I was subjected to was so strong that I really thought that was what the Jews looked like. “

The breakup was quick. Since it was not possible to take belongings out of Egypt, each family member took different things in the suitcase of the plane. First stop was Turkey. “We thought our parents would go back and get the rest, so we just took a few things with us and boarded the plane to Turkey. We were there for four months without leaving the house quite a lot. We were helped by a rabbi who had contact with my uncle. “

More in Israel (Photo: PMW)

“We rented a house in the Armon Hanaziv area southeast of Jerusalem, and from there we moved from place to place in the city. It was a very difficult transition from an existence where you had everything and could ask your parents to buy something and plus living in a cramped apartment in poverty.I really wanted to go back to Egypt and swore I would do it when I grew up.I did not like people in Israel and considered them foreign.The only normal time was on the Hebrew language school – Ulpan because there were people who spoke all the languages ​​of the world. It gave me a sense of being abroad. I was scared when I heard Hebrew and saw religious people. I remember seeing an ultra-Orthodox Jew right after we came to Israel.He went with the traditional fur hat – shtreimel and long, black coat.Warried, I crossed the street while looking for his horn and tail – I was sure he hid them under his hat and coat.

My parents placed my cousin and me in a religious school, and it was very difficult for me. I did not speak Hebrew and the girls laughed at us all the time. They called us Pharaoh, and I was very angry. My onlyconsolation was that they do not strike in Israeli schools. I remember getting up the first day as soon as the teacher walked in. The girls looked at me and laughed, “We are not doing that here, Pharaoh.”

Identity Crisis
Meira went on the Arab line at a religious girls’ school. One day an employee of the Palestinian Media Watch Institute came to the school to teach us Arabic. “He gave us a text to read and closed his eyes when he came to me and heard me read Arabic. After class he asked who I was and where I came from. I told him I was from Egypt and he offered me immediately a job at the department. My cousin and I started there almost immediately. Later she joined the army and I continued to work at the department – I was too old to enlist in the army. Now I have been there in 11 years “.

The Palestinian Media Watch Institute records provocations from official and unofficial Palestinian sources and collects collected data in reports sent to decision-makers in Israel and the rest of the world. It is an extensive work, for newspapers, official statements in the media, social media and websites are reviewed to obtain sufficient material.

“I was going through a serious identity crisis when I started here. It was an extension of the general identity crisis I had experienced, but when I was confronted with Palestinian television programs here with prisoners – or rather terrorists – in Israeli prisons, I cried One of the programs is called “In a Warrior’s Home”. Part of the program is that they visit the prisoners’ homes and interview the family. The idea is that the prisoners see the program in prison and thus receive greetings, love and strength from the family at home. one of the prisoners’ mother started crying, I cried with her, I wiped my tears and hid my feelings when Itamar Marcus, the head of the department, came to my workstation.

“After some time – when I had become more courageous, I told someone from the institute and he was shocked at how close I was to the Palestinian narrative. He advised me to follow the Israeli media, and I followed his advice.At the institute they showed me what crimes the prisoners had committed and I understood the reason why they never tell on Palestinian TV why they are in prison.I saw articles describing how Israel treats wounded from Syria, and it showed me that everything I had learned about how brutal the Jews are is simply wrong, I understood what the state of Israel is and how it helps those who have treated it as an enemy. “Once in a lifetime, I heard the second version – the Jewish and Israeli arguments. I got access to the true picture instead of the lie that the Palestinians are selling to the world.”

How do you see the future in Israel?
“Until recently, I was in a relationship, but I broke it. I’m still struggling with the Israeli mentality – the endless freedom that is so unfamiliar to me.At the same time I also have my parents and my 86-year-old grandfather who are constantly watching when I go out and come home.Recently I moved in with my cousin in a settlement near Jerusalem and I am still trying to get clarified my identity and personality as a Jew and Israelis and find my own path, “she says.

The dream of returning to Egypt is still there, but according to Meira, it is unlikely to happen for the time being.

“I hope I can travel back to Egypt, but I think I’ll wait until the Arab countries stop provoking the Jews and Israel, and we all live peacefully together. Unfortunately, I see every day how the dream becomes more and more fjern. “

  • The article is written in Norwegian by Lars Hoem and translated into Danish by the Danish MIFF editorial staff.

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