Seventeen-year-old Muhammad Zoabi, who shot to social media fame this summer as a self-professed “Israeli Zionist Arab Muslim”, disappeared from the blogosphere after receiving death threats during the war between Israel and Gaza. Only in December did he resurface in the United States. His journey to safety was enabled by Kay Wilson, an Israeli woman who survived a violent knife attack in 2010.
The events leading to the fighting were rife with tension. To many, Zoabi emerged as a courageous voice of hope amidst the storm. On June 12, 2014, Jewish teenagers Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha'ar, and Naftali Fraenkel went missing, presumed to be kidnapped. Their bodies were located in the Palestinian Authority on June 30, 2014. Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped on July 2, 2014 in what was immediately perceived as a direct act of retribution. His body was found later that day in a Jerusalem forest, showing evidence of a grisly murder.
Muhammad Zoabi's began publishing videos during this period. In one of his earliest videos, young Zoabi verbally attacks Hanin Zoabi, Israel's first Arab woman member of Knesset (parliament) — and a member of his extended family.
Pictured with an Israeli flag in the foreground, Muhammad Zoabi calls Hanin Zoabi a “terrorist supporter,” asserting:
You are a traitor who who has rudely sitten [sic] in our parliament and been anti-Semitic inside our parliament. Hanin Zoabi, you are an abuser of the democratic system of Israel. Hanin Zoabi, you don't belong to Israel… Look, we have one Israeli parliament and the Arab world has 22 parliaments… Hanin Zoabi, get the hell out of Israel. From Muhammad Zoabi. Am Yisrael Chai [Hebrew: May the Nation of Israel live].”
Among many Jewish Israelis, Hanin Zoabi is considered to be virulently “anti-Israel.” She has repeatedly called Israel a “racist” state, labeling members of opposing political parties “fascists,” and participating in the 2010 Gaza flotilla — an action deemed by fellow Knesset members to be a “premeditated act of treason.” She was ousted from the Knesset in 2012, but soon reinstated by a unanimous Supreme Court vote.
On June 17, 2014 in an interview with Radio Tel Aviv, Hanin Zoabi characterized the Palestinian kidnappers of the Israeli teenagers as victims of their circumstances, saying:
They are not terrorists. Even if I do not agree with them, they are people who do not see any way open to change their reality, and they are compelled to use means like these until Israel wakes up and sees the suffering, feels the suffering of the other.
As a result of this statement and her actions in related events, she was banned from the Knesset for six months.
As Muhammad Zoabi's videos gained publicity, his momentum increased and voice became clearer; his trilingual self-translation from Hebrew, Arabic, and English more at ease. Although his personal YouTube account was deleted at the time he went into hiding, making the exact order of the original videos and their page views unknown, views of those reposted are in the tens of thousands. One of his earliest videos, “Muhammad Zoabi's Strong Message to the Terrorist Who Kidnapped Three Jews,” has upward of 150,000 views.
In a video that followed soon after the condemnation of Hanin Zoabi, he proclaims:
My name is Muhammad. And I am a proud Israeli Zionist Arab Muslim. The way I identify myself makes those who are anti-Israeli and anti-justice and anti-hope for democracy in the Middle East angry. It angers them to see Israeli Arabs appreciating the fact that they were born as Israelis. It angers them that the world will soon find out that Israel is the hope for democracy in the Middle East.
I just want everyone to know: me, identifying myself as an Israeli Zionist Arab Muslim doesn't mean that I've forgotten I am an Arab. I have never denied that I am an Arab. I am an Arab, who was born an Arab, to remain an Arab. But I am an Arab who was born in Israel, in the Jewish state of Israel, so that makes me an Israeli Arab. The same way Arabs in Lebanon are born as Arab Lebanese; in Syria, Arab Syrians; in Jordan, Arab Jordanians. I was born in Israel. I'm an Arab and I was born in Israel, and I'm definitely proud about that.
Israel being a Jewish state doesn't stop me from loving my country. And for supporting it. People should stop their hating, their blind hate against Israel only for being a state of the Jewish people.
These videos and their attendant publicity brought young Zoabi threats of violence, including death threats, necessitating that he go into hiding. He disappeared in August as the war still raged. His Facebook and Twitter posts, which had been frequent, fell silent. As a public figure admired for his eloquence and aggressive, straightforward style of communication, Zoabi's welfare has been an ongoing concern amongst the supporters who have followed his travail.
On December 20, 2014, Zoabi's friend Kay Wilson shared his story, stating that she had provided him safe harbor in her home and that he was now safe in the United States. Intertwining his story with hers, she posts a photo of the two embracing before his departure, writing:
This is me and Mohammed Zoabi [sic] – the young Israeli, Arab, Muslim, Zionist who had to leave Israel… I want to use this extraordinary photo and the story behind it in the hope that people will see what a remarkable yet fragmented nation Israel is.
Yip, it was me, me, a terror victim, stabbed 13 times by Palestinians, who hid this Arab teenager in my house for nearly a month while Arabs were threatening his life. In addition to hiding him, I was also able to find Mohammed a wonderful community of Jews and Christians in the USA; a community that financed his schooling, took him into their homes, helped him with his visa and treated him like a son.
I helped Mohammed despite my own long-life trauma caused by Arabs who tried to murder me. I helped Mohammed because I admired his courage and because like me, he is a human being. I helped him because I know from the machete scars on my own back, that death threats should always be taken seriously. It was not one way. Mohammed helped me too. There are many things I am unable to do due to being in constant pain as a result of being beaten and smashed to a pulp by Palestinian terrorists. Mohammed was a not a guest, he was a friend and a great asset.
On January 1, 2015, Muhammad Zoabi returned to Facebook, posting a tribute to Wilson. The first public post since July 17, 2014, it garnered 1,600 likes.
His second post of the year shed light on his disappearance:
Unfortunately, for the last 5 months I had to be outside of Israel, and I had to do my best to keep a low profile. Again, let me remind you, I am only 17 and I have no criminal history! I had to leave Israel only for showing my love and support to my country and its people! For showing sympathy to the families of fellow Israeli teens who have been kidnapped and killed by Arab Palestinian terrorists.
For saying Enough to Anti semitism!
For saying No to Islamic and Arab extremism!
And most important, for trying to show the world the real face of regular Arabs and Muslims who're simply sick of their leaders’ corruption and unlimited hate, but afraid to say it in public!
He has since posted multiple times, most recently in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo attack in France this past week (2,000 likes and 120 shares at time of writing). Sharing a photo with a #JeSuisCharlie sign, he adds in the post's comments:
Freedom of speech should be protected from those who wish to annihilate it!!