The Arab Spring: A Young Islamist view from Israel

By: Tilde Rosmer, University of Oslo.

On my recent trip to Israel I interviewed student activists belonging to the student association of the Islamic Movement in Israel. It became very evident that these young Muslims have followed events in neighboring countries carefully this past year and are inspired by the revolutions. First of all, they express being proud as Muslims and Arabs to see their fellow Arabs and co-religionists stand up against corrupt and cruel regimes. They said they feel good about the recent changes and see them a sign for the Zionist state that things can and will change, also in Israel-Palestine. Because change is possible – as proven by the protesters in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and hopefully in Syria.
They describe the atmosphere among them this last year as one of solidarity with the revolutionaries and optimism. Since last winter they have marched in solidarity in Israeli cities, arranged lectures by specialties to shed light on the recent events, held discussions groups on campus and via Facebook, and expressed their feelings of solidarity, hope and increased Arab-Muslim self-respect in poetry and writings.
These young Muslim student activists at Israeli universities believe that the change in Israel-Palestine is part of the divine plan – the belief that al-Quds and al-Aqsa will be freed is strong and deep. Something was supposed to happen at some time, but they did not expect it to be this and not now. Finally the region’s Muslims are rising up to the task, albeit a little late from a Palestinian perspective.
The change that they are sure will come is described as due to the change of the corrupt Arab leadership who did not oppose Israel. Now that the people are to be properly represented by their governments, these students believe the new governments will no longer let Israel continue its occupation and discrimination in historic Palestine. The ‘power game’ has changed they said. Few thought, and no one wished, it would come to actual violence, but the point was rather that now Israel cannot continue its politics without answering to the new regional reality of ‘real’ Muslim Arab rule which supports the Palestinians.
As Islamists these students are naturally excited that the new governments are dominated by Islamists, however they are also nervous regarding the responsibility this means. Finally moderate Islamists the have a chance to prove to the world and themselves what they are good for – that they can run a country and be just. Yet, many students carefully added that this is a big test and if they fail it will be a disaster – for Islamic politics, for the people and for the region. To illustrate how they would like the new governments to act they use the example of Erdogan and Turkey that to them illustrates the right combination of religion and democracy.
To these Islamist student activists in Israel, the Arab Spring equalises freedom and Islam and thus shows Islam and Islamists in a rational and progressive light that is important to them. Different from Islamists elsewhere in the region, they are used to being a minority in a non-Muslim state and thus also used to encounter and counter stereotypes and negative images of Islam and Islamic politics. Only time will tell if their hopes for change will come and if it will be due to pressure from the new regional governments, or if these will have enough issues to deal with at home and not enough time and energy to spend on solving the problems in Palestine, and in particular those of the Palestinian minority in Israel.