The funeral of Lian Zaher Nasser was held in the Arab-Israeli town of Tira on Jan. 3. Nasser, 19, was killed in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub when a gunman opened fire on New Year’s Eve revelers, killing 39 and wounding dozens of others.
Thousands attended the funeral, among them hundreds of young Arab-Israeli women who came to pay their last respects to Nasser but also in defiance of those who cast aspersions on Nasser’s moral character, claiming her death was divine retribution for celebrating a Christian holiday in mixed company with men at an amoral alcohol-soaked affair. Such claims were first expressed in mosques and then erupted onto social media sites, where stormy arguments developed. “Moderate” posters wondered what a group of Muslim girls was doing in an Istanbul nightclub, and some went so far as to compare the club to a brothel.
Her relatives said Nasser was murdered twice: once by an Islamic State (IS) terrorist and a second time by sympathizers of the movement within the Arab-Israeli community. At the end of the funeral procession, her father, Zaher Nasser, reacted to those seeking to sully his daughter’s name. “My daughter was murdered through no fault of her own. All she wanted was to enjoy herself, and that’s not forbidden. The fact that she’s a Muslim does not prevent her from having a good time, and Islam does not call for murder and such violence,” he said.
During the funeral procession, Arab Knesset member Ahmad Tibi said angrily, “We are sad and pained but also angered by the crimes. People who cannot find a kind word should just keep silent and be ashamed of themselves.”
The chairman of the Joint List, Knesset member Ayman Odeh, wrote on Facebook that he was deeply shocked that instead of mourning the murder of a young woman in a terror attack carried out by Muslim fanatics, Arab society was concerning itself with the lifestyle of young women unwilling to accept the religious Muslim way of life preached by IS. “I’m surprised to see reactions that are light years away from the spirit of our people, reactions of primitive derision and hatred fostered by the murderous ideology of the Islamic State,” he wrote. Odeh’s fellow Knesset members called for the eradication of extremist Islamist elements that have infiltrated Arab society.
The debate generated by Nasser’s choice to spend New Year’s Eve partying at an Istanbul club falls on a fault line within Arab society in Israel — a struggle between religious Muslims and Muslims who do not adhere to a religious way of life. (They tend not to use the term “secular.”) This is largely an intergenerational clash between parents and grandparents and young Arabs born into a traditional, religious and conservative society but heavily influenced by secular Israeli environment.
And so, these tensions and confrontations do not just pit religious and nonreligious Muslims against each other, but also the older generation against the younger. These young people are defining a new, unique identity: a minority group intent on throwing off the shackles and isolationism of their society and leading an independent lifestyle. The strict Muslim rules of conduct and morality contrast starkly with those of the pluralistic and individualistic Israeli society in which they live, leading them to see their extended families, the atmosphere in their village or neighborhood and Arab society in general as oppressive.
One of the manifestations of this mindset is a strong desire to attend university, which they view as the door to their integration into Israeli society and out of the so-called Arab ghettos. For most, getting a higher education and acquiring a profession is an opportunity to extricate themselves from the stifling embrace of their traditional society and to achieve a modern, independent way of life.
Anan Mansour, a 23-year-old from the Arab village of Taibe, told Al-Monitor that he and his friends were not surprised by the disturbing and outrageous comments after Nasser’s murder. They are used to criticism over their lifestyle, which is different from that of other Arab-Israelis, he said. “I know this from home already, and I’m a man. I’m not a woman whose parents guard her and seek a match for her wedding. Lian was a dental assistant who went out to party with her friends, one of them a dentist herself. All of them are young, educated Arab women who have been exposed to Israeli society. We live in an open society with aspirations and desires that are very different from the desires and dreams of our fathers and grandfathers. This manifests itself in a contemporary worldview but mainly in concern over the shape of our future. Should we, too, sit home and cry over our fate?”
Mansour added that he has seen and heard the incitement against Nasser, not just from older people but also from young Arab-Israelis who do not lead a religious or conservative way of life and yet cannot accept young Arab women who refuse to behave according to the moral code instilled in them at home.
The new film by Arab director Maysaloun Hamoud, a resident of the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, offers a fascinating glimpse of the currents shaking up Arab society. “Not Here, Not There,” which hit Israeli movie screens Dec. 30, revolves around three young Arab women who rent an apartment in the center of Tel Aviv, but are forced to conceal their liberal lifestyle from their families. This feature film's characters are fictional, but the plot is based on the real lives of Arab-Israelis. For most Israeli viewers, it will be their first glimpse of the lives led by young Muslim men and women seeking a free, independent way of life, one in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not take center stage.
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