(RNS) — Read the words “Palestinian-Israeli” next to each other and the first thing that comes to mind for many is likely conflict — two nationalities locked in seemingly perpetual opposition.
For Amira Mohammed and Ibrahim Abu Ahmad, citizens of Israel who were born into Arabic-speaking, culturally Palestinian families, the label and all its complexity is the subject of their new podcast, “Unapologetic.” In it, the duo works to reconcile these two aspects of their identity and, in doing so, embrace a role in the peace process that they see as particular to the Arab community in Israel.
“We wanted a pure Palestinian-Israeli voice to come out, something that isn’t biased, is neutral as much as possible, a youthful voice of the current generation,” Mohammed said, “in addition to a voice that is looking to the future and not only being dragged by the pain and suffering of our ancestors.”
The podcast, which aired its first episode on Oct. 29, three weeks after the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel left as many as 1,200 dead and more than 200 taken hostage, is dedicated to “a third narrative” the co-hosts believe is crucial for peace in the region.
“We, as both Israeli and Palestinian, have both eyes, can see both sides, so we are trying to bring those eyes to people so they can see with us that complex view,” Abu Ahmad said. The co-hosts ask listeners to have open minds and hearts to both groups of people.
In the ensuing weeks, the Israeli Defense Forces launched an operation against Hamas in Gaza. The Palestinian death toll rose to more than 13,000, according to authorities in the Hamas-run enclave. As militants continued to launch rocket attacks on Israel, some directed toward the cities where Mohammed and Abu Ahmad live, the co-hosts continued to release episodes, with titles like “The Two-State Delusion?” and “Arab, Palestinian, and Israeli Identities Unraveled.” The most recent episode, “The Day After – What Happens Next?” focuses on the failures of the peacemaking process in the region over the past decades — and what the two believe needs to change to see success.
Peace advocates and educators for years, Mohammed, 24, and Abu Ahmad, 31, contend that Oct. 7 burst a bubble in Israel, disrupting a false sense of peace in the region.
“It became normal that you have a few rockets every few months, an operation in Gaza every couple months, and you can send your kids to war every few months and come back and just live a normal life, and that’s peace. That’s not peace, that is not sustainable,” said Abu Ahmad.
“I think a lot of people realize that now. The question is, what are they going to do about that realization?” he added.
Everyone was caught off guard on Oct. 7, Mohammed agreed, as the gruesome images came out of “people being tortured, being killed, babies, kids, elderly, men, women, everyone,” she said.
“So these sights just implant horror into every single person. And then it continued, and the retaliation of Israel came about, and then Gazans started to suffer. There is still a big shock in people’s hearts, but then grief inflamed hate,” Mohammed said.
Abu Ahmad told RNS that after the Hamas attack, he spent hours scouring Telegram pages in Arabic, searching through webpages that might have information or pictures about his Israeli friends’ loved-ones who were living in communities near the border.
“Oct. 7 for me was a really tough time, not only because we are Palestinian-Israeli, but also are people who have Jewish friends, not only Israeli citizenship,” Abu Ahmad said. “And then, a couple of days later, when the situation intensifies in Gaza, and we have our friends in Gaza, and we were calling them, making sure they’re OK.”
Mohammed and Abu Ahmed are part of the community often referred to in Israel and the Western press as “Arab-Israeli,” the Arab community who are Israeli citizens, making up a population of over 2 million, more than 20 percent of all citizens of the state of Israel. Some among the Arab community in Israel see their identity as only “Palestinian,” “Palestinian citizens of Israel” or “48-Arabs,” referring to the population who remained in the present state of Israel during the 1947-1948 war and became citizens afterward, distinct from the Palestinians who were from the West Bank and Gaza, or who were refugees to other countries during the war.
But both Mohammed, born abroad and raised in Jerusalem, and Abu Ahmad, born in Nazareth, Israel, prefer “Palestinian-Israeli,” a self-identification growing in popularity among younger generations. They see themselves as Palestinians and share a culture and history with the Arab Palestinians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. They also see themselves as Israelis, as people who live, work and participate in civil society in the state of Israel.
On the podcast, Abu Ahmad recounts working in a restaurant and assisting the rabbi in cleaning the chametz (the leaven) from the restaurant tables and floor before Passover. The rabbi wanted him to help even though he wasn’t Jewish, Abu Ahmad said, because he knew more and was more excited about it than his Jewish colleagues.
Though the two do not directly discuss religion regularly on the podcast, the subject is an undercurrent in the show, much as it is in the conflict itself. As the podcast weaves together personal experiences with the history and politics of the conflict, Abu Ahmad and Mohammed share insight from their upbringings and how that shaped their values and commitment to peace advocacy.
Abu Ahmad recalls first coming to understand the distinctions among Jewish, Muslim and Christian culture in the Middle East through watching children’s television shows that featured scenes from each religion’s holidays in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively.
“My hope is that people realize because there is so much tie to the land on both sides, that the people are more important than the land. That getting an agreement and finding a path where we realize both people can sit on the same land, and it doesn’t matter a few meters here or a few meters there, you’re not losing land to the other side. You are winning your kids’ future,” said Abu Ahmad.
In the course of their podcast, Mohammed and Abu Ahmad employ a variety of metaphors for their two-fold identity, ranging from being a “link” between the Palestinian and Israeli people to “having an eye to both people.” At one point in the podcast, the two suggested their community could be a “bridge” but decided against the metaphor, because a bridge is crossed and left behind. They want their community and identities to be an enduring part of peacemaking efforts, particularly in promoting dialogue with those who are different from you.
“Amira and Ibrahim do a really good job of just giving a real and honest perspective in these hate-filled times,” said Amalia Cedar Kellner, a Jewish Israeli peace activist from Tel Aviv, who works in the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and the YaLa Young Leaders Project.
“As an Israeli Jew, I also feel like value-wise, they represent me. I encourage everyone to reach out and learn from people who are actually here on the ground,” she told RNS.
Younes Samman, a Palestinian entrepreneur from Ramallah, West Bank, and a fellow millennial who trains young Palestinians and Israelis in conflict dialogue with organization Tech2Peace, believes the main purpose of the podcast is to reach English speakers, particularly in Western countries, “to correct misinformation” and portray “a truer image of reality on the ground in Israel and in Palestine.”
“I think Amira and Ibrahim are the right people to do this. In the field, we don’t have that many people who would be courageous enough to do this,” Samman added.
Beyond the nuances of identity, the “Unapologetic” podcast will address the history of the conflict through the eyes of its hosts, their hopes for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike and lessons they’ve learned from working in the peace-building field. There will be a fair share of heartfelt and challenging conversations, personal anecdotes and even humor.
“Listeners will encounter two individuals that have found themselves crossing paths because they share similar values, vision and hopes for the future, for themselves, for their younger siblings and for their children for the future,” Mohammed said. “Listeners can expect accountability, responsibility from both sides, and they can expect just a lot of humanity. And they can expect it to be very, very unapologetically Palestinian-Israeli.”