“I’m an Israeli but not a Jew, an Arab but not Muslim,” Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh told the 30 college students scarfing down pizza at the University of Maryland Hillel.
Kamal-Mreeh, a record-breaker in Israeli society, spoke on Oct. 25 about her background and answered student questions. She was the first Druze woman to anchor a Hebrew broadcast program, be a member of the Israeli Knesset and serve as an emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel, a position she holds now with The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
“The sense of belonging is so strong. I remember my father decorating our car in flags, going to Haifa. When I started playing piano, the first song my father wanted me to learn was “Todah” by Haim Moshe,” Kamal-Mreeh said.
She established the larger connection Israeli Druze share with their Jewish-majority country: “There’s a similarity between our vision, our history and our values… Bringing complexity but diversity is the true face of Israel, we share a lot.”
But the Druze are also distinct. Kamal-Mreeh showed pictures of Daliyat al-Karmel, a Druze town outside of Haifa, and a memorial site at Beit yad Labanim dedicated to Druze. “We aren’t defined by absence,” Kamal-Mreeh said. “We’re not non-Jews, we’re Arabs.”
Sara Blau, a junior, helped organize Kamal-Mreeh’s talk.
“She brought a unique experience to the Maryland community. Hillel has hosted a variety of really interesting events in the past, but not yet touched on the Druze community,” Blau said. “Because they are such an integral part of Israeli society and are so committed to the state, it’s crucial students learn.”
Junior Sarah Stambler said she went to the event not knowing much about Druze people.
“It’s now obvious to me how much they care about their home country.” Stambler said, “She made it clear that the Druze have never had, or tried to have, a country of their own, and instead are loyal to the country they live in.”
When Kamal-Mreeh opened the floor up to student questions, hands shot up.
“What do you think about the [Israeli] elections next week?” freshman Einav Tsach asked.
“There’s a healthy tension we must maintain as the Jewish state and as a democracy,” Kamal-Mreeh answered. “We must bring people back to the center. We come from different places, towns, languages, but we’re all Israeli.”
When asked why she became a journalist, Kamal-Mreeh said talking and listening is the key to understanding and resolution.
“Open your eyes, open your heart and listen. When you are truly listening to someone, you are working.”