The Israeli army has appointed the first female Muslim-Arab major in the country’s history.
Ella Waweya was promoted last week, eight years after joining the IDF (Israel Defence Forces).
Telling the JC of her “joy” over her promotion, the 31-year-old major said that she had kept it secret when she first joined the military.
She said: “It took some of my family time to accept, but they are now proud of me.”
Major Waweya is deputy commander of the military’s Arabic-language spokespersons’ unit.
She joined up after studying communications at university, determined to help the IDF communicate and explain its actions through Arabic-language media.
She said: “When I saw Arabic media I thought someone needs to give a different perspective on this, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do today.
“I’m showing that the IDF looks after all residents of Israel, not just one people.” Ms Waweya explained that her key message during the recent conflict with Hamas was that terrorist missiles harm Jews and Arabs alike.
She said: “I say, ‘Listen friends, the rockets sent by Hamas don’t differentiate between Jews and Arabs, they can harm both.’
“I also ask why Hamas doesn’t take all the donated money it receives and use it to help citizens instead of digging tunnels for terror.”
While the majority of Jewish Israelis are conscripted at the age of 18, Arabs are entitled to an exemption from the draft, and Ms Waweya went to university.
At the age of 21, she found herself at a journalists’ conference listening to a discussion on the reticence of many ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the army.
She stood up and said that she sees a place for all Israelis and would, herself, be happy to serve. Her impromptu speech was greeted with rapturous applause. Three years later she was in uniform, but kept quiet about it to begin with. “For a year and a half none of my friends and none of my family knew I was in the army,” she said. “I just didn’t know how people would take it. They thought I was working in a cafe and continuing to study.”
When she eventually told the truth, reactions were mixed, with some family members in the Arab town of Qalansawe, near Netanya, finding it hard. But now she is accepted. Her mother was beaming at the ceremony last week as she watched her daughter receive her new rank, “and is very, very proud”.
The major says that the military fascinated her from childhood, but she was also disturbed by the depiction of the IDF in Arabic-language media.
She said: “From a very young age I loved the army, but on the other hand when I was a young age there was the second intifada.
“This meant that when I was just 12, I watched Al Jazeera with my family and saw just one side about what the State of Israel was doing. I was left with lots of questions about the army and about Jews and Arabs.”
She found her own answer on her 16th birthday, when she received her Israeli identity card — exactly the same as the one allocated to Jewish citizens. She said: “At that moment I realised that I feel totally Israeli, and today I’m really proud to serve this country.”