Jonathan Elkhoury, who represents multiple minority groups in Israel, told his life story to a group of students at the University of Arizona. His message is one of unity in diversity. “Israel is not an apartheid society,” he says. “I would like to go back to Lebanon to visit my family, but I live in Israel and that is where I need to make my contribution.”
Jonathan Elkhoury represents multiple minority groups in Israel. He told his life story to a rapt group of students at the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation on Dec. 1. His father fought for the South Lebanese Army against the Palestine Liberation Organization and fled to Israel when the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000. His family joined his father in 2001, when Elkhoury was 9, after a harrowing journey from Lebanon to Israel via Cyprus.
Settling in Haifa, the family was rejected by the local Arab community and its schools as traitors. Elkhoury, who spoke both Arabic and English, was accepted only by the Jewish schools, where teachers took turns teaching him Hebrew. Although he was embraced by the Jewish community, his first years in Israel coincided with the second intifada, making for a difficult and scary transition.
Receiving his Israeli ID card in 2006 was a turning point for Elkhoury. The high school student realized that “this is my home now.” The family received “a big hug” from the Israeli society, he says, as other Jewish families took them on tours around the country.
Elkhoury explained that as a Lebanese Christian, he is not Arab. Rather, his family can be traced back 15 generations in Lebanon, before the Muslims swept through the Middle East. His ethnic group traces its heritage to the early Christians who spoke Aramaic, not Arabic, which solidified his growing awareness of his identity. He points out that his roots are Phoenician, not Arab Muslim, and that his ethnic group is the original indigenous people of Syria, Lebanon and parts of Israel.