BRIDGING THE DIVIDE
NADINE FAHOUM and her
FIGHT FOR COEXISTENCE
(From Duke University's The Chronicle, January 26, 2011)
By Alex Krinsky
In Israel, it can be easy to choose a side. In the volatile country strained by the tension between Arabs and Jews, some choose to hate.
But Duke tennis standout Nadine Fahoum is an Israeli that does not hate. As an Arab growing up in Haifa, Fahoum was exposed to the political discord and periodic violence inherent to the conflict. Thanks to Nadine’s parents, however, she was given the opportunity to understand the other side.
“We don’t think about coexistence, we just live it,” Fahoum said. “It’s not something that my family has to think too much about. We just do it. It’s normal, that’s how it should be.”
Nadine’s mother, Wafa Zoabi Fahoum, a lawyer by trade, was formerly the head of Beit Hagefen, a non-profit organization in Haifa that works toward improving relations between Arabs and Jews. She and her husband, Anan, made the unusual decision to send their daughter to the Reali Hebrew School, rather than choosing a school predominantly composed of Arab students. When Nadine enrolled, she was the only Arab student there.
Consequently, from a young age Nadine was completely surrounded by Jewish people. And even though her family had many Arab friends, most of Nadine’s friends were Jewish kids.
“I never noticed it,” Nadine said. “When I was with Jewish people, I felt welcome.... All the time I heard both sides. I heard the Jewish side, and I heard the Arab side. And I’m somewhere in the middle trying to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. When you hear everything, it’s easier for you to see the whole picture.”
At the age of nine, Nadine began playing tennis at the Haifa Tennis Center where she was, once again, the only Arab. She was also the most talented athlete. Under the tutelage of her first coach Eli Tzarfati, Nadine won her first national championship at the age of 11, competing almost entirely against Jewish opponents.
“I knew for people to actually see me I had to be the best in the country,” Nadine said. “Otherwise nobody was going to look at me. No matter who you are or what you are, you have to be the best for people to notice you. It’s tougher for an Arab person to be noticeable because we are the minority.”
Two years after her championship Nadine began attending Wingate Academy, a sports-centric school outside of Tel Aviv that provided exceptional amenities and opportunities for its athletes. Every day, Nadine drove an hour from Haifa to Netanya to practice with the best men’s and women’s tennis players in Israel.
Nadine was dominant on the court, earning a spot on the Israeli national team each year from 2003-2008. She was an Arab representing the Jewish state of Israel. But despite this honor, she still was profiled and screened more intensely than her Jewish teammates.
Apart from her experiences with airport security, though, Nadine was generally not discriminated against in her everyday life. She always felt that other Israelis deserved to experience her peaceful coexistence with both Arabs and Jews, and so off the court Nadine continued to work for the cause. As a member of the Freddie Krivine Foundation, which her parents were both actively involved with, Nadine taught tennis to both Jewish and Arab children together.