It’s been a long, strange journey for Tali Fahima. From a Likud-voting legal secretary from the southern development town of Kiryat Gat to a Palestinian rights activist in the West Bank city of Jenin to an inmate in an Israeli prison. Now, the Jewish-born Israeli has converted to the religion of Islam. News of her conversion appeared this week on the Israeli Islamic Movement’s website — and according to Jack Khoury in Haaretz:
Fahima is said to have converted at a mosque in Umm al-Fahm in the presence of sheikhs who tested her knowledge of the principles of Islam. Afterwards, she visited the home of Sheikh Raed Salah and informed him of her conversion.
Fahima, a square-faced woman with distinctive eyeglasses, was never your mainstream Israeli peace activist. Unaffiliated with any group, she spontaneously decided to seek out Palestinians and ended up corresponding with Zakaria Zubeidi, the former Jenin chief of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
They communicated on the Internet and by telephone, and she visited him in a Jenin refugee camp. It was there, she said later, that her eyes were opened to the fact that her “freedom came at the expense of Palestinian freedom,” and she was transformed into an activist — volunteering in Jenin and focusing on work with children. After hearing that Zubeidi was an assassination target, she voluntarily moved into his home to act as a human shield. Her story grabbed headlines back in 2004, when she was arrested for aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. The Israeli press reported that she and the married Zubeidi were lovers, although both of them denied ever having an affair.
Because of security concerns, the precise details of all of her crimes were never publicly confirmed, but the clearest charge was that she had translated a document for Zubeidi that had been misplaced by an IDF soldier. The crimes against her carried a maximum punishment of 15 years behind bars, but plea bargain in 2005 reduced it to three years, and included the year she had already served in administrative detention. During that time her imprisonment had become a cause celebre. Her supporters said the charges were trumped up, that the authorities angry at her because she refused to become an informant and that she was essentially a political prisoner. She served her time and was released in 2007.
Her experiences pushed her away from even the furthest-left of Israeli Jewish circles. Many of those who advocated for her release haven’t had have much to do with her in the past few years. She even had a falling out with with the man she had gone to prison in order to help, as her politics became even more radical than Zubeidi’s. After he negotiated with the Israeli security service to leave Jenin and go to Ramallah for eye surgery — he had been essentially imprisoned in the city under the terms of a deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — Fahima condemned his deal-making and called him the “whore of the Shin Bet security service” and “a disgrace to the resistance.”
That was one of the few times she spoke to the press. Mostly she stays silent, living quietly in an Israeli Arab village, letting the world guess whether it was idealism, naïveté or romance that drove her transformation. Some believe she was a victim of racial and socioeconomic discrimination — that if she was a wealthy Ashkenazi activist affiliated with an organization, and not a lower-middle-class woman of Algerian descent acting on her own, she would have never been subjected to such harsh treatment.
No matter how one views her politics, hers appears to have been a lonely journey. Maybe in Islam she will finally find contentment.