In Israel now for the first time, Eliyah (Ali) Hawila says a genealogical search found that he is also Jewish by ancestry.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Eliyah (Ali) Hawila, a Shiite Muslim from Lebanon, pretended to be a religious Jew in order to marry the person he called “the most amazing girl in the world” — an ultra-Orthodox woman from the Syrian community in Brooklyn, NY.
Last November, Kan News reported Hawila’s story, saying he admitted the truth and was forced to separate from his wife. He then began his sincere conversion to Judaism, the story continued.
“I said, ‘I’m going to act like a man, I’m going to own up to my mistake…and deal with it. I’m going to do it right this time,’” he said, explaining why he started his spiritual journey.
Hawila had always felt a connection to Jews, he said. Still, he was shocked when he took a DNA test through MyHeritage and discovered that his genetic grouping is “extremely rare,” one that “only descendants of Ashkenazic Jewish women have.”
His grandmother in South Lebanon, whom he still calls regularly, then told him that her great-grandmother was Jewish. Her name was Sarah Dweck, “a Jew from Aleppo who ran away in the 1800s with a Muslim guy” who forced her to convert to Islam.
Although Halawi now has a letter stating that he was born a Jew – meaning that the maternal line held steady through five generations – he also underwent a strictly Orthodox conversion to remove all doubt.
He touched down in Israel for the first time right before Passover, telling his Kan News interviewer that it was an “amazing feeling” to be in the Holy Land. Bespectacled, bearded and wearing a large black velvet skullcap, Hawila debunked the suggestion that he was a spy, saying he had been thoroughly interrogated on landing in the country.
“If there’s anything against me, bring it up, take me to jail, kill me,” he said, with a carefree wave of his hand.
The 30-something would-be immigrant expressed his loyalty in no uncertain terms, saying, “Israel is my land, my homeland, my country.”
When told that if people in Lebanon saw him with the Israeli flag, they’d be angry, he answered, “If they burn this flag and step on it…I will live to protect this flag. Let them be angry.”
Though being Lebanese is part of his identity, he slammed his homeland’s racism and antisemitism.
However, he added, “there has never ever been a war between Israel and Lebanon. It’s a war between Israel and an Iranian low-life terrorist organization called Hezbollah. I will have the merit to take a rifle and go fight against them.”
“I hope I have the merit one day to kill [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah with my own hands,” he said at a different point in the interview.
No happy ending yet
But there is no happy ending as yet for the new convert. His wife has not returned to him, as the family is still very angry at his imposture. He publicly called on them in the interview to “open their hearts,” convinced that his wife still loves him and wanting desperately to be together with her again.
Having discovered recently that several Christian missionaries had spent years impersonating religious Jews in Jerusalem, there have also been Whatsapp messages flying through the religious communities in the capital warning against welcoming the “pretender” who “is thought to be unstable and dangerous.”
While being hosted for the seder, “police were called to come and take him away,” said Hizki Sivak, deputy head of the Emek Hefer Regional Council who had helped Hawila come to Israel after seeing the November report on “this amazing person whose heart is with the Jewish people and with Israel.”
Hawila doesn’t blame those who suspect him, he said, “but at the end of the day I’m going to ask that they give me the benefit of the doubt.”
“I came from Tyre, from a Shia community, and I am here in Israel today as a fully recognized Jew. If there was a chance for this to happen, there’s a chance for my marriage to get fixed. It’s all up to Him,” he concluded, pointing to the sky with a smile and a nod.