Room for the Druze in the na­tion-state?

Jewish Is­raelis and Druze unite at me­mo­rial event, with many call­ing on the Is­raeli govern­ment to change its con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By MAYA MARGIT/The Me­dia Line

For the past six years, thou­sands of Jewish Is­raelis and mem­bers of the Druze com­mu­nity have come to­gether to par­tic­i­pate in a unique me­mo­rial for Druze sol­diers who died while serv­ing in the Is­rael De­fense Forces. But this year was dif­fer­ent.

The event, which took place near the Horns of Hat­tin in the Lower Galilee, comes at a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive time in Druze-Is­raeli re­la­tions.

Many in the Druze com­mu­nity are fu­ri­ous with the govern­ment over pas­sage of the con­tro­ver­sial Na­tion-State Law that de­clares the right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in Is­rael to be ex­clu­sive to the Jewish peo­ple.

Crit­ics ar­gue that while Is­rael’s 1948 Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence “en­sures com­plete equal­ity of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal rights to all its in­hab­i­tants ir­re­spec­tive of reli­gion, race or sex,” the Na­tion-State Law does not. Many in the Druze com­mu­nity there­fore view it as dis­crim­i­na­tory for not pro­tect­ing equal­ity for all cit­i­zens. In protest, they have launched pe­ti­tions against it in the Supreme Court. Other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in the coun­try, in par­tic­u­lar Chris­tians and Is­raeli Arabs, have protested against the law as well.

Es­tab­lished in 2012 to honor the mem­o­ries of 427 Druze sol­diers who lost their lives since the found­ing of the state, the Druze Sons’ Trail project fea­tures an an­nual race in which par­tic­i­pants choose from con­sec­u­tive events: a 25-kilo­me­ter bi­cy­cle race; five- and 10-kilo­me­ter runs; and a three-kilo­me­ter march along a hik­ing trail that passes through sev­eral Druze vil­lages in north­ern Is­rael.

“The goal of this event is to con­nect the re­li­gious to the sec­u­lar, Jews to the Druze, and the peo­ple of Is­rael over­all,” Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amal Asad, Di­rec­tor of the Druze Sons’ Trail As­so­ci­a­tion and the ini­tia­tor of the race, told The Me­dia Line.

“Through this sport­ing event and un­der the same sky, we con­nect to this land. We bike, run and march, en­joy the lovely views and em­brace one an­other. It’s a day of love,” Asad added.

The world Druze pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated to num­ber roughly one mil­lion, of whom 140,000 re­side in Is­rael and the ma­jor­ity live in Syria and Le­banon. The Druze re­vere Jethro of Mid­ian, the fa­ther-in-law of Moses, and have their own unique monothe­is­tic Abra­hamic reli­gion that is sep­a­rate from Is­lam. Jethro’s be­lieved rest­ing place, the Tomb of Nebi Shu’eib, is lo­cated near the Horns of Hat­tin, the site of the me­mo­rial event.

Un­like other mi­nori­ties in Is­rael, male mem­bers of the Druze com­mu­nity must en­list in the mil­i­tary at the age of 18, like their Jewish-Is­raeli peers. Asad, who served in the IDF for 26 years, has

worked tire­lessly to pro­mote the in­te­gra­tion of Druze youth into Is­raeli so­ci­ety. In 1998, he was pro­moted to bri­gadier-gen­eral, be­com­ing one of the first Druze of­fi­cers to reach the elite rank.

As thou­sands gath­ered to take part in the day’s events, with some wear­ing mil­i­tary fa­tigues and oth­ers proudly sport­ing their army unit’s in­signia, Asad em­pha­sized the high rate of Druze en­list­ment, which cur­rently stands at around 83% for its men.

“Our pres­ence in the IDF is a very sig­nif­i­cant and es­sen­tial thing. It’s very im­por­tant to the army and to us,” he as­serted. “The re­cruit­ment rate of Druze sol­diers serv­ing in the army is among the high­est in Is­rael – higher than the rate in the Jewish sec­tor.”

Be­reaved fam­i­lies, as well as those who had been in­jured dur­ing their ser­vice, were in at­ten­dance, in ad­di­tion to a wide range of army and po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Faiz Ra’ed, 57, was se­verely wounded dur­ing a ba­sic train­ing ses­sion in 1981. He lost his eye­sight, right arm and part of his left hand, as well as his legs, af­ter a pro­jec­tile ex­ploded.

“I am happy that the peo­ple of Is­rael ap­pre­ci­ate the Druze com­mu­nity’s sac­ri­fice,” Ra’ed re­marked to The Me­dia Line. “To see the na­tion of Is­rael to­gether like this, and wit­ness the amaz­ing in­te­gra­tion of the Druze peo­ple with the Jewish peo­ple – es­pe­cially with all the com­pli­cated things hap­pen­ing in the back­ground – is strong and noth­ing will change that.”

“I lost my brother re­cently,” Ha­lal Bin Sal­man, a mem­ber of the Druze com­mu­nity who par­tic­i­pated in the run, told The Me­dia Line. “He was a fighter in the [now dis­banded all-Druze] IDF Sword Bat­tal­ion and was in­jured dur­ing his ser­vice. A month ago he passed away from his in­juries.

“This race is very im­por­tant in my view. It’s some­thing that can help us keep the mem­ory of our fallen alive,” Bin Sal­man added.

Though the mes­sage of unity was one re­peated through­out the day – by both or­ga­niz­ers and par­tic­i­pants – it seemed that the Na­tion-State Law was never far from peo­ple’s minds. Asad him­self has been an out­spo­ken critic of the bill, writ­ing sev­eral months ago in a highly-pub­li­cized Face­book post that the law could trans­form Is­rael into “an apartheid state.”

“We are all one na­tion,” Asad de­clared to The Me­dia Line ahead of the first race. “We are all Is­raelis. It’s also im­por­tant that politi­cians un­der­stand this and not push leg­is­la­tion that hurts part of the pop­u­la­tion.”

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yom-Tov Samia, for­mer head of the IDF South­ern Com­mand, em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of chang­ing the law as well.

“I lost a lot of Druze friends, one of them was like a brother to me – Col. Nabi Merey,” Samia re­counted to The Me­dia Line. “He was killed in Gaza in 1996.

“The [Na­tion-State Law] is a good law; I’m not against it,” he con­tin­ued. “There is sim­ply one point miss­ing there: equal­ity be­tween civil­ians in Is­rael.”

Dur­ing the event’s clos­ing cer­e­mony, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, the spir­i­tual leader of the Is­rael’s Druze com­mu­nity, ad­dressed the govern­ment di­rectly, call­ing on Is­raeli lead­ers to amend the law.

“We love the State of Is­rael and are proud of our con­nec­tion to the Jewish peo­ple as a whole,” Tarif told the crowd from the stage. “We are proud to have the right to serve in the IDF and se­cu­rity ser­vices. The covenant be­tween the Druze and the Jews is strong and solid.”

Mean­while, in a filmed ad­dress to at­ten­dees, Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin also at­tempted to as­suage Druze anger over the leg­is­la­tion, with­out re­fer­ring to the law di­rectly.

“You are flesh of our flesh, an in­te­gral part of the state of Is­rael and there isn’t, and won’t be some­one who can sep­a­rate us,” Rivlin said. “Is­rael is the na­tional home of the Jewish peo­ple who re­turned to their land af­ter 2,000 years of ex­ile. How­ever, Is­rael will also al­ways be the state and home­land of the Druze com­mu­nity.”

Druze com­mu­nity lead­ers de­liv­ered a sim­i­larly promis­ing mes­sage to at­ten­dees, say­ing they re­main hope­ful that ties with Is­rael will con­tinue to be strong, de­spite the on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­putes over the law.

“This event will con­tinue to ex­ist,” Asad af­firmed. “We will con­tinue to be one na­tion; we will con­tinue to serve in the IDF, and build this coun­try and de­fend it. We are not against the Na­tion-State Law; we sim­ply want to be in­cluded in it. We can­not be out­side this law.” ■

(Pho­tos: Maya Margit)

RUN­NERS TAKE off at the Druze Sons’ Trail race event, held near the Horns of Hat­tin in the North.

(Gur Salomon/IJP)

YAD LEBANIM, Daliat al-Carmel’s House of Re­mem­brance, which com­mem­o­rates Is­raeli Druze sol­diers killed in ac­tion – some be­fore the War of In­de­pen­dence.

MAJ.-GEN. (RES.) YOM-TOV SAMIA, for­mer head of the IDF South­ern Com­mand (cen­ter) ad­dresses par­tic­i­pants along­side Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amal Asad, di­rec­tor of the Druze Sons’ Trail As­so­ci­a­tion (right).

CY­CLISTS HIT the path.


DRUZE TO­GETHER with oth­ers wave both Druze and Is­raeli flags, tak­ing part in a rally to protest the Jewish Na­tion-State Law in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Au­gust 4.

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