Druze who defy the stereo­type

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - THE DRUZE - - J.S.

Druze make up 1.7% of the Is­raeli pop­u­la­tion, and 80% of Druze men are ca­reer mil­i­tary men who con­tinue work­ing out­side the home for most of the week, re­turn­ing only on the week­end. Some 87% of the men of the com­mu­nity do their com­pul­sory mil­i­tary ser­vice in the IDF. And those who don’t serve in the army are more likely to do na­tional ser­vice.

To­day there are also Druze women who choose to do na­tional ser­vice in their vil­lages. Once mar­ried, most Druze women stay at home; those who work do so mostly as teach­ers. But there are many in the com­mu­nity who to­day are break­ing the stereo­types and mak­ing an im­pact on Is­raeli so­ci­ety in dif­fer­ent fields.

The ac­tivist

Na­dia Ham­dan, 60, has been the head of Na’amat, the His­tadrut women’s or­ga­ni­za­tion, in cen­tral Galilee since 1994. Al­most un­heard of, she mar­ried at the age of 40 a man 15 years her ju­nior. They have two chil­dren, aged 18 and 14. Her daugh­ter wants to be a singer.

Ham­dan is out­spo­ken and has no qualms about dis­cussing the dis­par­ity be­tween the life of Jews in Is­rael and the lives of Druze and other mi­nori­ties, in­clud­ing what she says is the gov­ern­men­tal at­tempt to di­vide and sep­a­rate Druze from their Arab iden­tity as well as from their lands.

All around her vil­lage of Yanuh, there are Jewish vil­lages which can ex­pand and build and im­prove, she said. But if the Yanuh mu­nic­i­pal­ity wants to do the same, it must wait 10 years to re­ceive per­mis­sion.

“I feel choked all the time,” she said. There is a lack of hous­ing and jobs for the younger gen­er­a­tion, she said, while there are greater at­tempts to “Ju­daize” the Galilee.

She lives in Kfar Havradim with her fam­ily, be­cause she was un­able to build on most of a plot of land she owns in Yanuh, which the state has des­ig­nated for agri­cul­tural use only, and is sat­is­fied with her life there, she said, but when she com­pares life there to life in Yanuh, it hurts. “I am speak­ing out of pain,” she said. The term “al­liance” is only a vague word if one part­ner ap­par­ently steals from the other, she said.

Still, if given the choice whether to live in an Arab coun­try or in Is­rael, she would un­equiv­o­cally choose Is­rael, she said.

“I don’t call my­self ‘Pales­tinian,’ I don’t have that iden­tity. I just want to live like ev­ery­one else,” she said. “I want my rights, whether I serve in the army or not. Ev­ery day there are new laws in­fring­ing on hu­man rights. It is some­thing peo­ple do not want to see or hear, but it is what you see all around. Only a stupid per­son does not see that.

“Is­rael is my home, my land, and I can’t move from here. I didn’t come from any­where else. I am not an im­mi­grant who can say I will go home. This is my home,” she said.

“Life in Is­rael is a good life, though the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion here is so-so. It is bet­ter than liv­ing in an Arab coun­try like Le­banon, Syria or Saudi Ara­bia. God did not mean Arabs to rule over other Arabs; they are dic­ta­tor­ships and al­ways at war.”

The sci­en­tist

Prof. Fuad Fares, 63, from Hur­feish and to­day a pro­fes­sor at the depart­ment of hu­man bi­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Haifa, is the founder and sci­en­tific di­rec­tor of PROLOR Biotech, a clin­i­cal stage bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany.

He was among five stu­dents from his mid­dle school class of 28 stu­dents who passed a stan­dard­ized test that de­ter­mined which stu­dents from his vil­lage would con­tinue on to the re­gional high school in Tarshiha.

Much has changed since then.

“It was very dif­fi­cult. There were a few class­rooms, they were old class­rooms and we didn’t have any heat­ing or cool­ing. The sit­u­a­tion to­day is much bet­ter,” he said.

He grad­u­ated with a com­plete ma­tric­u­la­tion exam and was re­garded in the vil­lage as a suc­cess story. His fa­ther, a ca­reer army man, and his mother, a housewife, en­cour­aged their six chil­dren to con­tinue and ex­cel in their stud­ies.

“My fa­ther told us that he was wait­ing for the day he could sit down at home and look at all of our diplo­mas on the wall,” said Fares. His sis­ter be­came the first Druze woman to en­roll in the Tech­nion in the early 1980s, and three of his broth­ers went into ed­u­ca­tion, with one of them be­com­ing prin­ci­pal of a school. A fourth brother is an ac­coun­tant with the lo­cal coun­cil.

When he was start­ing his ca­reer a lit­tle over 30 years ago, there were two Druze pro­fes­sors. To­day, there are six, and three doc­toral se­nior lec­tur­ers. While still mi­nus­cule, the in­crease is sig­nif­i­cant, said Fares.

Though Fares did not serve in the army, all his broth­ers and high-school class­mates did. He was one of two stu­dents in his high­school class who con­tin­ued with their stud­ies in uni­ver­sity. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing his BA at the He­brew Uni­ver­sity, he went on to do a three-year post­doc, ac­com­pa­nied by his wife and two chil­dren, in St. Louis, where he stud­ied ge­netic en­gi­neer­ing.

There he de­vel­oped a patent to pro­duce a pro­tein used in IVF fer­til­ity treat­ments. He sold the rights to Merck, one of the

largest phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies in the world. Fares then founded his own start-up, which de­vel­ops other patented ther­a­peu­tic pro­teins, in­clud­ing a growth hor­mone pro­tein to help in treat­ment of adults and chil­dren with growth hor­mone de­fi­ciency. The pro­tein is now in phase three of clin­i­cal tri­als for adults. In 2013 PROLOR signed a de­fin­i­tive merger agree­ment with OPOKO Health.

Un­for­tu­nately, Fares said, for many young Druze get­ting out of the army it is still dif­fi­cult to con­tem­plate con­tin­u­ing with their stud­ies, as they marry ear­lier than their Jewish coun­ter­parts and are ex­pected to build a house and sup­port their house­hold. Many still opt for a mil­i­tary ca­reer, which pro­vides them with a sta­ble salary.

Nev­er­the­less, one no­table change in the so­ci­ety, he said, is that cou­ples are mar­ry­ing at an older age, with men mar­ry­ing at an aver­age of 27, and women at 22.

“Be­fore, they were get­ting mar­ried much younger at 20, 21 years old, and it was hard to con­tinue in academia with­out the sup­port from their fam­i­lies,” said Fares. “To­day I see more par­ents are pre­pared to help their sons af­ter the army. They see more the im­por­tance of aca­demic stud­ies.”

But for the ma­jor­ity it is hard for most to go back to study, once they are re­leased from the army.

“They marry early, some­times even when they are in the army,” said Fares. “Still, there are some, few in num­bers, who choose to con­tinue to higher ed­u­ca­tion. That is bet­ter than when I was young. To­day there is a change. There is a high school in our vil­lage, and ev­ery­body who fin­ished mid­dle school goes on to high school.”

How­ever, even to­day, for many of the re­leased Druze sol­diers who have come to feel part of Is­raeli so­ci­ety, it is a shock when they re­turn to live in their vil­lages and see the dis­crep­ancy be­tween where they live and Jewish towns, he said.

“They see they are not 100% in­te­grated into Is­raeli so­ci­ety,” he said. “There is a prob­lem of avail­able jobs for the sol­diers and [for] women, who should work near their homes, and it is hard to find land to build a home on.”

In­ter­est­ingly, he said, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Bureau of Statis­tics 64% of Druze women re­ceive aca­demic de­grees.

All four of his chil­dren are now pur­su­ing ad­vanced de­grees, with his oldest com­plet­ing a doc­tor­ate at the Tech­nion-Is­rael In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy do­ing cancer re­search at Ram­bam Med­i­cal Cen­ter, an­other is in med­i­cal school, and a daugh­ter is com­plet­ing her MA in pub­lic health at the Uni­ver­sity of Haifa. His youngest son, the black sheep of the fam­ily, is study­ing busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Fares noted that, still, his fam­ily is the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule, and less than 0.4% of Druze go on to doc­toral stud­ies, and only 1.1% com­plete a mas­ter’s de­gree, he said. One bar­rier is the dis­tance of the uni­ver­si­ties from Druze vil­lages, he said. Though he lives in Haifa with his fam­ily and main­tains a home in Hur­feish, tra­di­tion­ally Druze tend to stay close to their home vil­lages.

He is try­ing now, to­gether with a friend, to set up a sci­en­tific re­search cen­ter for the Druze sec­tor, and is hope­ful that cre­ation last year of the Azrieli Fac­ulty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­sity in Safed will make it eas­ier for Druze stu­dents to study medicine and con­tinue with sci­en­tific re­search.

The artist

Fatma Shanan, 32, knew from a very young age that she wanted to be an artist, and went from her child­hood draw­ings in her home vil­lage of Julis to win the Tel Aviv Mu­seum of Art’s 2016 Haim Shiff Prize for Fig­u­ra­tive-Re­al­ist Art and the Cul­ture and Sport Min­istry’s 2017 Young Artist Award.

While still in mid­dle school and with her par­ents’ sup­port, she sought out the tu­tor­ing of Sha­har­ban Amer, a woman a gen­er­a­tion older than her from her vil­lage, who had stud­ied art but went into teach­ing rather than con­tinue with a ca­reer as an artist. In 2010 Shanan re­ceived her bach­e­lor of ed­u­ca­tion de­gree from the Art In­sti­tute of Oranim Aca­demic Col­lege, and in 2011 stud­ied pri­vately with artist Eli Shamir.

Her works fea­ture ori­en­tal car­pets as a promi­nent part of the com­po­si­tion, rep­re­sent­ing tra­di­tion while pre­sented in dif­fer­ent con­texts. The rugs, which took on an al­most myth­i­cal qual­ity in her child­hood, and which she uses to de­fine more fluid gen­der, na­tional and eth­nic iden­ti­ties, are de­picted in fields, on roofs, olive groves and on roads.

Her own in­ter­nal per­sonal strug­gle has been to cre­ate a larger space for her­self as an in­di­vid­ual within a so­ci­ety which em­pha­sizes the col­lec­tive, she said. She has found that space in her art.

“When you cre­ate, you are mak­ing a big­ger space, your pos­si­bil­i­ties are big­ger,” she said. “You cre­ate a dif­fer­ence be­tween your phys­i­cal space and your men­tal space. What speaks out in my art is how, in my life and in my art, I try to open up my own per­sonal space – cre­ate some per­sonal area for me, Fatma.”

In­deed, she is try­ing to find her own space within her so­ci­ety, she said, not leave her so­ci­ety.

“I don’t fit to­tally in­side the cir­cle of my so­ci­ety, but I don’t go out­side of that cir­cle,” she said. “But I try to cre­ate some­thing which is very much my own. It’s some­thing I have been search­ing for since I was a teenager. In a sense it is sim­i­lar to how we Druze try to live within Is­rael. I feel quite like a hy­brid.”

Still, some­times there are prices to pay, tak­ing such an un­con­ven­tional path within Druze so­ci­ety, such as be­ing a woman artist, and she has paid those prices, she said. For the most part, how­ever, she said, there has been a greater ac­cep­tance of her choices.

“It is still rare, but I knew that when I chose to do it,” she said. “You live with un­cer­tainty. There is no nor­mal process in be­ing an artist. There is no start and end.”

She has lived and worked in Tel Aviv, and now she is mak­ing Julis, where she has a stu­dio, her home base again for the time be­ing. Her work has been shown in solo and group shows both in Is­rael and abroad, and she has re­ceived nu­mer­ous grants, awards and res­i­den­cies, in­clud­ing the 2017-2018 Peleh Fund Res­i­dency in Cal­i­for­nia. For the past four months she par­tic­i­pated in a res­i­dency in New York, and she will have an up­com­ing solo show at the An­drea Meis­lin Gallery on Madi­son Av­enue in New York City.

Hav­ing had the op­por­tu­nity to work out­side of Is­rael has shown her that her work con­nects with peo­ple out­side of the Druze and Is­raeli so­ci­eties, she said.

“It is some­thing very global,” she said. “I see that what I am do­ing is wider, it does not be­long to just one place.”

(Fatma: Nir Arieli; Paint­ing: Avi Am­salim)

ARTIST FATMA Shanan’s works of­ten fea­ture ori­en­tal car­pets.

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