‘Blood Broth­ers’: Is­rael-Druze’s story to be con­tin­ued

DRUZE LOY­ALTY FOR IS­RAEL STARTED SINCE ITS ES­TAB­LISH­MENT IN 1948

The Daily News Egypt - - In-Focus - By Mo­hammed El-Said

The lat­est up­dates in the Lev ant, par­tic­u­larly in Syria and Is­rael, brought to the sur­face the dis­cus­sions about an Arab group which has dis­tinct re­la­tions with Is­rael: the Druze.

The com­mu­nity forms a vi­tal part of the Is­raeli com­mu­nity and army, as Is­raeli of­fi­cials used to say.

How­ever, lately, the re­la­tion be­tween the two al­lies has be­come strained af­ter a new Is­raeli leg­is­la­tion. Also, the recent Is­raeli mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion aroused con­tro­versy in the Syr­ian Golan Heights which is un­der Is­raeli rule, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the es­ca­la­tion of the Syr­ian civil war.

Some be­lieve that the Druze are an off­shoot of Is­lam.Yet, the Druze’s cler­ics are of­ten ce­ass­lessly heard re­peat­ing that they are a ‘sep­a­rate na­tion’. Fur­ther­more, the Druze do not be­moan any­one who leaves the group nor do they wel­come new­com­ers, ac­cord­ing to Syr­ian Druze cleric Fayez Al-Ho­daify in a tele­vised in­ter­view.

They de­cided to en­gage with any au­thor­ity which gov­erns their ar­eas, as Farid Khad­daj, the Durze writer said in an opin­ion piece pub­lished in Septem­ber 2017.

The Druze com­mu­nity is di­vided be­tween three coun­tries: Syria with 800,000 in­hab­i­tants, Le­banon with 450,000 in­hab­i­tants, and Pales­tine with 120,000 in­hab­i­tants in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. They speak Ara­bic and self-iden­tify as Arabs, but their re­li­gious be­liefs split from Is­lam in the 10th cen­tury in Egypt, be­liev­ing in­stead in Al-Hakim bi-Amr Al­lah as the16th Is­maili imam and Fa­timid caliph.

Druze re­li­gious lit­er­a­ture is said to be only ac­ces­si­ble to a group of re­li­gious ini­ti­ates called the ‘Uqqal’ which trans­lates to mean a group of wise­men.

Mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion

Is­rael has taken a new step fur­ther to­wards the Golan Druze, af­ter the Is­raeli de­ci­sion to in­vite the Druze com­mu­nity into the oc­cu­pied Syr­ian Golan Heights to vote in the Is­raeli mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion which was held last week, for the first time since Is­rael oc­cu­pied the Syr­ian Heights 50 years ago.

Con­tro­versy rose among the 23,000 Druze com­mu­nity in the Golan Heights. Most peo­ple there still see Syria as their orig­i­nal coun­try. Some of the res­i­dents changed their minds lately af­ter the civil war in Syria took a more dis­rup­tive turn fol­low­ing the 2011 upris­ing.

The Druze in the Carmel and the Galilee ar­eas in oc­cu­pied Pales­tine, are Is­raeli ci­ti­zens, so they have the right to vote and run the elec­tion, how­ever, most of the Druze in the Golan Heights are Syr­ian ci­ti­zens but hold per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus in Is­rael.

The elec­tion was held on sched­ule in the Golan, but the process was not easy for Is­rael as hun­dreds of Druze Arabs car­ry­ing the Syr­ian flags gath­ered out­side the gates of polling sta­tions,try­ing to block their peo­ple from vot­ing in the elec­tion, while Is­raeli po­lice was fir­ing tear gas to dis­perse the pro­test­ers.

Pro­test­ers chanted against Is­rael, call­ing them­selves Syr­i­ans, and shout­ing “the Golan’s iden­tity is Arab and Syr­ian,” and “No to elec­tions.”

De­spite the vast boy­cott of the elec­tion, there were also calls in the re­gion to in­te­grate with Is­rael, cit­ing the chaotic sta­tus of liv­ing con­di­tions cur­rently in Syria and pre­vi­ously in Pales­tine.

One of vot­ers, who de­cided to in­te­grate with Is­raeli so­ci­ety, told Reuters on con­di­tion of anonymity, that “It’s my right to vote. I’m free to choose the right per­son.” But this will not pass, ac­cord­ing to prom­i­nent Druze cleric, Sheikh Khamis Khan­jar, who stressed that a so­ci­etal pun­ish­ment will be ap­plied on par­tic­i­pants.

“Can­di­dates and those who come to vote will have a re­li­gious and so­cial pro­hi­bi­tion placed upon them,” Khan­jar said.

“What big­ger pun­ish­ment is there than this?” he added.

Golan’s Water

An­a­lysts be­lieve that the Is­raeli move is not for the sake of the Druze.They ar­gue that Is­rael is us­ing the tur­moil in Syria as a pre­text to sup­port its claims of sovereignty over the Golan Heights and its water re­sources. Over one-third of Is­rael’s water sup­ply comes from the Golan Heights.

Is­rael oc­cu­pied the Golan Heights in 1967 fol­low­ing its vic­tory over the Egyp­tian and Syr­ian armies. In 1981, Is­rael an­nexed the ter­ri­tory in a move that is not in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised un­til to­day.

Ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from the For­eign Af­fairs Mag­a­zine “the Golan Heights of­fers ac­cess to two ma­jor water sys­tems: the drainage basin of the Jor­dan River and its trib­u­taries to the west, and Lake Tiberias and the Yar­muk River to the south.”

The Syr­ian re­gion has also more than 200 springs and scores of streams, which Is­rael im­pounds sev­eral of them in reser­voirs for its set­tler use.

Is­rael is work­ing on the re­gion’s in­fra­struc­ture. Since 1984, it has built over eight deep wells to ac­cess Syr­ian aquifers. “Com­bined, these wells have ex­tracted more than 2.6bn gal­lons of water, which are mostly pumped to set­tle­ments for un­fet­tered ac­cess,” read the re­port.

Druze Zion­ist

How­ever, last week’s elec­tions were not the first in­ter­ac­tion be­tween Is­rael and the Druze. Re­la­tions be­tween the two has a his­tory, and the Druze’s loy­alty for Is­rael ex­isted even be­fore the es­tab­lish­ment of Is­rael it­self in 1948, when Pales­tine was un­der the Bri­tish man­date.

At that time dur­ing the be­gin­ning of con­flict be­tween Arabs and Jews over the land of Pales­tine,Druze vil­lages were said, ac­cord­ing schol­ars, to be neu­tral and did not take part in the Arab re­sis­tance.

The Druze’s loy­alty to Is­rael is be­lieved to have hap­pened due to the ab­sence of a mother na­tion for them to fol­low, un­like other sim­i­lar groups in the Mid­dle East.

His­tor­i­cally, the Druze suf­fered a lot from their other Mus­lim neigh­bours amid iso­la­tion and ac­cu­sa­tions of dis­tort­ing Is­lam and in­sert­ing new be­liefs into the re­li­gion.

But soon, Druze lead­ers de­cided that it is bet­ter for them to take the Jews’ side as Mus­lims in Pales­tine did not con­sider the Druze as Mus­lims, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 re­port from the US-based Mid­dle East Pol­icy Cen­tre. The re­port added that for­mal con­tacts be­tween the Druze and the Jewish lead­er­ship took place as a re­sult.

More­over, the Is­raeli-based Druze Zion­ist Coun­cil de­scribes re­la­tions be­tween the Jews and the Druze to “have strength­ened,” lead­ing to the cre­ation of what was later named as the ‘Druze Zion­ist’ move­ments, who are in favour of the state of Is­rael.

His­to­ri­ans wrote that re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and the Druze was dubbed as a ‘Blood Brother­hood’, a de­scrip­tion that was given to the Druze-Is­raeli al­liance af­ter the 1956 agree­ment be­tween the two sides. In the late 1950s, this agree­ment caused more in­te­gra­tion steps by the newly formed Is­raeli state, who be­gan ac­cept­ing Druze sol­diers into the Is­raeli army even in high ranks.

Stab in the heart

But re­cently, re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and the Druze strained af­ter the Is­raeli Knes­set ap­proved in July of this year, the Jewish na­tion-state law which de­fines Is­rael as the sole Jews’ na­tional state.Ac­cord­ing to the new leg­is­la­tion only Jews have the right of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in Is­rael.

“The Land of Is­rael is the his­tor­i­cal home­land of the Jewish peo­ple,in which the State of Is­rael was es­tab­lished.The State of Is­rael is the na­tion state of the Jewish Peo­ple, in which it re­alises its nat­u­ral, cul­tural, re­li­gious and his­tor­i­cal right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. The ex­er­cise of the right to na­tional self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in the State of Is­rael is unique to the Jewish Peo­ple,” ac­cord­ing to the Is­raeli leg­is­la­tion.

For the Druze com­mu­nity who hold Is­raeli na­tion­al­i­ties it was a stab in the heart from Is­rael’s old Arab al­lies in the North, as the new law ex­cludes Arabs (in­clud­ing Druze) from the Is­raeli iden­tity.

De­spite their fight along­side the Jews dur­ing the Arab Nakba war in 1948, the Druze got the same treat­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion as other Arabs in­side Is­rael, and were not ex­cluded from the law.

Pub­licly, they re­jected the law, and their lead­ers held sev­eral meet­ings with Is­raeli lead­ers and min­is­ters in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, yet to no avail, they re­mained ex­cluded from the Is­raeli na­tion like all non-Jews.

The two par­ties, Is­rael and the Druze are in on­go­ing dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing the law, but un­til pre­sent day no meet­ing out­comes have been an­nounced amid Is­raeli in­sis­tence on the Jewish iden­tity of the state.

Nev­er­the­less, the com­ing days will re­veal to whether the so-called ‘Blood Brother­hood’ will stand the test of time or will trail.

HUN­DREDS OF DRUZE ARABS CAR­RY­ING THE SYR­IAN FLAGS GATH­ERED OUT­SIDE THE GATES OF POLLING STA­TIONS, TRY­ING TO BLOCK THEIR PEO­PLE FROM VOT­ING

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