Por­traits of the Druze

Shadi Khatib talks with the ‘Mag­a­zine’ about the dilem­mas fac­ing the coun­try’s small­est re­li­gious mi­nor­ity, the Na­tion-State Law, and the de­sire to be treated like an equal Is­raeli cit­i­zen

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By JU­DITH SUDILOVSKY

It has been a few months since I first sat down with Shadi Khatib at a café in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neigh­bor­hood to dis­cuss writ­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive on an ar­ti­cle that ap­peared in The Jerusalem Post 30 years ago on the “The Druse al­liance.” Writ­ten on the eve of Is­rael’s 40th In­de­pen­dence Day, the piece dubbed the Jewish-Druze re­la­tion­ship as one of “brother­hood and mu­tual aid,” de­spite the need to im­prove the so­cial and eco­nomic con­di­tions for the Druze.

A pic­ture of Khatib’s young, smil­ing grand­par­ents dressed in tra­di­tional garb in their Rama vil­lage home takes up a quar­ter of the bot­tom first page of the twopage ar­ti­cle. Though his grand­par­ents were not in­ter­viewed for the ar­ti­cle, the pho­to­graph – and a de­sire to track down the orig­i­nal – was the im­pe­tus for Khatib to reach out to the Post for an­other ar­ti­cle in honor of Is­rael’s 70th an­niver­sary.

At our first meet­ing Khatib, 45, showed me pic­tures of his young son wav­ing the Is­raeli flag dur­ing an In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tion in his Karmiel school and told me about the pho­tog­ra­phy course he was tak­ing in Tel Aviv. Just a few weeks later the Knes­set would pass the con­tro­ver­sial Na­tion-State Law, which es­tab­lishes that “the right to ex­er­cise na­tional de­ter­mi­na­tion in Is­rael is unique to the Jewish peo­ple,” that Jewish set­tle­ment is a “na­tional value,” man­dat­ing the state to “en­cour­age and pro­mote its es­tab­lish­ment and de­vel­op­ment.” The law also es­tab­lishes He­brew as Is­rael’s only of­fi­cial lan­guage, down­grad­ing Ara­bic to a “spe­cial sta­tus.”

Now one of Is­rael’s Ba­sic Laws – some­thing akin to a con­sti­tu­tional law which guides Is­rael’s le­gal sys­tem, it is more dif­fi­cult to re­peal than a reg­u­lar law.

For its de­trac­tors the law has down­graded non-Jews liv­ing in Is­rael to sec­ond-class cit­i­zen­ship, while its sup­port­ers say the law sim­ply states the ob­vi­ous – that Is­rael is the na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple, much like France is the na­tion-state of the French, and Spain of the Span­ish, while still re­tain­ing Is­rael’s demo­cratic val­ues. On Au­gust 4 pro­test­ers, led by the Druze lead­er­ship, demon­strated in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square de­mand­ing a re­peal of the law.

Af­ter the pas­sage of the law, Khatib re­counted in a phone con­ver­sa­tion how hear­ing about the pas­sage of the law late on the evening of July 19, when he came back from a wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion, had left him in shock and dis­be­lief. Still, even then, he did not lose what I have come to re­al­ize is his char­ac­ter­is­tic op­ti­mism about life in gen­eral and life in Is­rael in par­tic­u­lar.

BUT BE­FORE all that, as we sat at the café chat­ting over our cap­puc­ci­nos and snap­ping self­ies at his in­sis­tence, I could not help but be in­fected by his nat­u­ral en­thu­si­asm for life and for the coun­try. Even af­ter a strug­gle with Waze dur­ing Jerusalem’s mad­den­ing rush hour, he ar­rived to our meet­ing with a burst of en­ergy and a smile on his face.

In his arms he car­ried a care­fully wrapped blowup of his grand­par­ents’ pho­to­graph made from the news­pa­per copy, and an orig­i­nal copy of the 30-year-old ar­ti­cle. The ar­ti­cle had been care­fully pre­served and saved in the fam­ily for 30 years, ever since a rel­a­tive had read it and brought it to them.

They do not have many pho­to­graphs of their grand­par­ents in their youth, Khatib ex­plained, and he had found the pre­served ar­ti­cle re­cently. He was es­pe­cially ex­cited to see his grand­fa­ther, a well-known and re­spected vil­lage per­son­al­ity, who had died at the age of 49 be­fore Khatib was born.

It seemed like I was talk­ing to an old friend, as our con­ver­sa­tion me­an­dered from how he met his wife – 37-year-old Lara Ganem Khatib, who has her own law prac­tice and gave birth to their sec­ond child last month – and how they had made the de­ci­sion to marry with­out any in­ter­me­di­ary, con­trary to tra­di­tional Druze cus­tom, to how they are rais­ing their 10-yearold son in Karmiel, where he stud­ies with Jewish class­mates and speaks Ara­bic at home, to how long it took

Khatib, who served six months in the army be­fore re­ceiv­ing a med­i­cal re­lease, to get a proper job as an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer, first with the US Army Corps of Engi­neers in Is­rael, un­til he be­came known in the lo­cal con­struc­tion mar­ket, and how they had to work out a way to fi­nally be able to buy their home, which is built on land meant only for Jewish use.

But even when dis­cussing the more dif­fi­cult is­sues, Khatib re­mained up­beat and pos­i­tive, speak­ing proudly of be­ing a part of a young gen­er­a­tion of Druze who no longer fit into the stereo­typ­i­cal ideas of Druze and Druze in Is­raeli so­ci­ety.

At the time he told me that he felt that in the past 30 years much had changed in Druze so­ci­ety, which, while still striv­ing to main­tain its tra­di­tional her­itage, is also chal­leng­ing it­self to be in­cluded in main­stream Is­raeli life as the small­est re­li­gious mi­nor­ity in the coun­try. Still, he said, for many young Druze it is frus­trat­ing to come home af­ter their mil­i­tary ser­vice and see that their Mus­lim and Chris­tian con­tem­po­raries in the vil­lage have al­ready com­pleted or are about to com­plete an aca­demic de­gree, while they have to strug­gle to find hous­ing and of­ten can’t af­ford to start study­ing at an older age, as they are ex­pected to start sav­ing to build a home and pre­pare for their fu­ture mar­riage.

In­deed, he said, lack of hous­ing is a com­mon prob­lem within his com­mu­nity, and many young men of the com­mu­nity com­plete their mil­i­tary ser­vice only to dis­cover that they have no place to build a home when they are start­ing out their lives.

“I feel Is­raeli, but if you ask me if I have felt dis­crim­i­na­tion... with peo­ple who have met me face-to-face, I have not. But if they speak to me on the phone first and hear my name, I have had prob­lems,” he said. “Dis­crim­i­na­tion still ex­ists, but... if I start to [dwell] on it, it will pull me down.

“To­day, de­spite all the ob­sta­cles, peo­ple are mov­ing for­ward with our lives,” Khatib added. “Ev­ery­body is mak­ing an ef­fort to suc­ceed and all pos­si­bil­i­ties are open.”

All his sib­lings are also col­lege ed­u­cated, he said whereas a few decades ago the main ca­reer path for many young Druze was the mil­i­tary or po­lice force.

He urged me to speak to Ganem Khatib to ex­plore the chang­ing role and place of women in Druze so­ci­ety. In a phone con­ver­sa­tion she spoke em­phat­i­cally about her own stud­ies, her in­de­pen­dence and the mea­sured changes tak­ing place for Druze women. Al­beit slowly, she said, many more women from the com­mu­nity are putting off mar­riage for a few years and con­tin­u­ing to uni­ver­sity stud­ies, mostly in ed­u­ca­tion for the mean­time.

“So we have many un­em­ployed teach­ers,” quipped Ganem Khatib, whose third aca­demic de­gree is in crim­i­nal law.

Still, in re­cent years a few Druze women have grad­u­ated from med­i­cal school and some have been ap­pointed high school prin­ci­pals, she said.

“There wasn’t this ad­vance­ment be­fore, and I hope it will con­tinue to grow. Ed­u­cated par­ents are push­ing for all their chil­dren to be ed­u­cated. Slowly, Druze are in­te­grated nicely into all seg­ments of Is­raeli so­ci­ety – not just the army,” she said.

I spoke to other Druze who had bro­ken the model, in­clud­ing an artist, a pro­fes­sor and a women’s rights ac­tivist, but then, due to a per­sonal ten­dency to­ward pro­cras­ti­na­tion, a pileup of other press­ing as­sign­ments and a trip abroad, Khatib’s story was put aside for sev­eral months.

WHEN NEXT I spoke on the phone with Khatib, af­ter the pas­sage of the Na­tion-State Law, he had just come back from his morn­ing run and the en­dor­phins were cours­ing through his blood­stream. De­spite the un­cer­tainty he felt about the law, he said he was keep­ing an up­beat out­look.

“I want to keep pos­i­tive and hope­ful. I know the peo­ple of this coun­try are not the govern­ment,” he said.

“I am think­ing of the next gen­er­a­tion, of my son’s gen­er­a­tion... about whether we will be un­able to build new neigh­bor­hoods for young Druze,” Khatib said. “Noth­ing will change for me, but I am very dis­ap­pointed.

“If you read [the law] in black and white, Is­raelis are only Jewish peo­ple. What about the other mi­nori­ties? There is no men­tion of mi­nor­ity rights. We know Jews are own­ers of the land since 1948, but [then] no­body deleted the rights of the mi­nori­ties liv­ing here. But now, by pass­ing the new law em­pha­siz­ing that the own­ers are Jews, you are putting the other peo­ple here as ‘visi­tors.’ How can I ex­plain that to my son?”

And while peo­ple were con­cerned about the sta­tus of the Druze be­cause they serve in the Is­raeli army, Khatib said the con­cern should be about the sta­tus of all mi­nori­ties in Is­rael, not just those that serve in the army.

“There needs to be some real deep think­ing,” he said. “What they are do­ing here is di­vid­ing the peo­ple into cat­e­gories, with Jews be­ing No. 1. We want to feel like equal Is­raeli cit­i­zens, for me and the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. We were here be­fore Jews came from Europe and North Africa, and our grand­fa­thers chose to stand with the Jews side by side.”

(Ju­dith Sudilovsky)

SHADI KHATIB dis­plays ‘The Druse al­liance,’ a ‘Jerusalem Post’ ar­ti­cle from 30 years ago fea­tur­ing a photo of his smil­ing grand­par­ents in tra­di­tional garb.

(New­phot Ltd.)

THE DRUZE through the years: Cel­e­brat­ing Nabi Shu’ayb, a Druze re­li­gious prophet tra­di­tion­ally iden­ti­fied with the bib­li­cal Jethro, at Jethro’s Tomb in Hit­tin near Tiberias.

(Micha Bar-Am/Mag­num Pho­tos, Inc.)

A DRUZE fron­tier force po­lice­man (pic­tured in the pho­to­graph), killed in ac­tive ser­vice on the West Bank, is buried in his Western Galilee home vil­lage around 1980.

(Micha Bar-Am)

SHEIKH AMIN TARIF – the qadi, or spir­i­tual leader, of the Druze in Is­rael from 1928 un­til his death in 1993 – speaks to a Jewish scholar dur­ing a wel­come cer­e­mony at the Pres­i­dent’s Res­i­dence, 1980.

(Ariel Teger/IDF Spokesman’s Unit)

SHAUL MOFAZ, then IDF chief of gen­eral staff, meets with a Druze re­li­gious leader in the North in 2000.

(Jerusalem Post Ar­chives)

MOSHE ARENS, then de­fense min­is­ter, praises the Druze for their con­tri­bu­tions to the state and to Is­rael’s se­cu­rity in 1999.

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