2018-08-02

The Druze dilemma

By: Daoud Kuttab

Ever since the creation of Israel, the Arab Druze community in Israel were told a lie. They were duped by Israeli Jewish Zionists to believe that they are very much similar to Jews. The Israelis have been hammering on them that they are like Jews, both a religion and a nationality. Despite attempts at Israelisation, Druze speak Arabic and conduct many of the Islamic faith tenants, like fasting in Ramadan and celebrating Eid Al Adha.
 
As such, leaders of this distinct religious community agreed to let their sons serve in the Israeli army and to fall under the mandatory conscription like all other Jewish youth.
 
Although the army conscription was a burden on them and it separated them from fellow Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, or even fellow Druze in the Golan, the tight community whose members rarely marry from outside it, survived.
 
In fact, even after completing the mandatory two years and eight months of service, many Druze Israelis decide to make security work a career and join the border patrol units as a full time job. Druze in Israel have been so mesmerised by what they were told as being similar to the Jews that they went as far as creating an organisation called the Druze Zionist Circle.
 
Israel appointed in March 2018 a Druze officer to the highest position in the occupation unit of the army. Kamil Abu Rokon from the Druze village of Usefiya in the Galilee is now the head of COGAT; the coordinator of government activities in the territories directly in charge of all issues concerning the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. As such, the service in the Israeli army has turned the community into part of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and has brought its members scorn and shame.
 
The Druze community in the Middle East has a highly respected nationalism credentials. Kamal Jumblatt was the leader of the Socialist movement in Lebanon and was assassinated by the Syrians in 1977 during a key juncture in the Lebanese civil war. His son, Walid Jumblatt, has been the leader of the Lebanese Druze ever since.
 
In the occupied Golan Heights, the 20,000 Druze, who live in four villages, clutch very much to their Arab Syrian nationality. They are proud of Sultan Basha Al Atrash, a Druze Syrian leader who led the Arab war of independence against French colonialism in 1925. Atrash is celebrated with a statue in the village of Majdal Shams on the occupied Golan Heights.
 
The passing of a Jewish nation-state law that gives unique and distinct rights only to Jews in Israel has highly angered this community. They have paid the ultimate price by serving in the Israeli army and they feel abandoned and betrayed by a country who they share the alliance of blood with. Even the Arabic language which Druze have staunchly clung to and have spoken in for over a thousand years has now been threatened by the Jewish nation-state law that demotes Arabic from an official language to a “special” language. One of Palestine’s most popular poets, the late Samih Al Qassem is a Druze from the village of Rama in the Galilee.
 
Anger over the Jewish nation-state law has not surprised many anti-Israeli Druze leaders. The anger has stemmed mostly from Druze who are army officers and members of Knesset who have felt betrayed. Even Amal Nasser El Din, the founder of the Druze Zionist Circle, has spoken out against the new law that excludes Druze from the special status that Jews have given to themselves in Israel.
 
Israeli senior officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and one of the strongest backers of the Jewish nation-state law Naftali Bennett, have been trying to repair the damage by meeting with the top Druze leaders, including their spiritual leader Muafak Tarif, who has refused to entertain any attempts to make any deals for the Druze community insisting that the law itself should be voided.
 
Israel has no constitution and the new law was given the important title of a basic law.
 
Three members of Knesset, two of which belong to Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, are suing the law in the Israeli high court because it discriminates against minorities in violation of the Declaration of Independence.
 
The new Jewish nation-state law gives Jews the right of self-determination in all of the land of Israel, without declaring its borders, thus causing Palestinians in the occupied territories to also say that the law legislates an apartheid system in mandatory Palestine.
 
Whether it is the Druze who feel discriminated against, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel who were totally discriminated against and their Arab culture demoted or Palestinians in the occupied territories, the new law has had one favourable outcome. It has exposed Israel as an exclusive discriminatory racist country that rejects the very democratic concept of being a state for its own citizens.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net