Druze Politics in Israel: Challenging the Myth of “Druze-Zionist Covenant”

Eduardo Wassim Aboultaif. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. Volume 35, Issue 4. December 2015.


Druzes in Israel have been accused of being completely loyal to the Israeli state since 1948. This study will challenge the so-called “Druze-Zionist covenant”. The aim of the paper is to show that the Druze fought Zionism in 1948 and later accommodated the Israeli state as the only viable choice to survive in the land of their ancestors. For this purpose, the paper will investigate the role of the Druze community in the 1948 war, followed by the Druze struggle to preserve their Islamic and Arab identity in the face of the Israeli attempts of ethnicizing the Druze. The Druze religious establishment and some Druze elites who happen to adhere to Arab nationalism challenged the Israeli state by capitalizing on the historical ties of the Druze faith with Islam and Arabism. The policy of Israel is aimed at detaching the Druze from their Arab belongings, thus the introduction of mandatory military service to the community. The paper will conclude by explaining the Druze policy of accommodation toward the Israeli state and its relation to the concept of taqiyah (dissimulation) from a political perspective.

The Druze in the Middle East inhabit four countries: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel/Palestine. Charles Churchill, a British diplomat and orientalist in the nineteenth century, defines the Druze religion as being a sacred deposit and a priceless treasure which should be protected by community members (mainly religious men) against profane curiosity. The very name of Druze is originated from an eleventh-century Ismaili preacher and early leader of the Druze faith, Nashtakyn Ad-Darazi who was first a Druze preacher before trying to introduce himself as the Druze imam rather than a preacher. Due to this action he was expelled by another initiator of the Druze religious movement, Imam Hamza Bin Ali Bin Ahmad Al Zauzani. And although the Druze consider Ad-Darazi a heretic, his name is still used to identify them.

Numerically speaking, Syria has the highest number of Druze in the region counting between 400,000 and 500,000. Lebanon comes next with a Druze population of 390,000. In Palestine there are 104,000 (including the 18,000 Druze of the Golan Heights which has been incorporated by Israel in the 1980s) and the smallest Druze population is found in Jordan with some 15,000. Historically, the Lebanese Druze have been the most active in political affairs. The Druze of Syria played a prominent role in politics since 1830 when Syrian Druze rebelled against Ibrahim Pasha from Egypt and it reached its peak during the Great Syrian revolt in 1925 which was led by Sultan Basha Al Atrash. Their political role had ceased to exist after the Ba’ath regime took power in the early 1960s. In Jordan the Druze are not politically active because of their small number (Member of Knesset (MK))

This paper will examine the Druze politics in Israel. The choice to study the Druze in Israel is derived from the objective to assess the academic claim that questions the Druze loyalty to the Arab cause and their Islamic heritage. This will be addressed through studying the role of the Druze faith in molding political decisions and the Druze political behavior in Israel from the lens of minority behavior.

The Druze in Israel

The Druze community in Israel is not fully integrated into the political system, and the argument that there have been special relations between the Druze community and Zionism is perhaps a misconception of Druze history largely ignored by academics. This paper will challenge the widely held perspective that the Druze in Israel are completely subservient to the Israeli state. There are different explanations for this misconception. To start with, the Druze religion itself was established in the Middle East amidst the Arabic-speaking countries with Egypt at its center. As the paper will demonstrate, Druzes have strong ties with the Muslim world. The essence of the Druze faith is Arabic language and Arabic culture. Another claim is that while the Druze accommodate the Israeli state, they follow a strategy of passive resistance to the state. Druze elites from the religious establishment (like Sheikh Amin Tarif) and local leaders (example of Farhoud Kassem Farhoud and MP Said Naffaʽ) have been able to mobilize the community to reject the ethnicization of their identity by the state, and to keep constant pressure on the government to accept the community as Arab-Muslim. In order to demonstrate the Druze claim that they belong to the Arab and Muslim world, the paper will analyze Druze political behavior rather than refer to the data of polls undertaken in Israel. We are more interested in the political behavior since it reflects a genuine political belief.

Palestinian Druze from Ottoman Rule up to the British Mandate Period

The Druze community in Palestine lives in the Galilee and Mount Carmel. In the coastland, the Druze community inhabits the towns of Yirka, Jathth, Kuwaykat, Mimas, Iklil and al-Hanbaliyya. Finding data on the Druze community in Palestine during the Ottoman era is a big challenge. There is no survey, essay or study that summarizes or details the history of the Druze in Palestine during the 400 years of the Ottoman rule (1517-1917). What is known about the community during the Ottoman period is little. The Turkish attitude toward the Druze was one that perceived the community as heretics. They were not granted any sort of autonomy in Palestine or Syria. They did not enjoy any communal right under the milet system. The community was subordinated by Muslim institutions such as religious endowments and the Muslim courts. According to some sources, it was difficult for a traveler to know the conditions of the Druze community, or even their existence as the tahrir defteri (Ottoman land registration ledgers) and in other official government documents, the Druzes were not mentioned by name and they appeared to be labeled sometimes as “Muslims” or as “others”. Moreover, Druze male were liable for conscription. Sometimes, clashes would erupt between the Druze in Palestine and Turkish authorities against the exaction attitude of the unscrupulous agents of the Pashas against the Druze. The only difference between the Ottoman era and that of the period of British mandate was that Druzes were “accorded the privilege of calling themselves openly a separate community, which was officially recognized by the Government”. The general character of the Druze population in Palestine was predominantly that of an independent peasantry deriving their livelihood from their own labors in their lands. By 1948, most of the Druzes lived in rural villages in the mountains away from the metropolitan Arab-Palestinian cities. The population suffered from ignorance and retardation. In addition to that, political ideologies did not find its way to the Druze in Palestine. The Druze villages were remote and this limited their interaction with other sections of the Palestinian population. Even if the community was introduced to ideologies, it would not make much change because of the rural nature of the population and the collective ignorance that they suffered from being rural. Their social class was that of farmers, and farmers have little to do in politics unless the political struggle is about land property. For only a Palestinian farmer knows how important land property matters: it means a nation.

The Struggle Against Zionism

In the antecedent of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the Palestinian community in Israel tried to organize itself in the 1920s in order to stand up for the Zionist challenge. The Supreme Muslim Council was established in 1921-1922 as a response to the Jewish National Committee established in October 1920. However, no Druze representative was called to participate in the Supreme Muslim Council. Perhaps one of the reasons for the Arab neglect of the national role of the Druze was due to the 400 years of Ottoman rule in Palestine which institutionalized the Druze subordination to the Muslim community in all affairs. Another reason may be that most Palestinian Druze lived in small and rural communities where they had no voice among the politicized urban elite. However, despite their marginalization in the political realm, the majority of the Druze did not join on the side of the Zionists. The Druze were concerned that their Arab identity was not to be questioned. During the 1921-1922 violent rioting, a large group of villagers who opposed Jewish immigration and the British policy which favored the creation of a Jewish state, took up arms in emulation of nearby Arab villages.

In the 1936-1939 riots, the Palestinian Druze took part in the struggle against the British and the Zionists. A Palestinian Druze military group was established in November 1929, it was called the Green Palm Gang. Led by a Palestinian Druze named Ahmad Tafesh the Gang conducted military strikes against the Zionists in Safad and Tabarayah. The Gang is considered to be among the first military resistance movements at that time. In addition to the Palestinian Druze, some Druze from Syria and Lebanon supported the uprising. Syrian Druzes started to organize themselves in Palestine to fight the British forces. This group was commanded by Hamad Saʽab. Another group made of Palestinian Druze fought the British army near Tarshiba in the summer of 1936. They were led by Qāsim Ghadbān. Later on, there were some Druze voices that were calling for an independent religious establishment from that of the Sunni one dominated by Haj Amin Al Husaini. However, their efforts were brought down by Sheikh Salman Tarif who rejected the project and believed that such a process would tend to destroy Arab unity and use the Druze community by the Zionists for political aims. From the financial side, some wealthy Druze families such as the Al-Khair family from a town called Abu Snaan paid money to the Palestinian national movement on behalf of the Druze community, as the national movement was demanding financial support from the Druze. Despite being few in numbers, the Palestinian Druze provided men to fight alongside the Arabs in 1936. Palestinian Druze from almost all villages in Palestine joined the ranks of the rebels.

The Druze in 1948

The major challenge that the Druze community faced was in 1948. The British forces were preparing to leave the country. The Zionists were organizing their militias which were derived from men who fought with the Allies during World War II. On the other hand, the Palestinians were not politically or militarily organized. The Arab countries were newly established and did not have a unified perspective of Palestine. Their interest overlapped in Palestine. Meanwhile the Druze community had to make its choice: either to be neutral, which would intimidate the Arab community around, or to be part of the struggle regardless of the outcome. By 1948, nationalist elements within the Druze community saw themselves as Palestinian Arabs and fought against the policy of co-option with Zionism. Also the Druzes in Lebanon and in Syria sided with the Arab movement against the Zionists. The Druze soldiers in the Arab Salvation Army (ASA) numbered some 500 strong and they were led by the Lebanese Druze, Shakib Wahhab. Shabkib Wahhab was a Druze revolutionary from the Shouf Mountain in Lebanon who fought the French armies alongside Sultan Al Atrash in Syria. Afterwards he fought the French in Lebanon for a short period of time. His brigade was stationed in Shafa’amr.

Another brigade in the Arab Liberation Army was called the Qādisiyah brigade; it was under the command of a Druze lieutenant named Fāyez Hafīdah, accompanied by two Druze sergeants: Naufal Al Hajlah and Yousef Karkūt. Kamal Al Kanj, a Syrian nationalist, organized a group of 250 Druzes from Syria to join the Palestinians in their struggle. Other two Druze chiefs, Husayn Hassun and Qāsim Halabi succeeded in recruiting Druzes for the Palestinian cause. In January 1948 a group of Druzes from Mount Druze in Syria were recruited under Naif Huzayfa and joined the force of Al-Jihād Al-Muqaddas whose commander was ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Husayini; both men were killed in action in the battle of Qastal in April 1948. In addition, Nihad Arslan, the brother of Prince Majid Arslan, the then Defense Minister of Lebanon recruited some 400 Druze men and led them to Palestine.

Among the most important battles that the ASA conducted in the Galilee was that of Hoshi and Kasayer. The main battalion that fought in that battle was the Druze brigade. The battle lasted for several days with the Zionist victory over the Arab Liberation Army in the Galilee. The Druze causalities ranged from 85 to 100 martyrs and hundreds of injured. In the battle of Shafa’amr in which also the Druze battalion had a major role in the course of the fight, 200 Druze were killed in action. In the Druze town of Yanuuh, the Druze villagers fought alongside the ASA as irregulars; 12 Druze men were killed in the battle.

On the other hand, there were also Druze who collaborated with the Zionists before, during and after 1948. This was the outcome of Druze-Zionist collaboration before 1948. Jaber Ma’addi was a Druze who worked for the Zionist movement before 1948. His role was to buy guns from the Arab fighters in an effort to de-militarize the society. He also bought lands on behalf of the Zionists. Hasan Abu Rukon was another Druze who worked for the Zionists. He arranged the relations between the Druze and the Jews. After the establishment of the Israeli state, some Druze became active in Zionist parties. Examples include Saleh Khnaifes and Labib Abu Rukon from the Mapai and Kamal Mansour and Amal Naser Ad-Din from the Likud. Youssef Naser Ad-Din established the Druze–Jewish Council and is an active member in the Zionist international movement. Jamal Mu’addi, another Druze Zionist in Israel asserts that Israel is playing a role in reviving the Druze heritage. However, according to the Druze faith, their heritage is Sunni Islam. A proof for this claim is in the biography of Sheikh Abdullah Al Tannukhi who went to Damascus and studied Islamic theology there. He wore a green turban which signifies that he is a descendent from the house of the prophet. Despite the fact that he was a Druze, Sheikh Abdullah, who is believed to be the most important religious figure in modern Druze history, adhered to Sunni Islam. The fact that he studied Islamic theology in Damascus and wore a green turban signifies that the Druze heritage is a Sunni one.

The Druze in the Aftermath of the Nakbah

The defeat of the Arab armies in Palestine in 1948 had a catastrophic impact on Arab politics and societies. The defeat was called Al-Nakbah, which literally means the catastrophe. The Druze community, on its part, made their duty in defending the Arab cause at that time. Among the 2755 Arab soldiers in the Arab Liberation Army, 500 were Druzes, this means that 22% of the fighters were of Druze origins, without counting other soldiers who were recruited upon private initiatives such as those under the leadership of Kamal Al Kanj, Nihad Arslan, Husayn Hassun , Qasim Halabi, Naif Huzayfa and others. Needless to say that the Druze community in itself was rural, lacked the necessary means of development and had no experience in mainstream politics and warfare. Nothing more can be expected from such a minority. After the Nakbah, the Druze community in Palestine under the leadership of Sheikh Abu Yousef Amin Tarif followed the policy of accommodation toward the Israeli state. This is often the recourse for a minority that has been defeated in war and persecuted for hundreds of years by the majority.

Before the Nakbah, Druze land ownership was estimated to be some 130,000 dunams (the unit of measurement in the Ottoman Empire was dunams, each dunam is equal to 1000 square kilometers) mostly owned by farmers and other landlords. By 1962, two-thirds of Druze land property was confiscated by the state. Thanks to the coordination between Sheikh Abou Yousef Amin Tarif and Sultan Al-Atrash, Druzes managed to keep what was left of their land property. Sultan Al-Atrash advised his brethren in Palestine not to leave Palestine under any condition. This meant that the community has to follow accommodative policies toward the Israeli state. It was up to Sheikh Abou Yousef Amin Tarif to mold the policy of accommodation with the state. The Israeli state was interested in accommodating the Druze community in order to divide the Arab population and create tensions between the sects. They capitalized on the fact that the Druze community was not given the autonomy it intended to have centuries before. Hence, in 1957, the Israeli state recognized the Druze as an independent community. The government abolished Druze subordination to the Muslim courts and established an independent Druze judiciary. Actually since 1948, the Israeli radio and press frequently used the terms Druzes and Druze community in an attempt to detach the Druze from the country’s other Arabs.

Immediately after the defeat of the Arabs in 1948, the Palestinian population that did not leave the country was put under direct military rule. Despite the fact that the Druzes were said to have established special bonds with the Israeli state, they too were under direct military rule. Between 1948 and 1966 (the time of direct military rule), all legal, planning and bureaucratic activities excluded the local residents from the decision-making process. One of the main aspects that affected the lives of the local residents, mainly the Druzes, was the land expropriation by the Israeli state. Since the majority of the Druzes were farmers, land confiscation deprived the Druze from their main source of livelihood. Therefore, the majority of Druze men were obliged to seek employment in government institutions; mainly the military. By mid-1950s, Druze migrated to cities and gravitated toward security services, as that does not require educational qualifications. Others decided to work in other economic sectors such as construction and industry which requires physical fitness but again without the need of education.

Israel wanted to make of the Druze a minority within a minority. Consequently, one major decision by the Israeli state was to “ethnicize” the Druze community. In 1956, the Israeli state passed a rule whereby the label “Druze” was used on Israeli identity cards to signify both religious and nationality holders, whereas the nationality of their counterpart Muslims and Christians was defined as Arabs. Regarding Druze land, it is worth noting that the Druze lands confiscated by the Israeli state were used to build many Jewish settlements in the Galilee. The Druze were dissatisfied with their conditions. The Israeli state tried to consolidate Druze grievance by establishing a Religious Council for the Druze community headed by Sheikh Amin Tarif. That was in 15 April 1957. By this action, the Druze community was officially recognized in Palestine for the first time in history.

Later in 1962, the Knesset passed the Druze Courts Law, which gave authority to Druze courts over personal matters. In the same year, the Druze were subjected to compulsory military service. Furthermore, the Israeli authorities managed to separate the Druze community from their Arab counterparts, starting with education. In 1977, the Israeli state established a Druze curriculum which was completely separate from that of the Arab curriculum. Moreover, the state supported Druze traditions through folklore festivals and exhibitions. The history of each Druze village was rewritten with emphasizes on shrines and sites shared with the Jewish ones to create a new bond with the Jewish community. Accordingly, the study of Druze history was divided into two eras: before the creation of the Israeli state and after. In the first era, the Druze are perceived as victims of persecution by the Muslims while the second era concentrates on the Israeli state as a savior for the community. Moreover, Zionist sources emphasize on the story which claims that Moses was married to Shu’ayb’s daughter (Shu’ayb is a sacred prophet for the Druze) and hence there is a blood covenant between the two communities. However, according to Druze Epistles, and as narrated by Sheikh Adnan Al Halabi, Shu’ayb was not married and definitely did not have a daughter. Furthermore, the state published a calendar of Druze holy days in 1979. The aim of these actions is to extract the Druze community from its Arab heritage and belonging.

The Druze community has suffered from low and unsatisfactory educational standards, lack of adequate housing and absence of technical and industrial enterprise to provide employment opportunities, as well as the absence of vocational centers, etc. all leading to high levels of poverty. On the municipal level, the quality of roads required significant upgrading. Large reserve areas, often agricultural tracts were lost for future development of the Druze villages. The healthcare in Druze areas had been inadequate or non-existent. In 1963, a measles outbreak in western Galilee resulted in the deaths of a number of Druze children. This incident served as a communal symbol for the Druze grievance in Israel. To this day, one of the roads adjacent to the town of al-Buquea is called “the measles road”, signifying the devastation of the epidemic.

Politically, the Druze community has been able to raise public awareness of the social, economic and political discrimination practiced against them by the Israeli state. In the mid1960s, mainly after the end of the military rule by the Israeli government over the Palestinians in Israel, the Druze community was able to expose itself and follow the ideology of Arabism that was sweeping the Arab world at that time. In 1972, the Druze Initiative Committee was formed and aimed at opposing military conscription and emphasizing their Arab-Palestinian identity. The first time a Druze politician was elected to the Knesset was in 1951. Druze joined Jewish and Arab political parties as there has never been a Druze party in election campaigns. The Druze campaign for civil rights culminated in several violent clashes with Israeli authorities in the villages, and most notably in long sit-in demonstrations, hunger strikes and symbolic raids on the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem in 1991 and 1994.

In the year 2000, Druze communities from Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan met in Amman, Jordan. The meeting was an attempt to unite the communities politically and support the Druze in Israel in their quest for equal citizenship. Unfortunately, it took a decade for the Druze in the region to arrange a similar conference in Beirut, Lebanon in 2010 under the guidance of the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Joumblatt. The decisions of this conference were the same as those of the Amman conference. The conference in Lebanon was another attempt to unite the Druze against the discrimination they suffer from the Israeli state and to emphasize the Druze commitment to their Arab and Islamic heritage. It is important to note the achievements of the Druze Initiative Committee and other political actors such as MK Said Naffaʽ in their attempt to preserve the Arab and Islamic identity of the Druze community.

Druze in the Military: Discrimination, Colonization, and Manipulation

Israel managed to exploit the divisions in the Druze community between traditional families in order to control the society and use it against the Palestinians. For example, in the general elections of 1955, Salih Khnayfis and Jabir Muʽaddi were the Druze candidates competing for a seat in the Knesset. Jabir Muʽaddi signed a document during the campaign period asking the Israeli government to conscript the Druze males to the army. Consequently, Muʽaddi won the elections. Thus, the rivalry between traditional families became a tool for the Israeli state to use the Druze as a fifth column against the Palestinians in Israel, and the cornerstone of this policy was with the introduction of Druze military conscription.

The Druze are entitled to military conscription along with the Bedouins. Christians and Muslims are not called for mandatory service. They may join the army voluntarily. The aim behind this strategy is to create a “Gurkha Syndrome”. This syndrome describes how a peripheral and small group is used by a colonial power for policing and military purposes against the indigenous population. As a result, the Israeli society perceives the Druze as frontline soldiers and policemen whom the state can sacrifice in its pursuit of security. Arabs refer derogatively to the Druze soldiery as murtazika (mercenaries), lacking in patriotism and serving for no motive other than personal benefit. According to Yaʽcov Shimʽoni, a Foreign Ministry official, the decision of the Israeli state to conscript the Druze into the Minorities Unit was to use the Druze as “the sharp blade of a knife to stab in the back of Arab unity”. Similarly, Tomia Labashaanski, the first military commander of the minority battalion admitted that the aim of Druze conscription in the army is to create a crisis of confidence between the Druze in the surrounding countries and the states they live in.

Another reason the Druze were called for mandatory military service is mainly their well-known reputation in military service. The Druze belief in reincarnation overcomes human fear of death. However, these two virtuous tributes have become a liability for the Druze in Israel, as they are manipulated by the state in military operations; rather than sending Jewish soldiers for dangerous missions, Druze soldiers are sent instead. This increases the likelihood of having a Druze soldier killed or wounded rather than a Jewish one, a strategy which suits the IDF leadership. According to information provided by MK Said Naffaʽ, more than 280 Druze soldiers had been killed while serving in the army or one of the security jobs since 2000 which makes the percentage of fallen soldiers from Druze villages higher than that of Jewish ones.

Jews in the Israeli Police represent 93% of the personnel. Among the remaining 7%, Druze account for 50% of the non-Jewish personnel in the Israel Police, Christians have a 19%, Muslims are represented by an 18% and Bedouin by 6%. In the Border Police, Jews constitute also an overwhelming majority of 75%. The Druze make up some 66% of the non-Jews while Muslims represent a 10%, Christians 4% and Bedouins 6%. These numbers suggest that the percentage of Druzes enrolling in the security forces is not high, considering that the percentage of the non-Jews in the Israeli Police is negligible compared with the Jews, and the percentage of non-Jews in the Border Police is low compared with that of the Jews.

The Druze community is a poor and a disadvantaged minority that constitute no more than 1% of the Israeli population. Hence, the claims that the Druzes are puppets used by the Israeli state to police and discipline the Palestinian minority is without merit. It is hard to believe that the Druze, comprising 10% of the Palestinian minority in Israel can police the remaining Arabs, for the latter also have a substantial percentage of personnel in the Israeli Police and Border Police. It took the whites in South Africa total control of the political system to control the majority of the population who happened to be black during the apartheid years. The Druze in Israel do not have an economic monopoly or advantage over their fellow Arabs. Thus the argument that the Druze are used to police the Arabs in Israel is not but a state propaganda exploited to create tension between the different elements of the minority so that Israel can permanently divide and conquer the Palestinian community.

An important issue to address is the claim that the Druze are integrated into the Israeli society. It has been asserted that the Druzes who serve in the army and police suffer from discrimination and segregation. For instance, even though they serve in the Israeli army and expect to be treated equal to the Jews, they still suffer from land expropriation, house demolition and suppression. This may contribute to the reasons why increasing number of Druze citizens in Israel are refusing to serve in the military Another reason is their perception that the Israeli army is used to subordinate Palestinians and therefore a large number of Druzes reject military service or enrollment even if they need the job for surviving. The Druze are still at the bottom of the social ladder where many of their towns in the Gailee and Mt. Carmel score extremely low on socioeconomic indicators, with unemployment rate reaching some 38% and their education system ranked the lowest in 2002 for achievement in matriculation exams. However, the number of young Druze men rejecting conscription is increasing even though accepting conscription provides some economic privileges that are needed by members of the community. Moreover, one of the main arguments for rejecting conscription has been refusing to join an army that is occupying Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In an attempt to mobilize the Druze against conscription, The Druze Initiative Committee for Conscientious Objection was founded in 1972. It has four main objectives:

  • An end to compulsory military service;
  • Opposition to confiscation of Druze land;
  • No interference of the Israeli state in matters of nationality and religion;
  • Democracy and equal rights.

According to this committee, about 5000 Druzes have refused to serve in the IDF since 1956 and consequently they were imprisoned. This shows that a significant number of Druze have been resisting mandatory service in the IDF. In 2009, around 64% of Israeli Druze opposed military service according to a poll conducted by Haifa University. Moreover, Druzes are not given the same punishment as the Jews who refuse military service. According to the War Resisters’ Group, it has “been reported in the past that Druze objectors are apt to receive exceptionally severe sentences for draft evasion and desertion”. The punishment is described below.

Those who do not serve in the military pay a higher income tax, are entitled to less government subsidy in mortgage loans, and depending on their precise grounds for discharge, may not be entitled to any social security payments until they are 20 years old. There is also a standard for wages for student jobs, which adds a small bonus for every month of military service one has completed (it also discriminates against women, who have a conscription term shorter than that of men). Military service is counted in when calculating seniority (and thus also wages) in state-run institutions and government jobs. It was at one time common practice for a prospective employer to demand details of a job applicant’s military service record and medical profile—among other effects this further consolidated discrimination against those minorities who were not subject to conscription.

In some cases like in that of former MK Said Naffaʽ whose three sons have rejected military service, the Israeli state have denied them social benefits including healthcare.

One may challenge the notion that there are special relations or blood covenant between the Druze community in Israel and the Jewish state when the former is seen as being discriminated against in all aspects of life, including the military service. Had there been a covenant, it may be argued, the Druze soldiers would receive equal trial and punishment for avoiding conscription like their Jewish counterparts, and their villages and towns would be prosperous like those of the Jews and—only then one could claim that something special exists between the Druze and the Jews. However, there is clear evidence that the Druzes are victims of discrimination in public life, in the military, and even in the government grants to Druze villages and municipalities which is well below the living standards of the Jewish-Israeli settlements.

On their part, the Druzes are starting to be active politically. In one of their demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister’s office, slogans against racism and inequality between Druze and Jews were raised. This demonstration turned out to be violent when seven policemen and a demonstrator were wounded. In the village of Peki’in in the Golan Heights, over 30 Druze and police officers were wounded in riots that took place on October 2007. Politically speaking, Druzes are being rallied by members of the Knesset such as Said Naffaʽ with calls to reject conscription, retain their Arab ethnicity identification on their identity cards and call for equal citizenship with the Jews. Such movements are promising, but it will take a lot more than political mobilization by the Druzes to achieve their demands. What would be essential at this stage of the struggle is to unite with the other segments of the Israeli Palestinian minority and with liberal Jews in order to succeed. A politically mobilized group that unites all segments of the Palestinian minority will create unity among the minority in their quest for political and civil equality. Indeed, the minority will have to seek allies from the Jewish society in order to press their demands and increase pressure on the Israeli state.

The Druze have been engaged in actions that have been challenging against the Israeli army. After the military service law was enforced in 1956, the Druze opposed the decision and they sent a letter of protest to the President, Prime Minister and the IDF Chief of Staff, the commander of the Minorities Unit and other officials and institutions. On 22 March 1956, Attorney Muhammad Hawari wrote a detailed letter on behalf of 16 Druze men from Shafa’amr to the Prime Minister. In this letter, they outlined the main reasons for refusing military service:

  • The Druze consider themselves a part of the Arab minority, and as long as all members of this minority are not called to military service, the Druze should not be discriminated against by being drafted into the army.
  • There is no justification to change the status of the recruit from volunteer to compulsory draftee.
  • The Druze leaders who called for a compulsory draft are not authorized to speak in the name of the Druze community.
  • Drafting Druze into army service based on the demand of persons who do not represent them is an act of tyranny.

It is important to elaborate on point number three. After the establishment of the Israeli State, the leadership of Israeli Druze was in the hands of Sheikh Abou Youssef Amin Tarif. He was more than a spiritual leader; he led the community at a critical time when the Druze were lost between neutrality and collaborating with the Palestinians against the Zionist ambitions. Sheikh Amin Tarif stood beside the Palestinians in the 1948 war and after the creation of the Israeli state. He showed reservations to the Druze military service in the IDF. This explains why the number of Druze recruits in the IDF was extremely low between 1949 and 1953. On 15 December 1955, Shaikh Jaber Mu’addi, an opponent to Sheikh Tarif, wrote to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion a letter asserting Druze enthusiasm to serve in the Israeli army and urged that Israel should enforce the law. Perhaps the intention was for Shaikh Mu’addi to gain more influence in the Druze community by collaborating with the Israeli state. He wanted to advance his own political interest at the expense of the Druze community. Hence the assertion by Attorney Muhammad Hawari that those Druze leaders who called for compulsory military service were not authorized to speak in the name of the Druze community such as Sheikh Jaber Muʽaddi and Sheikh Labib Abu Rukun who were among the opponents of Sheikh Amin Tarif. Another important public figure at that time was Sheikh Farhūd Qāsim Farhūd who opposed conscription. He took the initiative to organize a public meeting at the holy site of Al-Khodor in Kufr Yasif. Sheikh Amin Tarif as well as other public figures showed support for the initiative. In addition, according to a military government report on 26 January 1956, most of the Druze community members opposed compulsory service. At the beginning, the Druze resisted the compulsory military service mainly by rejecting conscription. However, the Israeli state responded by using force against them; those who refused military service were chased and imprisoned. In the end, the community had no choice but to obey the law, fearing that their rejection would lead to a state decision to deport the 10,000 Druze Palestinians in Israel.

A Political View on the Druze Faith

Religion plays a critical role in the molding of political affairs, especially in the case of minorities. Since minorities are more exposed to persecution politically, militarily and economically, religion may serve as an ideology of salvation for the sorrows of persecution. Therefore, religion becomes part of a communal identity, culture and historical unity. Religious minorities are influenced by their religious doctrines in their struggle for political representation. Since the Druze community in Israel represents a religious minority, the Druze faith has a great deal of influence on their political decision-making.

The Druze community had established itself in the mountainous terrains. The mountains were a safe haven for the community from persecution. For example, when Al Hakim disappeared and Prince Ali Al Thāher was pronounced the new Caliph of the Fatimid state, he launched a campaign of persecution against the Druzes because of their allegiance to Hamza Ban Ali who is considered the “Druze Imam of all times”. It is alleged that Al Thāher’s soldiers used to slay the Druze men, burn them alive or drown them in the sea. Many others were crucified. The persecution campaign is said to have extended from Antiochin the north of the Fatimid Empire to Alexandria in Egypt.

In order to survive, the Druze followed two strategies: in the times of peace, they would dissimulate according to the religion of the majority. In times of war, the Druze fought aggressively against the invaders. According to Fouad Khoury, “the Druze have had a good reason for their staunch steadfastness, for they had no other place to go to where they could feel culturally at comfort”. Even though the Druze faith follows the concept of taqiyah (dissimulation) and is an exclusive religion, its doctrine is well rooted in the lands where the community lives. According to the Druze religion, there is a permanent need for maintaining the community’s stronghold in the land of their ancestors in order for the followers of the religion to manifest themselves. Or else if they choose to dissimulate and live in the land of foreigners, a land that they do not own, then they would end up losing their true identity as Druzes with strong ties to Islam and Arabism. Hence, the relation of the Druze faith, the Druze community and their land is similar to the relation between the soul and the body; as the soul is manifested in the body, the Druze faith is the soul and it is manifested in the land which is the body. Hence the saying that land, honor and religion, in this order of significance constitute the sacred trinity of the Druze people in the region. Without land, there is no honor and no religion. In general, religion usually evokes a sense of the sacred, and in the case of the Druze, the land has always been merged with the idea of sacredness.

Ever since the Druze established themselves in the Middle East, they fought hard against invaders. Religion was their cause to preserve the land, even if they did not admit on some occasions. But how can religion motivate and mobilize a group to fight for a sacred idea? According to Durkheim, religious beliefs are the representation of sacred things and the relation which they sustain, either with each other or with profane things. This relation created a religious order which is seen to have a preeminent claim over the believer and the social order. This in turn influences the political domain when collective decisions concerning that social order are made. In the case of the Druzes in Palestine, for example, the collective decision of the community to preserve their land on the eve of the war in 1948 was a product of the religious order that has been established for centuries.

Sheikh Amin Tarif and the Policy of Accommodation

Druze political and religious leadership in Israel has been represented by one family and that is the Tarif family. In Lebanon and Syria (unlike Palestine), the temporal leadership is in the hands of the feudal lords while the religious establishment is exclusively lead by the religious men. In Palestine, the temporal and religious authority has been in the hands of one family. There has never been a feudal family. Moreover, in a society where political ideology did not establish itself as a mean for mobilization, religion becomes the only motive for political mobilization. In the Druze case, the Druze faith is the motive for political action.

The Tarif family resides in the town of Jūlis (north Palestine) and they are well known for religious piety and dedication. These religious characteristics gave the Tarif family temporal legitimacy to guide the community. In addition, the Druze community in Palestine did not have feudal lords or urban-like politicians. Hence, this political vacuum was filled with the wisdom of the Tarif family. The Tarif’s have also been in charge of the religious endowment of the Nabi Shuaʽyb shrine near Tiberias, northern Palestine. Shaikh Muhanna Tarif (1850-1884) devoted 10 years to construct the shrine of Nabi Shuʽayb. After his death, one of his successors Shaikh Mohammad Tarif built the Shrine of Nabi Khodor and added rooms to the shrine of Nabi Shuʽayb. The responsibility of utilizing the income of the endowment of the shrine of Nabi Shuʽayb has been assigned to the Tarif family.

Sheikh Amin Tarif had the courage to stand for his community during the Nakbah and afterwards. While some Palestinian figures sought asylum in neighboring Arab countries, Sheikh Amin Tarif led the community and chose not to abandon his people. For a distinguished Sheikh, he could have fled to the Druze Mountains in Syria or to Mount Lebanon exploiting the fact that he is a religious leader and that the Israeli state may conduct harsh measures against him. However, his choice to stay with his people during those hard times demonstrated his sincerity and courage. It was Sheikh Tarif who molded the policy of accommodation with the Israeli state, without abandoning the Arab identity of the Druze community. Two main factors led Sheikh Tarif to mold an accommodative policy toward Israel: The defeat of the Arab armies in 1948 and the isolation of the Palestinian community in Israel from the world. Sheikh Tarif knew that there is no way for the Palestinian community in Israel and the Druze community in particular to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Israeli state. Rationally speaking, it was wise to accept the fact that Israel has become a legitimate state and a nation among the world instead of fighting it; had he sought military resistance at that time, the Israeli state would not have hesitated to use violence against the community, deport them and expropriate their land. But because Druze land is sacred and the Arab world exploited rather than supported the Palestinian cause, accommodation was the perfect solution for the Druze dilemma.

Accommodation does not mean that the religious minority would subordinate its rights under the dominant group. On the contrary, accommodation demands political participation of the minority while preserving its communal identity. As a consequence of his accommodative policies, Sheikh Amin Tarif opposed conscription for two reasons: he wanted to avoid a break between the Druze in Israel and their coreligionists in the rest of the Middle East, and he had fears that moral values of Druze youth would be compromised. As evidence of his strong opposition to service in the Israeli military, Sheikh Salah Ali Abu Rukun, a bereaved father of a soldier who had been killed in 1949 while fighting on the side of the Israelis, told Yaʽkov Yeshoshua, a Ministry of Religious Affairs official, that in 1948 Sheikh Amin placed a secret ban on Druze men who enlisted in the Israeli army. For this reason, the Druze war dead of the Minorities Battalion killed in 1949 were not buried and their bodies became carrion for the birds. Accordingly, we can see how Sheikh Tarif enforced the preservation of the Arab identity of the Druze community in Israel by using a religious doctrine against those who enrolled in the military. Later on, things got out of his hand when the Israeli government enforced conscription and identified Druze as an independent ethnic group. Under these circumstances, there was little that Sheikh Tarif could do. After all, he was the leader of just a tiny minority that has no support from foreign entities and his ultimate aim was to preserve land for his people rather than relinquish it to the Israeli state.

Sheikh Amin Tarif fulfilled three important public functions in Israel: first, he maintained his leadership of the Druze community politically and spiritually, a position that from 1957 involved being head of the Druze Religious Council. Second, he was the chairman of the Druze Religious Court of Appeals, a position he first took up in 1963. Third, he managed the assets of the shrine of Nabi Shu’ayb, a task he had inherited from his ancestors. However, some researchers, including few Druze among them, questioned the leadership of Sheikh Amin Tarif. Hillel Frisch believes that to a great extent Sheikh Amin Tarif was in one way or another influenced by the Israeli State. There are three misconceptions in Frisch’s argument. First, Sheikh Amin Tarif was a Druze religious figure who came from a distinguished religious family whose religious authority in Palestine has often been unrivaled, it is a mistake to consider him a creation of the state. Second, one must look in depth into the Druze historical particularity in Palestine as it differs from the particularity of the Druzes in Syria and Lebanon.

Druzes in Syria and Lebanon had been guided by political dynasties, while Druzes in Palestine had been guided in all matters by the religious establishment and in particular by the Tarif family. Third, Frisch asserted that Sheikh Amin Tarif did his utmost to evince loyalty to the state when he pledged his pension to help defray the costs of the war. However, Frisch has neglected a very important custom of the Druze religious figures; normally, distinguished Druze religious figures, like Sheikh Amin Tarif, would refuse to make their living from state resources. They believe that the money which is generated from the government may be collected on the basis of injustice. Hence, if they use this money to survive, their humanly appetite will be empowered over their religious piety which will lead them astray. Distinguished religious men in the Druze faith do not use money for their personal needs unless the source of the money is from personal efforts, such as education and farming. At the social level, this action reflects that the Druze tend to be good and peaceful citizens even though they may not always receive good treatment from the state.

Religion and Druze Political Salvation in Israel

In his comparative study of religions, W.E. Paden asserts that religion relates man to the ultimate condition of his existence. It forms an integral part of cultural memory and enables the transition of identity from one generation to another, as Claire Mitchel observes in her study of religion and ethnicity. In the Druze case, religion is an institution that molds the identity and politics of the community. For example, the Druze belief in reincarnation strengthens the bonds between the community members and creates some sort of collective unconscious. Moreover, religion in general influences political behavior in shaping the view on political issues or in creating specific policies. Needless to say that religion is deeply rooted in the socialization process of early childhood. For the Druze, religion represents salvation, not only in the metaphysical concept but in the political realm as well. While the Israeli state promotes some advantages for the Druze minority, it makes sure that the group remains weak.

Israel has been engaged in a process of re-creating a Druze society in Israel, by which religion would become marginalized and the religious establishment would lose its traditional role in guiding the community. The Israeli state intends to create a new Druze elite affiliated to Zionist political parties that explains the fact that out of the 13 Druze members of the Knesset in the history of Israel, only three represented non-Zionist political parties: the Hadash, and Al Balad. Moreover, post-independence accounts in Israel emphasize the narratives of the few Druze who collaborated with Israel during the war of independence, assessing such sentiments and activities as collective and natural, completely disregarding the other narratives about Druze enrollment in military groups that fought Zionism.

The aim of Israeli ethnicization of the Druze is to substitute the Druze religious doctrine which orients the Druze policies toward Arabism into Zionist political policies that replaces the religious one. That is why the state gave the Druze equal membership in Zionist political parties, like the Likud and the Labour. This policy has a dual theme: to pacify religion and to replace the religious ethics by Zionist norms. However, a researcher should ask why would the Israeli state pursue such a policy? In fact, Zionism is a colonial ideology which aims at land control. It happens that the Druze perceive the land from a religious perspective, hence its sacredness. How can the state control the remaining land property of the Druze? The policy of land expropriation gave the Israeli state two thirds of the Druze land property, but they cannot keep on confiscating land. Therefore, one strategy is to detach the Druze social origin from Arabism. Another strategy is to introduce a new norm which the Druze did not consider since their settlement in the area and that is dealing with land as a commodity. Since Druze have been farmers in historical Palestine for centuries, the land represents the essence of their survival while the agricultural products are the commodities. However, until recently, land was not perceived as a commercial commodity among the Druze, so Druze elderly have only recently started to prepare new wills making all their sons inheritors of the same piece of land thus making it harder to inheritors to sell their lands.

The Druze culture, religion, way of life, norms and values are of Islamic and Arab origins. The Druze sacred scripts are written in Arabic, the Druze homeland is sanctified by virtue of intensive presence of a multitude of shrines, retreats, assemblies and tombs of righteous individuals. These sacred places spread among Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan. In a nutshell, since the Druze originated from the Arab world, then the Druze are Arabs. This in turn makes their land property an Arab land property. As for the Druze relation with the land, its ownership has been an affirmation of a person’s membership in the community. It is a form of identity. Until recently, land was not treated as a commercial commodity. It was considered honorable to preserve a land for the coming generations and shameful to sell it. The Israeli state succeeded in tempting the Druze to sell their land for large amounts of money. In response to any land deal that would deprive the Druze from land ownership in Israel, the Druze elderly prepared wills making all of their sons inheritors of the same piece of land, thus making it more difficult to sell it. And if they do, they sell it to a relative who is able to reach all the inheritors and agree on a deal. Consequently, the identity of the land would stay Druze and Arab.

Ethnicizing and the Making of Druze Zionism

Israel is an ethnic state. Zionism is the official ideology of the state. The state building project has incorporated the Jews of Israel and left little space for the Arab minority to participate in it including the Druze. The Jews built the military, economy, political institutions and other establishments that aim to serve the Jewish welfare. Thus, it disregarded from the beginning the Arab needs and demands. However, some Arabs are allowed to participate in the nation building project in an attempt to show the world that the minorities are incorporated in the state. The truth is that the Arab role in the nation building in Israel has been marginal.

After the creation of the Israeli state, the government had intensions to ethnicize the Druze in Israel. An inter-ministerial committee charged with the development of State policy toward the Arabs concluded that cultural assimilation is impossible with the Arabs and therefore the State had to divide and subdivide them. Nationalism did not arrive to the Ottoman provinces until the last years of the Ottoman rule when Arabism became a national ideology used as a tool to fight Turkism. Hence, the communities of the Ottoman provinces in the Middle East had been divided along communal and religious lines. Communal and confessional cohesion was strong and it was a socialization tool used to protect individuals from other groups. Therefore, it was easy for any foreign power to use these divisions to create tensions between the communal groups. In Mount Lebanon in 1840 and 1860, foreign powers made use of such tensions between the Druze and the Maronite. The Druze were supported by the British and the Maronites by the French. The two communities ended up committing massacres and crimes against each other. Israel knew well the bloody history of the region and how the absence of nationalism made group loyalty and cohesion strong.

Israel took advantage of the fact that the Druze were exploited against during the days of Ottoman Palestine. As a result, the Israeli state tried to recreate the identity of the Druze by making the Druze “ethnicity” central instead of their Arab ethnicity. Hence, the creation of Druze nationality, based on the same principal of the conflation of national religious affiliations constructed by Zionist ideology which has largely contributed to the acceptance of the idea that Druzes are not Arabs. In one case, the Israeli state proposed to Kamal Joumblatt the idea of a Druze state during the 1950s. Joumblatt rejected the proposal and declared that the Druze will not be guardians for the Israeli border. Later after the June war in 1967 and the rise of minorities in the region such as the Maronites in Lebanon and the Copts in Egypt, Israel initiated again another process to create a Druze state on its border, from the Shouf district in Mount Lebanon up till Mount Druze in Syria and the Golan passing through the Western Bikaa’ Valley in Lebanon. Fortunately enough for the Druze in the Middle East, the Israeli state contacted two Druze Arab nationalists: Kamal al Kanj from Majdal Al Shams in Syria and Kamal Aboultaif from Western Bikaa in Lebanon. The latter successfully undertook the adventure of stealing the information during the talks with the Mossad agents in Rome. During the talks in Rome, Aboutlaif spent a considerable amount of time to establish trust between him and the Mossad agents. When the agents felt that Aboultaif has agreed to become a client of the Israeli state, they provided detailed information to Aboultaif on the essence of the plan. After Aboultaif put his hands on the whole file, he traveled back to Lebanon and told the story to Kamal Joumblatt. Again, the attempt to create a Druze state by Israeli efforts failed thanks to the efforts of Kamal Al Kanj and Kamal Aboultaif. In retaliation, the Israeli state arrested Kamal Al Kanj in his hometown, Majdal Al Shams in the Golan. Kamal Aboultaif was threatened by the Mosad. Paradoxically, and in a move that supports the theory of minority alliance, the Syrian intelligence assassinated Kamal Aboultaif in his hometown Aiha.

The attempts of Sheikh Abou Youssef Amin Tarif to preserve the Arab identity of the Druze succeeded in the early days of the Israeli state. Later on, while he rejected compulsory military service he was opposed by Druze politicians who were opportunistic and regarded this moment as historical to achieve their personal aims. For example, Sheikh Jaber Muʽaddi indicated that he wanted to apply compulsory military service law to the Druze. He represented himself in a letter to the minister of defense as the “representative of the Druze”, who, as he claimed, were ready to sacrifice their lives to defend their homeland. A month earlier, Sheikh Labib Abu Rukun disseminated a statement calling on the Druze in Israel to stand and defend their homeland. Of course, Sheikh Jaber Muʽaddi and Sheikh Labib Abu Rukun were basic opponents for Sheikh Amin Tarif. Since Sheikh Tarif rejected the compulsory service law, Sheikh Muʽaddi and Abu Rukun supported it in order to counter balance the influence of Sheikh Tarif with the help of the Zionist state.

Israel deals with the Druze as an ethnic group rather than a religious community. The Israeli state is trying to create a Druze-Zionist ideology; first, it proposed a Druze state during the 1950s and 1960s. Second, it is still working on ethnicizing the Druze community in Israel by labeling their ethnicity in the Identification Cards as Druze. Zionists in Israel have a goal to create a Zionist ideology that fits into the Druze minority. Israelis are seeking a Zionism that works according to the particularism of the Druze minority which has to do with a Druze nationality, detached from its Arab belonging, friendly with Israel and in continuous struggle against the Arab world.

The Druze Political Behavior in Israel

Minorities create their own strategies to accommodate the state which they live in. Usually, minorities develop their own alternative socialization mechanisms, starting from utilizing family habits and social practices, alternative education, media organizations and other institutions that play a crucial role in preserving their identity. Accommodation prevailed over any attempt to radicalize the society and to push it to confront the state. They never demanded secession. However, this does not mean that the Druze community in Israel is unified behind one purpose. Druze political behavior in Israel is divided between supporters of the Israeli state, and opponents of the Zionist state who demand a Liberal democracy. The first group constitutes the Druze politicians who support Zionism, compulsory military service of the Druze and the ethnicization of the Druze. The second group is made up of politicians who call for a liberal democracy in Israel, abolishing the Zionist ideology and compulsory military service on the Druze beside their call for equal citizenship. There has never been a Druze political party in election campaigns.

The Druze split between Zionist and Arab parties is a typical minority behavior. According to Michael Provence, minorities in general tend to show divisions in political schemes in order to survive; that is, in either ways, the group that prevails will work on preserving the minority. Michael Provence gives the example of the Druze political scene in Syria before the Arab Revolt by Sharif Husain against the Turks. Before the revolution, the Atrash feudal family was divided into two camps: one camp was with Sultan Al Atrash who supported the Arab revolt against the Turks. The other camp was with Salim Al Atrash, Sultan’s cousin who supported the Turkish Empire. In such a case, the Druze community would survive and share power with any of the two opposing camps. Even later during the French Mandate, Selim stood with the French while Sultan opposed the Mandate and led the revolution. The rivalry between the two was based on difference in definition and not intent which was dedicated for the protection of the community’s welfare and interest.

In Israel, the situation is similar to that in Syria during the days of Selim and Sultan Al Atrash where we had a clear cut distinction between supporters of the Ottoman Empire and its opponents. However, the complexity of the situation in Israel is derived from two facts which impose a threat on the Druze community: Arab nationalism and minority survival. In the case where the Druze support the Israeli state they threaten their nationalistic identity as an Arab religious minority which is to be considered as a religious minority in Islam. In the case where the Druze oppose the Israeli state they threaten to jeopardize the minority survival.

Amel Nasr Al-Din, a Druze member in the Knesset from Daliat al-Carmel, believes that the Druze are a minority that had been persecuted and humiliated by the Muslims of Palestine. Hence, for the survival of the Druze they require a Jewish state as a beacon of salvation. While we know by now that MK Nasr Al-Din is a Druze supporter of Israel, his claim carries some contradictions. The beacon of salvation for a minority is a state with a liberal democratic political system. Israel is not a liberal democracy; it is a state with a radical national ideology that serves the welfare of Jewish people, only. Second, Nasr Al-Din disregarded the fact that his community is not treated as equals of Jews in Israel and that the Israeli state manipulates the Druze to divide the Arab minority. Moreover, the Israeli state made it clear that the Druze communal rights do not extend beyond their religious cultural rights. Furthermore, the claim of Islamic persecution of the Druze did not involve land confiscation by the Islamic empires in the region.

Had it been the case where the Islamic empires would expropriate land from the Druze, the community would be landless in Palestine. In addition, Amel Nasr Al-Din did not mention a very important fact that the Druze have lost two thirds of their land property in nearly two decades to the Israeli state, something which the Islamic Empires did not practice against the community in a millennium. On the contrary, in Lebanon and Syria for example, the Druze community gained more land as a gift for their courageous defense for the Islamic state. In Israel where some Druze soldiers defend the Israeli state, a group of reserve Druze officers had asked the Israeli state in 1989 to take over a locality built on land which was expropriated previously from the Druze by the state and abandoned by its Jewish residents. Their demand was rejected. While Knesset Members such as Amel Nasr Al-Din call for more Druze enrollment in the army to save Israel, the same MKs neglect the fact that the Druze need more jobs and developmental projects. According to Kais Firro, the problem is in the Druze political leadership. The Druze leaders continue to deal primarily with minor problems of individuals, clients and clan members, rather than with the wider problems facing the community as a whole.

Other voices among the Druze community accuse the Israeli state of being racist. These voices include the Palestinian Druze poet Samih al-Kassem and the politician Said Naffaʽ from Al Balad party (National Democratic Party). Samih Al-Kassem is a well-known and influential Druze poet who cherishes the Palestinian cause. MK Naffaʽ is a Druze politician from Beit Ja’an. As a member of the Balad party, he calls for a liberal democratic state that would give equal citizenship for all its citizens. Also, MK Naffaʽ is active in forging the old and historical ties between the Druze in Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan. For instance, he organized a visit to Syria for Israeli Druze in 2007 in order to reestablish a direct contact with their fellow Druze, in addition to visiting religious sites across the border.

In 2009, he met with Walid Joumblatt in Cyprus and they agreed on cooperating for to preserve the Arab character of the Druze community in Israel. The Lebanese and Israeli Druze leaders organized a conference in Lebanon for the Druze in the Middle East. The Conference was organized in July 2010 under the name of the Druze Diaspora Conference. A Druze delegation from Israel visited Lebanon via Syria for this purpose. Sheikh ‘Auni Khnaifes, the head of the Druze-Israeli delegation insisted that the Druze are Arabs and emphasized the need for collective action among the Druze of the region in order to fight against the Judaization of Palestine. The delegation visited religious sites, Druze villages and established contacts with their fellow Druze in Lebanon. This social activity in context was mainly managed by Walid Joumblatt and Said Naffaʽ. It was a continuation for the Amman conference in 2000, where the Druze of the Middle East met and agreed on supporting the Druze in Israel against military conscription.


According to Mordechai Nisan, a Druze, who claims that he is of Arab origin is “authentic”. The Druze faith developed from the Arab-Muslim origins with its linguistic-cultural and national affiliations being Arab in character. However, when a Druze declares total allegiance to the Israeli state, this may be an artful act that conceals a hidden agenda. This Druze attitude is probably a product of taqiyah which is also practiced in politics. This politicized notion of taqiyah serves the community in preserving itself against any possible hostility from the Israeli state. Historically, taqiyah was a strategy to preserve the religious community from persecution. Today, the political community is using this strategy to avoid political persecution. The important thing about taqiyah is that it preserves the group’s identity and keeps the group loyalty to its original belonging. In the case of the Druze in Israel, while some Druze claim allegiance to the Israeli state, they know inside themselves that they are not Jews or Druze in ethnicity, they are Arabs. The conditions around them make it mandatory upon the community to accept the Druze ethnicity as arbitrary.

Historically speaking, political taqiyah was a strategy used first by the great Prince Raafe’ Abi Al Lail, who maintained a balance between the Fatimids and the Byzantines to preserve the Druze community in the Levant. While at the beginning Prince Raafe’ fought alongside the Fatimids against the Byzantines, he feared that a strategic victory for the Fatimids would give them the opportunity to take collective military action against the Druze since at the time of the Fatimid Caliph Ali Al-Thaaher, had sent his soldiers to kill the Druzes and destroy their villages in the Levant. Hence, Prince Rafe’ allied himself later with the Byzantines against the Fatimids and it was agreed that the safety of Druze villages would not be violated.

Political taqiyah is a survival strategy. However, if taqiyah does not achieve its aim, the community would seek other strategies to resist domination. One of these strategies followed by the Druze community in Israel is to use their legal rights to improve their status. When minorities are marginalized, they use citizenship to frame their political goal. To use the words of Amal Jamal, minorities

especially those deprived of power, may conceive citizenship in contrasting terms. They may view citizenship not as a form of attachment to the state but rather as a framework that gives them legal power to challenge state policies, especially when these work in favor of the dominant social-cultural group in the state. Minorities seek to reframe citizenship into an opportunity, countering attempt to utilize it as a successful control mechanism by hegemonic groups.

The Political behavior of the Druze community is taking a more pro-Arabist stance, and this explains the victory of Druze MK Abdallah Abu Maʽrūf in the general elections of March 2015. The very fact that a Druze candidate has won a seat without the support of Zionist parties signals a break with the past. With Palestinians in Israel solidifying their political activism by uniting their efforts to oppose Zionist parties, and with the Druze being part of this new phenomenon, it is likely that this will represent the political choice of the Druze community in Israel for the years to come.