Dying for a state that does not want them

By: Dag Tuastad, University of Oslo.

The Druze shrine al-Nabi Shu’ab was never really much different from other shrines in the land that became Israel in 1948. But after the establishment of the Jewish state, Israel’s religious authorities decided to allocate a considerable amount of money to the guardian of the shrine, to erect new buildings there and to make it the location of an annual pilgrimage feast. Dignitaries were invited and a military parade held during the feast. Eventually the feast became a national holiday for the Druzes of Israel. The guardian of the shrine was one of the most powerful Druze families in the Druze community, the Tarif family. Prior to the establishment of Israel they had been sceptical to cooperate with the Zionists. But now, after all the money, investments and the annual holiday, they changed their mind. Two years later the sheikh of Tarif and 15 other Druze sheikhs held meetings. They agreed that the Druzes should serve in the Israeli army. From then on, as the only Arab minority group, all male Druzes were conscribed.

In 1949 an Israeli government committee wrote that the best way to deal with the Arab minorities was “to divide and subdivide them.” In this the Druzes should be used, as an official of the Israeli foreign ministry said, as “the sharp blade of a knife to stab in the back of Arab unity.” Fostering Druze particularism, where inventing religious traditions was but one element, was thus part of the distinctive Israeli form of rule towards the Arab minority.

Traditionalizing politics and fostering particularism was seen as preventing a modern, national organization from emerging in the Arab sector. In stead, for the Druze, old patriarchal structures were cemented. Thus, military conscription for the Druzes was only for the males, not for males and females as for the Jews. Druze women were in stead granted stipends – if they were married to a Druze conscript. This system affected the Druze marriage pattern. Many married early to have the stipend. Early marriage meant an early entry into motherhood, preventing women from educating themselves and entering the labour stock. To this day no ethnic or religious group in Israel have a lower education level than Druze women, and no group has a lower employment rate. They stay at home, while their men serve in the security sector – where as many as 40 % of the Druze male population work.

The difference between the Druze of 1948 Israel and the Druze of the Golan heights, occupied in 1967 and annexed by Israel in 1981, is striking. The Druzes in Golan were not exposed to the Israeli particularization politics, and do not serve in the army, becoming a part of Israel against their will. When Israeli officials tried to deliver Israeli identity cards to the Golan Druzes in 1980s, they refused to accept them. They went on strike and started protests, females participating as active as males. The gender segregation of the Druzes inside Israel’s 1948 borders could not be found among the Golan Druze, where Druze females pursue higher education and their total year of schooling equals that of the males.

That said, also inside Israel’s 1948 borders many Druzes have been opposed to Israel’s policy. Quite a few Druzes have served jail sentences for refusing to serve in the army. Among these was the esteemed Druze poet, writer and Palestinian nationalist, Samih al-Qasim, who passed away in August this year.

Other Druzes have died while serving in the Israeli security sector. During the recent driving attacks in Jerusalem a Druze officer was one of the first to be killed by an East Jerusalem Palestinian. Another Druze police officer was killed in the shootout during the attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem in November.

It was during this time that the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, released what he referred to as a “peace-plan.” Its main element was to offer Israeli Arabs economic incentives if they would leave Israel. They were not wanted as Israeli citizens. On this there was no particularism for the Druze. About the same time the Israeli government voted in favour of the so-called state-nation bill, establishing that Israel was first and foremost a Jewish state, only Jews should have national rights in the country. Democracy should only be a secondary principle. “To pass a law only for the Jewish people, it is very sad,” said the brother of the Druze killed in the synagogue attack, “it is like being stabbed.” They die for a state that does not want them.