Druze soldiers are pampered, their civilians hampered
On the one hand, the glass ceiling has been lifted: In 2004, a Druze was appointed major general in the Israel Defense Forces, another was appointed commander of the Border Patrol, the air force has a Druze navigator and there is a Druze naval commando. Every military unit today is open to Druze recruits, as are all promotion tracks. Currently, 4.9 percent of Druze in the IDF are officers.
Druze increasingly enroll in the IDF's academic programs. And outside the army there is a Druze director general of a government ministry, as well as Druze representatives in governmental boards of directors.
On the other hand, in civilian life, the Druze are still at the bottom of the social ladder. All 11 Druze villages in the Galilee and Mt. Carmel score extremely low on socioeconomic indicators. Unemployment is at 38 percent and the education system ranked lowest in 2002 for achievement in matriculation exams. Educators from the sector estimate that fewer than 1 percent of high school graduates enroll in higher education institutions without the army's support. The Druze local government is in a state of collapse, and the villages suffer from a severe shortage of jobs and land for development.
In other words, the soldiers are pampered, the civilians hampered. Service in the security forces, which has been mandatory for the Druze community since 1956, is not always a recipe for social betterment. Equality in duties is not always equality in rights. The Druze community is now asking hard questions, even challenging the duty to serve in the army, which some believe does not pay off in civilian terms.
Some Druze educators and parents believe the separation of Druze and Arab educational institutions, enacted in 1975, should be canceled. The policy is seen as the state's tactic to prevent rapprochement between the two populations. A small community of 110,000 people cannot have educational autonomy, educators say. Parents complain that their children speak Arabic poorly, while some young Druze are illiterate in what should be their mother tongue.
Another claim is that the state does not provide essential resources, such as land and jobs, while treating the local government with kid gloves when corruption is exposed, often because of political interests that tie the Druze to large parties such as Likud, Labor and Shas.
"We are steeped in corruption," says Salim Bariq, a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Haifa. "The heads of the local authorities mostly represent clans, who are cultivated by the central government. No one asks what the public good is, what the plan for the future is. People don't know where we are going, and local government gets in the way of development." Bariq even chooses to live in Carmiel "so as not to send my son to a Druze school."
Similar problems exist in all sectors, but the Druze sector has not produced civil society organizations to promote its cause. Atef Maadi, a Druze who works in the Arab Monitoring Committee for Education, says Druze educators have refused invitations to join the Arab sector in its political struggle, though the two sectors face the same difficulties.
"They are not organized, but if they don't make collective demands, they will continue to lag behind the Arab sector," he says.
The issue that the Druze lack leadership is raised time and again. Ten years ago saw the death of Sheikh Amin Tarif, a spiritual leader respected throughout the Middle East, but no one of similar stature has replaced him. His grandson, Sheikh Muwafak Tarif, is officially his heir, but his leadership is not broadly recognized.
Malek Bader, chairman of the Forum of Druze and Circassian council heads, defends the Druze leadership, although he admits that Druze society is "lagging behind in every field."
In his view, this is a result of the fact that a third of the male workforce wears a uniform, a factor that stunts social growth. "The community has become completely dependent on the State of Israel and is not planning for the future," he says. When asked about the delicate issue of joining forces with the Arab sector, Bader answers somewhat daringly, "Our forum has avoided this so far, although no doubt we share some of the same problems."