Israel’s Druze are being dragged into the conflict between the government and the Arab community over house demolitions because demolition orders have been issued against homes in Druze villages as well.
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Five families that have received demolition orders for illegal construction are families of fallen soldiers. The efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to increase enforcement against illegal construction is thus generating tension with the Druze, whose leaders have warned of potential violence if demolitions are carried out.
Members of the Druze sect, an off-shoot of Islam, are spread across Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Lebanon. When Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the Six Day War and annexed it, about 20,000 Druze there were given the option of citizenship.
Nowadays, Druze inside Israel number about 110,000. Some have risen to high positions in politics and the military. In fact, Druze join the IDF in relatively high numbers. Their percentage of enlistment is among the highest in comparison to other minorities.
Recommendations on enforcing construction laws were issued a year ago by a team appointed by then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein; special reference was made to Arab and Druze locales. Of the thousands of Druze homeowners who have received demolition warnings, some have been fined, but few demolitions have taken place.
Since November, however, the state has issued orders to demolish nearly 20 homes in Druze villages including Maghar, Yarka and Isfiya. Two months ago a home was demolished in the Galilee village of Hurfeish, but because the house was in a remote area and the owners had somewhere else to live, there was no resistance.
One Maghar home receiving a demolition order belongs to the son of Maj. Kiwan Hamad, who was killed in a clash with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 1994. Hamad’s death raised a storm at the time amid suspicions that he was shot by other Israeli soldiers who mistook him for a wounded attacker.
In Isfiya, a homeowner and father of two soldiers doing compulsory service hung a poster outside that reads “Soldiers’ homes must not be demolished.”
Leaders of the Arab community are trying to make the Druze partners in their protest. During a stormy demonstration Saturday in Wadi Ara south of Haifa, a poster was displayed against “Demolitions in Hurfeish, Kalansua and Umm al-Hiran” – the latter two Arab and Bedouin communities where demolitions have taken place recently.
Druze activists who support the Joint List of Arab parties marched at the head of the demonstration, in which thousands blocked the main road.
At the same time, Druze leaders are striving to distinguish their efforts from the Israeli Arab protest. They have warned the government, police and security officials that violent clashes could break out if home demolitions continue.
The Druze leaders seek an agreement that would freeze demolitions for now lest Druze towns join the Israeli Arab protests that have intensified after the incident in the south last week where a Bedouin teacher and a policeman were killed.