On Wednesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted a half apology, half excuse. “After conversations with many of our Druze brothers, it seems that the way the nation-state law was legislated actually hurt them and those who have tied their fate to the Jewish state.”
As the head of the Habayit Hayehudi party put it, “These are our blood brothers who stand shoulder to shoulder with us on the battlefield and who have entered into a life covenant with us. We, the government of Israel, have the responsibility of finding a way to repair the rift.”
It seems that for years nothing has been said about the Druze that doesn’t include the words “blood,” “brothers” and some form of “covenant.” (Once this was more commonly a “covenant of blood,” today it’s more often a “covenant of life.”)
The good news is that the Druze no longer buy this. “It’s lip service,” said Munib Fares from the northern Druze town of Hurfeish immediately after he saw Bennett’s tweet. “What do you think, the Druze are stupid? We’re not stupid anymore. This is a different generation. Where were you during the vote, Bennett?”
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In his and his wife Nasim’s pastry shop in the town on Mount Meron near the Golan Heights, Fares tossed the question into the air – and it remained unanswered.
The nation-state law that passed in the Knesset last week has angered the Druze community. The fight began when the three Druze MKs – Akram Hasoon (Kulanu), Saleh Saad (Zionist Union) and Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beiteinu) – petitioned the High Court of Justice against the new law. Also, a forum of reserve army officers formed to fight the legislation.
Finally, an emergency meeting was held on Thursday evening at Saad’s home, which included Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni, who was recently tapped as the next opposition leader. It also included the spiritual leader of the Druze community, Sheikh Muwafak Tarif. And of course, there were angry posts on social media.
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For years the Druze have felt they deserve a special status in Israel, partly because they’re drafted into the army; they’re not volunteers. Now many of them feel betrayed and say the country is treating them like second-class citizens – like other minority groups.
Fares, a former journalist who worked for years for public broadcaster Channel 1, says the new law “has no value, it’s a purely populist law. This is another attempt by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to overtake Bennett from the right.”
Fares thinks the commotion has been overdone, but he views the law as harming Zionist and democratic values. “It erased the principles from the Declaration of Independence. Netanyahu isn’t any smarter than [Menachem] Begin and [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky,” Fares said, referring to right-wing leaders from yesteryear.
“This is particularly an attack on the Druze and everyone who serves the country according to the law. It doesn’t add honor to the nation, and not to how we look outside Israel either.”
Fares’ expectations from the country’s leaders are very low; he says the new law “will disappear from the agenda, and Netanyahu will find something new. He always invents something new to scare us.”
‘Don’t steal the feeling’
What can the Druze do? Fares’ mentions “all the Druze who 30 years ago made an effort to disconnect from the Arab nationality and who gave their children [Hebrew] names like Rami, Dudu, Osnat and Rinat in the hope of erasing the Arab nationalism and drawing close to the Jews.” He proposes that they “return to their roots after this spitting in their faces. What’s wrong with Ahmed, Elias, Fatma and Tuhfah?”
Nasim Fares says the two were at a graduation ceremony for their son who finished a medic’s course in the army. They showed pictures of one of their grandsons, 4 months old, saluting (with his mother’s help) in front of the parade grounds while the Israeli anthem was being played.
“I feel proud,” she said. “Don’t steal the feeling of belonging to the country from us. I’m an Israeli Druze in every way; so are my children and grandchildren. This isn’t just the country of the Jews.”
Hurfeish is filled with soldiers and officers, including those in the reserves. At the entrance to the town, alongside the road that leads to the cemetery, is a huge sign with pictures of Kamil Shanan, from Hurfeish, and Hael Sathawi, from Maghar. These are the two Druze police officers who were killed last year by three Israeli Arabs just outside the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.
For F., a resident of Hurfeish who serves in the security forces, the nation-state law is less worrying than the condition of the town. “We pay a heavy price but we love it,” he said. “There isn’t a house here without an Israeli flag.”
Last year was the first year since 1995 that a little bit of land was freed up for construction. “The community is suffocating, like all the Druze communities,” he said. “They don’t even fix the road.”
Still, he supports the new law. “The Arabs are multiplying too much,” he said. “Finally they’re starting to take control with the law over the Arabs in the south with the polygamy.”
His friend, Osama al-Kadi, said: “We linked our fate with the fate of the Jewish people even before the founding of the state and the imposing of the compulsory draft law in 1956. We’re loyal citizens of the country, serving in the security forces, working and paying taxes, carrying the burden and fulfilling all our civic obligations.
“So when the Basic Law that defines the national values of the State of Israel makes no mention of the Druze community in Israel, this creates a feeling of disappointment, a lack of respect and discrimination enshrined in law against us.”
‘Why a stab in the back?’
A few kilometers south of Hurfeish is the Druze town of Beit Jann, which in recent years has made headlines for leading the national rankings in high school graduates receiving matriculation certificates. Surprising about this achievement is that Beit Jann is also near the bottom of Israel’s socioeconomic indexes.
“They could use us as an example and model instead of pushing us into the corner,” said Ali Azu of Beit Jann, a retiree who once worked for the prison service.
Last week Azu posted a collage on Facebook made out of four pictures: two of Druze army officers and two of Likud MKs Oren Hazan and David Bitan. The text expressed regret that the two officers were the victims and the two Knesset members, who are under police investigation, “are those who decide on the nation-state law.”
“We, the Druze, classify ourselves as before July 18 and after July 18," Azu said. In other words, before the law and after.
Before the law, “we were the spearhead in every field, in education and also in defense. After it, there is embitterment, great disappointment and uncertainty that require fateful decisions about the continuation of the partnership,” he added.
“Many young people are already thinking about this. If we’re in a low-level caste, that of the untouchables, there’s no reason for us not to follow the same path as [Joint List MK] Ahmad Tibi and support him. At least he respects us.”
Among the group of religious Druze farther up the street, one said: “We didn’t expect from the country we’ve served for 70 years to treat us this way, to be separated. That the Jew is sacred.” He says his parents are originally from Syria; he doesn’t want to return. “But why a stab in the back?”
Another man said: “In Arabic there’s a saying: Give a balloon more and more air and in the end it will explode.”
In the community of Kisra Samia in the Upper Galilee, people are no longer trying to be polite. The anger there, as in other Druze towns and villages, is directed not only at the government and country but also at Communications Minister Ayoub Kara of Likud. Many residents said Kara no longer represents them but were afraid to give their names.
“He shouldn’t try to enter the village,” one said. “He’s not really Druze,” another added.
“This is the height of racism – in previous governments it wouldn’t have happened,” said Mahmoud Shakur from Kisra. One of his sons is serving in the army and another is about to enlist, but army service is no longer to be taken for granted, he added.
“My children are treated worse than the Arabs. I won’t let them enlist. For what? Why contribute to the country?” he said.
“They can study or work for three years, save money and build a home. Like those in Umm al-Fahm," he added, referring to an Arab city. "What, we’re blood brothers when someone dies but now we're second-class?”
Hisham Asad, a young man who became more religious after finishing his military service a few years ago, tried to count how many disabled veterans live in the town.
“When we’re in uniform they treat us well,” he said.” After we’re released we’re dirty Arabs. They forget we protected them.”