Establishment of New Druze Town on Lands of Destroyed Palestinian Villages Draws Criticism

For the first time, approval given for a new Druze town, but many Druze would have preferred to expand their existing communities and are wary of the implications for relations with Arab society.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Members of the Druze community walk near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, June 16, 2015.
Members of the Druze community walk near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, June 16, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

On Wednesday the National Planning and Building Council approved a plan to build a new Druze town in the Lower Galilee region, in the Naftali area west of Tiberias, but the plan is being criticized by prominent members of the Druze community who are unhappy that the new town is slated to be built on the site of two Palestinian villages that were razed in 1948, and say they would rather be able to enlarge existing Druze communities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau issued a statement Wednesday saying, “The Druze community has tied its fate with the State of Israel. The percentage of Druze who enlist in the IDF is among the highest in the country We are fulfilling our commitment to the community.”

Existing Druze towns are built on mountainsides and are under severe planning restrictions due to their proximity to nature reserves. The new town is meant to address such problems. It will be designed to have an urban character and comfortable topography, as well as proximity to infrastructure and employment hubs.

Nonetheless, sources close to Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muwaffak Tarif told Haaretz they were taken aback by the decision. Former minister Salah Tarif took a much harsher view, calling the plan detached from reality.

“As much as we appreciate this important decision, instead of advancing the master plans that have been stuck for 20 years, we get a decision to build a town with 400 housing units, which provides no solution for the thousands of young couples without housing,” the former minister said.

“For decades we’ve talked to the authorities about building a town close to the existing Druze towns. This recommendation is just a band-aid that’s meant to cover up the real problem – the condition of the existing towns.”

The Druze are also concerned about the implications the decision could have for relations with Israeli Arab society since the area designated for the new town belonged to the Palestinian villages of Hatin and Namarin, whose inhabitants became refugees in 1948.

“We Druze cannot accept such a thing,” said retired police superintendent Khalil Halabi, a spokesman for the Committee for the Defense of the Lands of the Carmel. He says that in the past the Druze spiritual leadership was opposed to receiving alternate lands in exchange for lands appropriated from inhabitants of Daliat al-Carmel and Isfiya, when it learned that the land being offered came from the abandoned village of Umm Azinat. “There is plenty of land near the Druze villages that could be developed,” Halabi said.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning have also said they will oppose the plan. Deputy Minister of Regional Development Ayoub Kara (Likud) voiced surprise at the criticism.

“Why weren’t the critics bothered by the establishment of Kiryat Shmona and Carmiel? We’re following the principle of equality. The Druze also deserve to build a new town,” said Kara.

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