Daring Druze Director Tackles Intermarriage Taboo

The first-ever feature about the Druze by an Israeli Druze spotlights the story of a member of the tiny community who weds a Jew.

Amit Berlovetz

“I love my father, but I hope he dies before he hears this,” an Israeli Druze woman tells Haaretz.

What is her secret? Her brother, who moved abroad a decade ago, married and later separated from a non-Druze woman, and has a child with her.

If her father were to find out, it would “ruin” and “humiliate” him, says the woman, who asked not to be named.

The issue of intermarriage among the Druze – a tiny religious community whose members are estimated to be one million worldwide, with major branches in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the United States – is particularly explosive because there is no conversion to this esoteric monotheistic faith, which is rooted in Shi’ite Islam. Only certain members of the Druze community can study the faith's holy texts and take part in prayer, and a person is only considered Druze if both their parents are Druze.

“The big fear,” explains Israeli Druze filmmaker Adi Aduan, “is that if we intermarry, in 200 or 300 years there will no longer be any Druze. It’s not that we don’t want people because they are Muslim or Jewish, it’s deeper and more complex.”

The local Druze community, which totals some 130,500 members, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, is especially conservative when it comes to matters of intermarriage, according to a Druze educator who also asked to remain nameless. When actor George Clooney’s engagement to Lebanese Druze lawyer Amal Alamuddin hit the headlines, for example, some Lebanese coreligionists criticized her for marrying outside of the faith, but others wished her well. By contrast, the edcator explains, in Israel “there is mainstream consensus that intermarriage shouldn’t happen.” For traditional Israeli Druze families, marriage outside the faith results in excommunication and social boycott.

Not one to shy away from controversy, Aduan, 36, has tackled the topic of Druze intermarriage as the subject of his debut feature, “Arabani” (a slang term combining the Arabic words for Arabic and Hebrew). The movie, which recently began to be screened in local theaters, also happens to be the first-ever feature about the Druze by an Israeli Druze.

“The Druze are very special, but we have to start talking so we can be a healthier society, and so we can understand ourselves better,” Aduan says.

“Arabani,” which won the best screenplay award at the 2013 Jerusalem International Film Festival, tells the story of Yoseph, who returns to his hometown after a 17-year absence and marriage to, and divorce from, a Jew. Yoseph’s son and daughter speak only Hebrew and know little about their Druze heritage. Their arrival results in the ouster of his mother from the local place of worship; her house is blanketed in threatening graffiti and someone throws a brick through her window.

“I wasn’t trying to show Druze as primitive, as I am being accused of right now,” Aduan says, noting that responses to the film have ranged from accusations that he shows the Druze in a bad light, to identifying with the reality he portrays, to anger that he showed a woman in religious dress “for commercial purposes” on the movie's posters.

“It’s a reality – these things have happened,” he told Haaretz in between editing a new television documentary in Tel Aviv. In any case, he admits, he exaggerated the story “to create a shock.”

Leniency toward men

Aduan says he personally knows cases of Druze men intermarrying, and what it has cost them. “I know one guy who is married to a Jewish woman and they live in the United States. When his sister died, he came to the funeral and was told, ‘You can’t be here.’ He was sent away, not physically, not with violence, but he was sent away.”

Cases of Druze men having non-Druze girlfriends or marrying outside the faith are reportedly more common than similar instances involving Druze women, who may risk their lives by becoming involved with outsiders, but it is hard to put a figure on the phenomenon.

A scene from the film 'Arabani'

A scene from the film 'Arabani' Photo by Amit Berlovetz

According to Prof. Naomi Weiner-Levy, a social psychologist from Jerusalem's David Yellin College of Education, 10 years ago there were around 400 cases of Druze men intermarrying, and four known cases involving Druze women. Of these, three were murdered, she says. Today, there is a Druze woman who is rumored to be married to a West Bank Muslim, while another is thought to be living in another country, adds Weiner-Levy.

In legal terms, women enjoy rights and status that are basically equal to those of men in Druze society, but in practice it is more lenient with men, Aduan says. Men, for example, could possibly return to the community after marriage with a non-Druze woman, and remarry.

“Our society is usually very forgiving of men,” the filmmaker explains. “Like any typical – if we can call it that – patriarchal Arab society, we treat men differently to women. I don’t think a woman could come back (after marrying a non-Druze), even if she were to divorce.”

Still, Aduan, who describes himself as “a real believer” in the Druze faith, didn’t intend the film as a protest against its traditions, which he says are very important to him. He is married to a Druze woman, and spends half his week with his family in the Israeli Druze town of Daliat al-Carmel, outside Haifa, and the rest working in Tel Aviv. What he wanted to achieve with the film, he notes, was to open up Druze society to debate and self-criticism. But he also wanted to level criticism at Israeli society and its attitude toward the Druze, who have high rates of conscription to the Israeli army and are traditionally loyal to the state.

“Jewish Israelis don’t see us as Israeli,” says Aduan. “It saddens me. … The only thing [they] think about are stereotypes.”

A scene from the film 'Arabani'

A scene from the film 'Arabani' Photo by Amit Berlovetz

Amit Berlovetz