Israel Must Help Syria's Druze

Israel must furnish humanitarian donations, medical treatment to Druze surrounded in Syria - and even temporarily absorb Druze, Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

Haaretz Editorial
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Members of the Druze community of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights wave their community's flag during a demonstration in the Druze village of Majdal Shams on June 15, 2015.
Members of the Druze community of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights wave their community's flag during a demonstration in the Druze village of Majdal Shams on June 15, 2015.Credit: AFP
Haaretz Editorial

Syria’s crumbling in the last four years has presented Israel with several problems. In recent weeks the danger to the Druze community has been bubbling in this explosive cauldron. The fear for the fate of tens of thousands of Druze Syrian citizens forces Israel to make complex decisions in an uncertain environment subject to rapid changes.

Israel, which prides itself on being Jewish and democratic, has granted its Druze citizens a status of almost-Jews. After decades of blatant discrimination, among other things in security and defense organizations, the obstacles were removed and capable Druze officers in the Israel Defense Forces, police and prison service have been promoted to senior positions and high ranks. Many of them found a calling and a livelihood in the various branches of the security forces.

Recently Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot even dared to reexamine the benefit of maintaining a separate Druze regiment and decide to dismantle it and disperse its soldiers in the various army units.

When Israel enforced its rule and administration on the Golan Heights, it forced the area’s Druze residents, who were Syrian nationals, to take on Israeli citizenship. This move agitated the community, and while the external displays of that may have faded, the after effects are still apparent. A few months after the Golan’s de facto annexation Israel invaded Lebanon, aided by their allies, the Maronite Christian Phalangists, who clashed with Lebanon's Druze led by the Jumblatt family. Druze officers in the IDF protested and threatened that if Israel failed to retaliate against the Phalangists, they would do so themselves.

That chapter accounts for Israel’s hesitation to act, in view of the reports that the Druze in Syria are facing a massacre. So far Eizenkot’s prudent line seems to be guiding Israeli policy.

This policy consists of wariness toward military intervention, coupled with encouraging other countries (the United States and Jordan) to bear the brunt of the burden. At the same time, Israel is preparing for some kind of intervention, in case that is needed in order to save the Druze from being massacred.

Israel cannot stand by and ignore this human tragedy. Not only states in the region like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are taking in huge numbers of refugees – so are European states. Israel must help, with humanitarian donations, medical treatment and even with temporary, controlled absorption of Druze, Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Such assistance won’t turn Israel into a partner in the war and won’t set a precedent. After all, Israel has already taken in persecuted people from various states. At the same time, this will remind the world of Israel’s basic values.

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