Opinion |

Israeli Druze in the Line of Fire

When populist MKs go up to the Temple Mount and provoke the Muslim world, they know who will pay the price: the weaker elements of society, many of whom are Druze

Salim Brake
Salim Brake
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Slain police officers Kamil Shanan (left) and Hael Sathawi.
Slain police officers Kamil Shanan (left) and Hael Sathawi. Credit: Israel Police
Salim Brake
Salim Brake

It’s hard to ignore that Border Policeman Hael Satawi and policeman Kamil Shanan, who were killed in Jerusalem on the Friday before last, were Druze. They aren’t the first to pay with their lives for the “blood alliance,” and they won’t be the last.

This alliance originated as a result of tensions between the Druze and their Muslim and Christian neighbors in Shfaram and on Mount Carmel, and developed with the dispatch of the Arab Liberation Army to Israel in 1948. After the establishment of the state, the Druze served in the Israel Defense Forces and in 1956 compulsory service was imposed on them. However, it was this special status and government support for the traditional institutions that administer Druze affairs that created a weak leadership, which fears for its status and avoids fighting the systematic discrimination in all areas of life.

In the army, the attitude towards the Druze for years was “respect him and suspect him.” Only during Yitzhak Rabin’s government was there relative acceptance, and Druze reached high ranks in the army. In the early 2000s a Druze reached the rank of major general, a Druze was appointed commander of the Border Police, and a year ago a Druze was appointed IDF chief medical officer. Nevertheless, most of the Druze still serve in the low and dangerous ranks in the security forces.

Thus it is not surprising that in the past two years, four Druze policemen were killed in Jerusalem and many were wounded. Numerous Border Police officers stationed in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount, are Druze. There are also others, mostly from the Jewish lower classes, but the status of the Druze is particularly problematic, because whenever they opposed the government’s offensive policies, they were treated harshly, like the other Palestinians in Israel. This was seen, for example, in the flare-up in Peki’in a decade ago, which was violently suppressed and led to a Jewish boycott of businesses in the community. The cliched mantra “blood alliance” doesn’t compensate for that.

Ten years ago a Druze leader asked me to conduct a study of suicide among Druze in Israel. The study revealed that the suicide rate in the population is much higher than the national average. Most of those committing suicide were young men, and about a quarter of them were soldiers and policemen. The leadership shelved the findings in order to placate the defense establishment, which prevented any possibility of dealing with the matter.

The Druze communities are in the four lowest clusters on the socioeconomic scale, and some of the suicides were the result of serious economic distress. A genuine leadership would not have silenced the results of the study at the time, and would be protesting now that the percentage of Druze among the victims in Jerusalem is far greater than their percentage in the population.

When populist MKs go up to the Temple Mount and provoke the Muslim world, they know who will pay the price: the weaker elements of society, many of whom are Druze.

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