Try as he might, Muhana Fares, the head of the Druse Education Department at the
Ministry of Education, was unable to contain the grin of pride that radiated
across his face on Thursday.
There was something contagious about it, as
it was reflected in the faces of close to 300 other members of the Druse
community who had come from the North to Jerusalem for the launch at the
President’s Residence of the Technion Sparks (Nitzanei HaTechnion)
The project is the brainchild of the president’s military aide,
Brig.-Gen. Hasson Hasson, and is conducted under the auspices of the Prime
Minister’s Office, the Education Ministry, Haifa’s Technion- Israel Institute of
Technology and Atidim, an organization that promotes education and encourages
the pursuit of excellence. It currently enables 200 Druse high school students,
who have obtained top grades at school and who have an orientation toward
science and technology, to take special courses at the Technion where they are
exposed to academia, and stretch the limits of their potential in any scientific
or technological field.
Hasson is the first Druse to serve as a military
aide to a president of the state, though his father-in-law Kamal Mansour has for
more than four decades been the adviser on minorities to a series of presidents
from Zalman Shazar to Shimon Peres.
At the mention of Hasson’s name, the
crowd beamed and applauded.
Peres quipped that on military matters,
Hasson is his subordinate, but on civilian matters he is Hasson’s subordinate,
especially when it comes to education. “I’m a very good educational
aide-de-camp,” he said.
Peres paid tribute to Education Minister Gideon
Sa’ar who he said had succeeded in achieving the impossible. No one in Israel
seriously believed that anything could be done to improve standards of
education, said Peres, but Sa’ar had managed to persuade the OECD to get Israel
to commit itself to upgrading its education, and the outcome has been
Sa’ar said that there had been improvement across the board,
but no sector of the population had improved to the same extent as Druse
students, who appeared to be highly motivated. The project was directed not only
at Druse, but at gifted students in all peripheral communities, said Sa’ar,
adding that the intention was to keep broadening its scope. For instance in
February, 160 seventh-graders will join the program.
Sheikh Muafek Tarif,
the spiritual head of the Druse community, lauded both Peres and Sa’ar as being
men of great vision, as well as everyone else connected with bringing the
project to fruition and thereby opening new horizons for Druse students so that
they can attain higher education and enter into professions in which they can
make a worthwhile contribution to the state.
Within the Druse community,
he said, there was consensus among religious and secular factions that education
must be given the top priority.
He assured students that they would have
the full-hearted backing of the community.
Toward this end, an annual NIS
500,000 scholarship fund has been established to enable those students whose
families cannot afford higher education.
All that he asked of them in
return was to maintain Druse traditions and values that primarily consist of
helping the needy and bringing honor to the state.
There have been Druse
graduates from the Technion in the past, but not in great numbers.
Druse have made a tremendous contribution to national security said Sa’ar, “but
only 13 percent of them have university degrees. We have to change this
radically, and it can be done over a relatively short period.”
Technion alumni, Yarin Hadad, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and is
studying for a master’s degree in genetics, presented a brief paper on the
unique genetics of the Druse as compared with any other ethnic group. The Druse
marry only within the community, she said, and often marry blood
Samples taken from more than 300 people from 20 Druse villages
indicated strong DNA similarities, she said, adding that the social, historical
and demographic structure of the Druse was closely related to their
Six of the outstanding Druse high school students – Yaara Abu
Rokan, Saadi Kaid Ba, Issam Kis, Bashar Isami, Nasiv Ayd and Fadhi Badar –
shared their impressions of the project and talked about what it has given them.
Abu Rokan said that she had learned to understand herself better and to know
what she wants to do in life. “As a result of the Technion experience, we can
all affect change,” she said.
Kaid Ba saw the program as a great
breakthrough for the community. Kis, the son of a Technion graduate in
engineering, wants to be a pilot in the Israel Air Force and after that in civil
Isami wants to be an electrical engineer. Ayd has hopes of
becoming an astrophysicist, and Badar wants to be engaged in scientific
Some of the youngsters have siblings who have also been aided
by the Atidim program.
Peres was particularly pleased to welcome Tarif,
saying that his presence demonstrated that there was no conflict between
religion and science.
He was also pleased to see the large number of
females in the program and suggested to parents of daughters to take
Like Sa’ar, Peres commended the Druse contribution to national
security and said that they excel in everything they do. They have proved
themselves as excellent soldiers and farmers he said, and he had no doubt that
they would also prove to be excellent scientists.
Peres gently chided
Fares for several references to the wisdom of Solomon, who is as much revered by
the Druse as by the Jews, saying that the Druse had a much older point of
reference in that Jethro, one of their key prophets, “started the first faculty
for management, and his first student was Moses.”