'Druse-Jewish Covenant of Blood still strong, but inequality could threaten coexistence'

Most young members of community serve in the army, but return to villages with limited housing and employment opportunities, founder of Druse Zionist movement tells ‘Post.’

By DAVID ADLER
September 24, 2015 07:01
Israeli Druse

YUSUF NASR AL-DIN (left) speaks with Arieh Dulzin, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, in 1975.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The “Covenant of Blood” between Israeli Jews and Druse remains strong, but a lack of equality threatens to undermine the coexistence of the two communities in Israel, according to the founder of the Druse Zionist Movement.

“We’re not asking for privileges, we just want to be equal [to Jews]. We want the same infrastructure in Daliat al-Carmel as in Zichron Ya’acov, and we will struggle in a democratic way to change this,” Yusuf Nasr al-Din told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

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The “Covenant of Blood” refers to the 1957 agreement whereby Druse men are obligate to serve in the IDF.

The 72-year-old father of four says the Druse Zionist Movement was founded in 1975 by the World Zionist Organization, partly as an answer to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted the same year. Approved by a vote of 72 to 35, the resolution declared that Zionism is a form of racism.

The organization works closely with the WZO to this day.

Nasr al-Din said the movement works to enhance coexistence between Jews and Druse in Israel, and to help young Druse with their IDF enlistment.

In the past year the Israeli Druse were repeatedly in the news, with the question of their place in the Jewish state at the center of the discussion.



The issue came to the forefront after a series of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks, in which Druse were victims of Palestinian attackers, or were wounded as they rushed into the fray to save Israeli civilians.

Most notably, during a deadly attack on a synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof, two Arab terrorists stabbed and shot four worshipers to death and critically wounded Druse policeman Zidan Saif, who later died of his wounds. Saif’s heroism inspired many Israelis.

Just a few days after this attack, the government moved to approve a proposed basic law to define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Following the announcement, Murad Saif, Zidan’s brother, said he would encourage Druse youths not to enlist in the army.

To Nasr al-Din, the legislation isn’t a reason for Druse to scuttle their pact with the State of Israel.

“Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and that combination is important. If they removed the democracy and it was purely run by Jewish law, this would be unacceptable. If it was no longer Jewish and became a country of all its citizens, then the Arabs would be the majority and elect an Arab prime minister, God forbid,” he said.

Nasr al-Din described the state of affairs in Druse communities as more important than the Jewish state law. To Din and many others, the substandard infrastructure and scant job opportunities in Druse communities are a far more pressing concern, and get to the very heart of the issue of equality between Jews and non-Jews in Israel.

“There also needs to be equality in infrastructure and employment. We lack development plans for our towns, and our villages are full of illegal construction because people don’t have another choice,” he said, adding that for the Druse, equality means “that the people of Daliat al-Carmel have the same conditions as people in [the nearby Jewish towns] Zichron Ya’acov and Yokne’am.”

He described young men who finish their army service and return to their villages, looking to get married and start a career, only to find that employment and housing options are limited. When they are able to find housing, the municipal services are usually a far cry from those in neighboring Jewish areas.

He also said many young people see their communities as having the same poverty and infrastructure problems as those of their Muslim peers, who don’t have to serve in the army, and they therefore can feel cheated.

“This is what a young man faces after getting out of the army, and it’s an uncomfortable situation.”

There are around 130,000 Druse in Israel, mainly in the North, including around 20,000 in four Golan Heights villages. The Golan Heights Druse have almost all refused Israeli citizenship and do not serve in the army, though around 83% of their counterparts in the rest of the country enlist, higher than the 75% of Jews. Druse leaders stress a sense of duty to the state, though at the same time, army service and enlistment in security branches such as the Prisons Service and the Border Police are dependable places of employment for Druse youth, who typically come from rather impoverished villages and towns.

The Druse of Israel have also been in the news due to the peril facing the Syrian Druse, including those near the Israeli border who are threatened by the Nusra Front and other Sunni jihadists. Israeli Druse have raised money to send to their brethren in Syria. They also called on the government to stop assisting wounded Syrians coming to the border for treatment, who many Druse accuse of being Sunni jihadists.

Tensions heightened on June 22 when a mob of Druse outside Golan Heights moshav Neveh Ativ attacked two Syrians brought into Israel for treatment, killing one.

Din, like other in the community, said the dangers facing the Druse in Syria “stir a lot emotions for Druse, especially the religious ones,” and compared the sect to being like Jews, in that anytime Druse meet, anywhere in the world, they feel kinship.

With the Druse Zionist Movement now in its 40th year, Din spoke of a community that is thriving in Israel, though one with very real concerns. He cited a recent survey that found that Druse are the happiest people in the country, with some 86% saying they are content. He said the situation is a positive one, but that it could change if the community’s quality of life complaints are not addressed.

“We know that Israel is the best country in the world to be Druse, but in order to preserve this happiness and coexistence, we need to deal with these problems.”

This article will appear as part of a special magazine created by The Jerusalem Post and The World Zionist Organization to commemorate the organization’s 37th Congress, which will take place in Jerusalem on October 20-22.

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