The anger of Israel’s 160,000-strong Druze community over the Nation-State Law should briefly give way to national unity and festivity as Israel celebrates independence, according to Druze honoree Col. (res.) Dr. Salman Zarka.
Zarka, the director of Ziv Medical Center in Safed and former commander of the IDF’s Golan Heights field hospital for casualties of the Syrian Civil War, will light one of 13 torches at the annual Independence Day ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl on Wednesday evening.
“For me, Independence Day is the festival of festivals,” Zarka told The Jerusalem Post. “After my community celebrated Ziyara, Jews celebrated Passover and Christians celebrated Easter, this is a festival for all of us. It’s not the time to deal with political and social divisions, but to celebrate. After this, there will be plenty of time to debate.”
Zarka said he was deeply moved as he received the news from Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev that he had been unanimously chosen by the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols to light a torch at the official ceremony.
The committee, Zarka said, cited his 25 year of military service; field hospitals established in the Golan Heights and at Gaza’s Erez Crossing under his command; his public service as head of Ziv Medical Center; and his role in advancing healthcare in the northern periphery.
“This year was not an easy one, particularly due to the Nation-State Law, but my message to the Druze population is that we are a special community which formed a connection with the Jewish people as early as the 1920s and 1930s, even before there was a State of Israel,” said Zarka, father to two sons currently serving in the IDF.
“We are part of the State of Israel, and we were part of the establishment of the State of Israel. All this journey that we’ve walked together is an important one. We are partners in building this land and, unfortunately, we too have bereaved families, wounded veterans and 400 slain soldiers.”
Recognized for his expertise in public health and military medicine, Zarka also serves as a lecturer at the University of Haifa and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Even if we currently feel negativity, we must not be angry. The Druze leadership must find the way to manage dialogue with the government so that things will work out,” Zarka said.
“I am optimistic that we will find the right way, whether it’s by correcting the Nation-State Law or by legislating a new law. The Druze community is not in conflict with the Jewish people or the State of Israel. We aren’t searching for a country, but just civil equality.”
Zarka also paid tribute to all those who contributed and donated to nearly six years of humanitarian assistance granted by the IDF Medical Corps and northern hospitals to wounded Syrians.
He said that he was particularly moved to meet fellow Independence Day honoree Morris Kahn, who partnered with the Genesis Prize Foundation in 2017 to donate a six-figure sum to Ziv Medical Center for treating hearing loss among Syrian children.
“I am excited for Morris Kahn to light a torch. All those selected deserve a lot of praise,” Zarka said.