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(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
President Shimon Peres was declared an honorary Druse on Sunday by Sheikh Kamil Tariff. The sheikh, together with another member of a large delegation of the Druse religious, judicial and secular leadership, dressed a beaming Peres in a long, black gold embroidered Druse robe, traditionally worn for festive occasions, during a thoroughly good-natured visit to Beit Hanassi.
As Peres entered the reception hall where the delegation was waiting, Kamil Mansour, the legendary adviser on Druse and other minority affairs to every president of Israel from president Shazar onwards, announced in Arabic, "All rise for the Rais!"
Sheikh Muafak Tariff, the senior leader of the approximately 100,000-strong Druse community in Israel, walked Peres from row to row, introducing him to each and every member of the delegation, many of whom exchanged cameras or sophisticated cell phones with each other to capture the handshakes for posterity. Later they excitedly viewed the frames, thrilled that they had instant evidence of the meeting to take home with them.
Sheikh Muafak Tariff told Peres that the delegation had come to pay tribute to Israel's Number One citizen, "because we love you very much."
Commending Peres for maintaining the policies of David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, Tariff declared that no one had done more towards advancing peace than the new president. "He is a man of peace and vision," he said, praising Peres for working toward reconciliation between Jews and Arabs and branding him "a symbol of coexistence, peace and love."
Tariff recalled how close Peres had been to the veteran Druse leader, the late Amin Tariff, and the deep respect that the latter had for Peres. There was "true friendship" between Peres and the Druse community, he said, noting that Peres was the first prime minister to appoint a Druse deputy minister - Salah Tarif - who later rose to become minister. Salah Tarif was present with the delegation.
Nabiah Nasser A-Din, the chairman of the Druse-Circassian Forum, said that he had been honored to host Peres in his home, and now he was again honored to be able to greet Peres at Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem, the capital.
Peres responded that he was pleased that his first meeting with a representative group was with the Druse community. He said he would never forget the wisdom or charismatic leadership of Amin Tariff. "He was not just a great Druse leader, but one of the great leaders of Israel,' said the president.
Though admiring of the manner in which the Druse and Circassians, both relatively small communities, have maintained their traditions, Peres stated that color and ethnic differences between people are becoming unimportant. "As a Jew, I am very proud to say that God created all people in His image - and there's only one God," he said.
Commending the Druse for fighting shoulder to shoulder with Israel in the nation's wars, Peres called for a similar shoulder-to-shoulder battle for peace.