The Druze are part of the religious/ethnic/cultural mosaic that makes the Middle East a fascinating and dangerous place.
There ought to be a sign wherever outsiders may enter the region.
One line should read, Enter at your risk.
Another line should read, Enter at our risk.
Several American Presidents have done their part to make things worse, while intent on making them better.
A chronology would begin with Jimmy Carter, who acted as if the Mullah exiled to France would be better than the harsh Shah.
Ronald Reagan did a lot to create the current mess by recruiting Islamists to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.
George W. Bush destroyed a prominent element of stability--admittedly cruel--by taking down Saddam Hussein, and with him his army and administrative cadres.
Barack Obama expressed as well as any of them the innocence of America by that speech in Cairo, working to undermine a moderate (by Middle East standards) regime in Egypt, accepting the nonsense of the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian national aspirations, and the notion that Khomeine's successors could be decent and trustworthy.
The Druze are a small part of the Middle East, but illustrate that the path to survival is to go along with the bigger parts, and not make waves.
It is wisdom that escapes Americans' certainty that they know how to run things east of Cape Cod or west of San Francisco.
Druze history and actions complicate any intellectual's efforts to classify the community as religious, cultural, and/or ethnic. See this.
Their religion is kept to themselves, said to be comprised of secrets revealed in stages to selected men of the community as they grow older.
They may have departed from Islam sometime in the early Middle Ages. Their mother tongue is Arabic. The Druze of Israel are also fluent in Hebrew.
They are strongly self contained. A Druze once expressed to me this clearly and simply, "No one enters. No one leaves."
Every once in a while we hear of one leaving to join a non-Druze family, but the cases are rare, and may not resemble anything close to the minimal pressures surrounding Jews who do what Jews have done, at least since the time of Ezra.
There are perhaps 1.5 million Druze, located principally in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. About half of the community have lived in Syria, but the collapse of that country and resulting problems for the Druze provokes this note and may change the distribution of the community.
The Druze act as a classic minority, seeing their security in being loyal to the regime where they live.
Druze men leave their villages for higher education, and have reached significant positions in Israeli politics, military, media, and other institutions. Early in Israel's history, Druze leaders volunteered their young men to be drafted into the IDF. There are units made up exclusively of Druze, but individuals have entered other units, and have reached senior ranks in the officer corps. Druze women do not serve in the IDF, and are more likely than men to remain in their villages, to concentrate on making more Druze.
The Druze of the Golan reflect the tensions in a minority committed to national loyalty. For the most part, the Golan Druze have not accepted the Israeli citizenship offered to them when the area was taken in the Six Day War. Most have remained quiescent. Some have been outspoken in their assertions of loyalty to Syria. Individuals have studied in Israeli or Syrian universities. Families on the Israeli part of the Golan have sent young people to Syria for the sake of marriage. The Syrian Bride is an Israeli film worth watching for what it teaches along with a good story.
It is conventional for Israeli Jews and Druze to speak of their mutual bond and bloodshed. Various reports of Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics separate data of the Druze from that of other Arabs. Druze may have done better in the society than those identified as Arab or (another subgroup that may claim ethnic status) Bedouin. Druze community leaders often assert that they have not done well enough, especially given the community's contribution to national defense.
Currently the issue is front and center, due to the unsettled status of the Druze of Syria, or what used to be Syria.
The status of what may have been 750,000 Druze in several Syrian regions is as dicey as anyone's where the most barbaric of Islamists take pride in massacring Christians and other non-Muslim minorities, or the wrong kind of Muslims.
In recent days, unrest has increased near Syrian Druze settlements close the Israeli border on the Golan, and Israeli Druze have been vocal in demanding assistance for their Syrian compatriots.
For their part, Israeli officials (political and military) have spoken clearly in the region's style of muddle.
They have said
- Israel will not allow the slaughter of Syrian Druze
- Israel will not open its borders to Syrian refugees
- The IDF will not operate in Syria or take sides in the Syrian civil war.
Those anxious to square the circle should begin with Druze military acumen. They are not a passive community, content to accept whatever those with greater power wish to impose upon them. Various sides in Lebanon have dealt cautiously with the Druze in the rounds of bloodshed involving different clusters of Christians and Muslims. The Assad regime (based upon an Alawi minority on the fringes of Islam) also governed in a way to respect considerable autonomy for Druze and other minorities, and to protect them from occasional rampages by Muslims.
Among the possibilities consistent with this picture is Israeli supply of munitions to Syrian Druze, and provision of air and/or artillery bombardments meant to protect Druze villages, and Druze refugees who have fled areas of combat.
Israeli warnings to the various groups fighting in Syria to "leave the Druze alone" may carry some weight.
Israel may encourage Druze refugees to congregate near the Israeli border on the Golan, where they can be provided with military and humanitarian support, and with medical treatment available in Israeli facilities,
Israelis see the Druze of Syria as generally loyal to the Assad regime, and do not welcome the prospect of Arabic speaking anti-Zionists flowing across the border.
Given the political weight of Israeli Druze, however, and despite comments by officials to the contrary, the border may open to allow at least the temporary entry of Syrian Druze to Israel.
In the uncertainties of this region, we may understand the big picture but not all of the details. It may take a while (days, hours or minutes) to hear about what has been happening.
It has been said many times, in the direction of Americans who seek to lead civilization, that the Middle East is not the Middle West.