Druze community of Israel to President Peres: Help our brethren in Syria

Group asks president to provide a haven in Israel.

Peres meets Druze Golan community (photo credit: GPO)
Peres meets Druze Golan community
(photo credit: GPO)
Members of the Druse community are increasingly concerned about their brethren in Syria, Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif told President Shimon Peres on Sunday.
In June this year, Druse leaders, following a meeting on the Golan Heights, sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with the request that their co-religionists in Syria be given a haven in Israel, especially those who as students left the Golan Heights to continue their studies in Syria.
Peres visited Tarif – the community’s spiritual leader – in his home in the village of Julis on Sunday to convey greetings on the festival of Id al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).
He was greeted not only by Tarif but by the whole Druse leadership and many admirers of lesser rank.
Nearly all the presidents of Israel have had a Druse, Kamal Mansour, advising them on his own community and other minorities, but Peres is the first to appoint a Druse, Brig.-Gen. Hasson Hasson, to be his military aide.
Kamal Mansour, who was awarded the Israel Prize in 2010, is the son of Sheikh Najeeb Mansour, who was the mayor of Usfiya during the British Mandate period and in the early years of Israeli statehood, and who even prior to the Declaration of Independence exhorted the Druse to align themselves with the Zionist state-in-the-making.
Druse soldiers have distinguished themselves in the IDF, Druse have been members of Israel’s diplomatic corps and Druse legislators have served in the Knesset.
Three of the most prominent were Ayoub Kara (Likud), a former deputy minister for regional development; Saleh Tarif Labor, a former minister without portfolio; and Mahali Wahabi, who, as a member of Kadima, served as deputy foreign minister and deputy speaker of the Knesset.
During president Moshe Katsav’s leave of absence, Wahabi was briefly acting president of the state, because speaker Dalia Itzik was abroad. By law, the Knesset speaker fills in for the president during absences or inability to perform his duties. Wahabi was the first non-Jew to serve as acting president.
Kara has often claimed to be more Zionist than most Jews and has even taken on the responsibility of arranging for Jewish ritual items to be delivered to Jews in Arab lands.
Sheikh Amin Tarif, the grandfather of Muwafaq Tarif, who inherited the mantle of leadership from him, was the religious leader of the Druse community for more than 60 years, until the time of his death in October 1993. In 1990 he was awarded the Israel Prize for his special contribution to society and the state. The Tarif family has led the Druse for almost four centuries.
Muwafaq Tarif, who was born in Gaza, has a law degree from a Lebanese university.
In 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Haifa, in recognition of his encouraging Druse youngsters to serve in the IDF and to subsequently continue their studies at Israel’s institutes of higher learning. He has also worked tirelessly toward achieving equal opportunities in all fields for his people.
Peres was received in the traditional Druse manner – with a drumroll. He visited the tomb of Amin Tarif, which has become a place of pilgrimage for Druse from Syria and Lebanon as well as for Israeli Druse.
Peres addressed the gathering and spoke of the manifold contributions of members of the Druse community to society and to the country’s development and security.
“The Druse community has set an illustrious example for Israeli society in demonstrating how to preserve their own heritage and traditions while simultaneously entering into a new world,” Peres stated.
The Druse community is a pioneering community, Peres continued, adding that he was certain that it could achieve breakthroughs in every field of science and technology.
“I know the capabilities of the Druse, and I promise that what you hear today as part of a vision will become a reality in a very short space of time,” said Peres.
Muwafaq Tarif declared that many historic events cementing the relationship between the Druse community and the State of Israel had emanated from the site on which they were standing.
The community continued to be guided by the standards and values of Amin Tarif, he said, and its unshakable and eternal priority was its relationship and its duty to the State of Israel.
“We have great confidence in the State of Israel and we hope that peace will come because we need quiet in the region,” said the sheikh.
Peres said that he could certainly empathize with their concerns, and that the dismantling of Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons was paramount.
Israel has no desire see the Arab world suffer, said Peres.
“We do not want to see children in coffins and millions of hapless, innocent refugees.”