Police grill Druse leaders over illegal trip to Syria

Around three dozen Druse protest outside police station; leaders say it's their right to maintain ties with Syrian co-religionists.

said nafa 224.88 (photo credit: Knesset Web site)
said nafa 224.88
(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
Five Druse spiritual leaders found themselves in an unaccustomed position on Wednesday - facing police interrogators under suspicion that they illegally visited an enemy state earlier this year. Those questioned at the International and Serious Crimes Unit's Petah Tikva headquarters included Sheikh Ali Muwadi, chairman of the Druse Coordinating Committee, which seeks to maintain relations with their Syrian coreligionists. Around three dozen Druse protested outside the police station, marching with multi-colored Druse flags and led by MK Said Nafa (Balad). Nafa led the delegation of around 300 Druse religious and community leaders on a visit to Syria in early September. At the time, Nafa and the Druse leaders submitted the required request to the Interior Ministry to allow the entry of Israeli citizens to an enemy state. But when Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) denied permission, the group vowed to make the trip anyway. The delegation visited Druse holy sites in Syria, including the grave of one of the faith's major prophets. Nafa also met with Syrian Vice President Farouk a-Shara, as well as with at least one other member of the Syrian government. Druse leaders argue that it is their right to maintain relations with their Syrian coreligionists, as well as with those in Lebanon. But when a petition was submitted to the High Court of Justice to permit a similar visit, the court ruled that security considerations outweighed the Druse right to make pilgrimage to holy sites in Syria and Lebanon. The September visit aroused controversy within the Druse community, as many leaders distanced themselves from and even condemned Nafa's trip. Deputy Knesset Chairman Majallie Whbee (Kadima), a Druse, said the visit "represents only the extremist margin groups and not the mainstream Druse population of Israel" and called on the government to "halt subversive actions perpetrated under the auspices of Balad and its leaders." Nafa has sworn that he will continue to visit Syria, and that if he is indicted for the visits, he will waive his parliamentary immunity in order to stand trial. His fellow party member, former MK Azmi Bishara, who is not Druse, fled Israel last March rather than face an indictment following an police probe into his relations with Syria, Lebanon and Hizbullah.