Druze women find their voice

"Israel is my home. It’s where I was born and where I grew up. This is where I’ve dreamed my dreams and aspired for greatness."

(photo credit: EYAL MARGOLIN GINNY)
One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Sabeel Khatar stood on the stage in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv in front of thousands of people who’d gathered to protest Israel’s new Nation- State Law.
“We now see that women, too, can make their voices heard in a respectable fashion,” said Khatar. “We didn’t come to make compromises. We will not compromise on a law that is discriminatory.
We won’t give up on our desire to be an inseparable part of this country.
Israel is my home. It’s where I was born and where I grew up. This is where I’ve dreamed my dreams and aspired for greatness. Therefore, Mr. Prime Minister, I say to you: We will not let you destroy our dream and our future.
Our request is simple: Retract the nationality law.”
These are the words of Khatar, an Israeli Druze woman, spoken at the rally.
After the recent passage in the Knesset of the law, which anchors Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a large protest broke out in the Druze community. In the past few weeks, the voices of Druze men, many of whom served in senior IDF positions, have been heard in the media. Among the well-known figures who spoke at the rally were Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad; Druze community head, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif; former MK Shakib Shanan; and Jaber Habish, one of the founders of the tent protest in Rabin Square. But Khatar, 23, who was there to represent Druze women and youth, was one of the most outspoken voices at the rally.
“When the Nationality Law passed, I felt such humiliation,” said Khatar after the protest. “This law is extremely discriminatory, and if such a law can be passed, then this means we are in a very precarious situation.”
Until then, no Druze women or youths had spoken out publicly.
“Druze society highly respects its elders and trusts in their wisdom. We believe they are capable of representing the needs of the entire community.
But at the rally, the voice of women and young people was also heard, and this has only helped our cause. We’ve demonstrated that Druze youth can also be active in public affairs.”
Does the Druze community support women who speak out publicly? “We respect our community’s values and at the rally we demonstrated that Druze women are capable of speaking out in a respectable fashion.”
What kind of reactions did you receive following the rally? “It was all very positive. Some people – not necessarily from within the Druze community – didn’t agree with what I said at the rally, but for the most viewpoint of Druze women and youth.”
JUST HOURS after the rally, Khatar found herself overwhelmed with requests for interviews as the new voice of the Druze community. Khatar, who was born in the Druze village of Yarka, grew up with a stay-at-home mother and a father who is a businessman. She’s the firstborn and has one sister and two brothers. She studied at the local science high school and carried out her national service working with youth on social empowerment, education and leadership issues.
Afterwards, Khatar did an academic degree in sociology, anthropology and gender at Tel Aviv University and she currently leads workshops on the subjects of gender, leadership and multiculturalism.
“I grew up in family that highly values and respects others, no matter what their socioeconomic station is,” Khatar notes.
“Feminine empowerment was always present in my home. When I was young, I felt like I was equal to my brothers. I’ve also always felt very Israeli, and that the Druze community was an integral part of the state. My family was never connected with one political party or another. Only recently, when the Nation-State Law was passed, did I begin to become active politically.”
During her years at university, Khatar served as career counselor for Arab students at Tel Aviv University.
“If you look at the educated Arab population, you’ll see that there’s no correlation between their level of academic education and their integration into Israeli society,” says Khatar. “Despite the fact that most of us speak fluent Hebrew, language and cultural differences can form a difficult obstacle for integration.
Organizations’ policies can also be discriminatory and Israelis who don’t speak Hebrew as their mother tongue often run into difficulties integrating into the workforce. This phenomenon is even more exacerbated when it comes to looking for jobs in the periphery, since they are much more scarce than in central Israel. And it’s nearly impossible for Druze students to find jobs at large corporations despite the fact that they might be extremely qualified.”
Have you personally experienced discrimination? “I personally have not experienced discrimination.
I think the Druze community experiences fewer incidents than other minorities, such as the Muslim, Christian and Ethiopian communities, or refugees.
I may not experience discrimination as much since I’m Druze, but no one should be hurt by discrimination.
And I must say that many times when people find out that I’m Druze, they turn to me and say, ‘Oh, you don’t look Arab,’ which is terribly rude.
“It’s important for me that people understand that these identities are not mutually exclusive. In other words, I can be Arab and Druze and Israeli all at the same time. I believe in equality among communities and among men and women, as well. When I speak out against discrimination, it’s not just in the name of the Druze community, but also in the name of all minorities. I mentioned this a number of times in my speech at the rally.”
Do you think it’s possible that the law will be repealed? “I believe that there’s nothing in the world that cannot be changed. Nothing is absolute. There’s no way to know what will happen in the future regarding the Nation-State Law, but I do believe that after everything that’s taken place recently, and with the help from all our supporters who believe this law should be rescinded, something is bound to happen and will we succeed in bringing an end to racism and discrimination.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner