Covenant of blood

Israel's Zionist Druse are among those fighting on the front lines.

tough idf soldiers 88 (photo credit: )
tough idf soldiers 88
(photo credit: )
'I don't think there's a more Zionist home in this country," says Samir Muadi. On a cold, gray afternoon, he's sitting in the dim, high-ceilinged hall of the Galilee Druse village of Yirka, rising to meet the end less stream of visitors who come to pay their respects on the death of his son. Cpl. Yousef Muadi, 19, was killed with two other Golani Brigade soldiers on January 5 by "friendly fire" - a tank crew fired a shell at an abandoned house in the Jabalya refugee camp, not knowing that Muadi, Maj. Dagan Wartman, St.-Sgt. Nitai Stern and other soldiers were taking cover inside. "In the last moment of his life, he was a hero," said Samir, sniffling and smiling bravely. "Last night I got a call from his platoon leader, who's in the hospital, he was wounded badly. He told me that when the shell was fired, Yossi fell on top of him to protect him. The last thing Yossi told him was, 'I love you.' He said Yossi saved his life. " Samir, 51, who is agricultural coordinator for the Civil Administration in the West Bank, is himself a Golani veteran. "It seems that every year I was doing reserve duty in that hellhole named Gaza," he says. He had to pull strings to get his son into Golani, enlisting a Druse IDF colonel into the cause. "I told him that whatever he wanted to do, I would back him up, and Yossi didn't want paratroopers, tanks, nothing but Golani," says Samir. "He wanted to make a contribution to the country. He told me, 'You'll be proud of me yet.' When they were on the bus going into Gaza, he called me. He said, 'If we don't do it, who will?'" The immediate family now lives in Haifa, but for centuries the seat of the Muadi extended family, one of the Druse community's largest, has been in Yirka. The ornate stone house where mourners are visiting is some 350 years old, says Wahid Muadi, Samir's brother. Over time, smaller homes have been built nearby; in all, seven Muadi families live in the compound. Driving up and down the old stone lanes and squares of Yirka, Peki'in and other Druse villages, seeing the solid old houses that have grown massive over the generations to accommodate the expanding extended families inside, you get the sense of a very close, traditional, proud community with very deep roots. "We played a large part in the creation of the State of Israel," says Wahid, the family historian. The walls of the hall are lined with framed photos of white-bearded sheikhs and of historic moments in Israeli Druse history. "That's our grandfather, Sheikh Sa'id Muadi, signing an agreement with [Labor Zionist leader] David Hacohen in 1929," says Wahid, adding that this marked the beginning of Druse cooperation with the Jews against the Arab majority. "We did it out of fear - we were a small minority surrounded by the Arabs," he says. Another photo shows his grandfather signing an agreement with Haifa Labor Party leader Abba Khoushy in 1936, at the start of the Arab Revolt. "Abba Khoushy brought 400 people from Hashomer Hatza'ir down here. My grandfather slaughtered 42 sheep for the occasion." There are photos of Jabbar Muadi, a Knesset member from the 1950s through the 1980s, and of David Ben-Gurion sitting with family elders. A display case features family heirlooms such as Druse ornamental swords, a bust of Ben-Gurion, a telegram from Yitzhak Rabin and a proclamation from Ottoman Pasha Abdallah granting tax-collection authority to the Muadi family in 1827. "It's no surprise my nephew died like he did," says Wahid. "He comes from a family of heroes." AS A Druse, Yousef Muadi was ethnically an Arab whose religion was a variant of Islam. But nationally, he was an Israeli. His father refers to him as "Yossi." He was a member of an ethnic group that, as a whole, has sacrificed for the Jewish state, for the Zionist cause, out of all proportion to its numbers. The country's 100,000 Druse (not counting the 20,000 in the Golan Heights, who are loyal to Syria) are disproportionately represented in combat units, in the IDF professional ranks, in the Israel Police - on the country's front lines. It was once said of Ariel Sharon that his definition of "who is a Jew" included "anyone who was in the Golani Brigade," and although Yousef Muadi was not a Jew, he definitely was a Zionist. In Israel, Druse are considered sort of honorary Jews because in the national struggle between Jews and Arabs, they're on the Jewish side. Their sons are subject to the compulsory military draft just like Jewish boys - the so-called "blood covenant" that the Druse community entered into in 1956. However, this identification with the Jewish state is by no means unanimous. An Israeli Druse historian (who did not want to be identified, partly because of the sensitivity of this subject during wartime) noted that it is not uncommon for Druse boys to refuse the draft and go to prison. Sa'id Nafa, a Druse MK with the Arab party Balad (which the Central Elections Committee just banned from the upcoming elections for its allegedly seditious ideology) said he was repeatedly imprisoned for refusing the draft. "So were my four sons," says Nafa, 55, adding that six draft-age youth from his town, Beit Jann, were recently arrested by military police for draft resistance. Disaffection with Israel and the IDF has been growing among young Druse over the last generation, and it is reflected in a growing number of draft resisters, say Nafa and the historian. Still, 83 percent of Druse boys continue to serve in the army, according to the IDF's statistics, so the resisters are far outnumbered. This is the result of a process of "Israelization" of the Druse community beginning in 1956 with the "blood covenant" and acceptance of compulsory military service, says the historian, who served in the IDF's "Druse unit," which still operates. However, he disputes the "official" Israeli history, seconded by Druse leaders, that this covenant represented the will of the community at the time. "There's history and there's mythology," he said, citing government archives from that era that tell a story of "manipulation" by government, army and some Druse leaders to give a false impression of assent to the military draft in the face of evidence of widespread opposition. The main reason, he insists, the Druse gradually embraced the idea of military service and ideological assimilation into the Zionist consensus was not ideological, but economic. "Jobs are the key," he says, noting that 33% to 40% of Druse are professional soldiers, police and other types of security officials. And this disproportionate presence has naturally had a heavy influence on the community's national identity. "When you earn your bread from the state, you support the state," he notes. Over time, however, Druse, on the whole, have sincerely come to identify with the State of Israel and its Jewish majority, and to see themselves in conflict with the mainstream of Israeli Arabs. "Living in Israel, you can't be neutral between the Jews and the Arabs," the historian points out. "The Druse are affected by the political atmosphere just like everyone else." Yet the cracks that have always been there under the surface of the community consensus are widening, partly because more Druse are venturing beyond the village, going to university and hearing challenges to the history they've grown up with, and partly because the general socioeconomic status of the Druse - including the level of government services in the villages - remains far below that of the Jewish majority. "More and more people are coming to the conclusion that they're taking equal responsibility as citizens of Israel, but not getting equal rights," said Nafa. THERE'S NO trace of such sentiment, however, in the old center of Peki'in, a major attraction for families taking weekend drives through the Galilee. Druse women sit by the tabun ovens flipping gigantic pitot, the restaurants fill the tables with the best humous, labaneh and other salads. In front of the restaurants fly the five-color Druse flag, the flag of the IDF Druse unit, the Israeli flag and the American flag. At the door of Salah and Nazha Zin al-Din's restaurant hangs a signed photo of Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of General Staff. "We get a lot of soldiers here. But we don't get many Israeli tourists these days because of the war. They're afraid to come to the North," says Nazha, noting that during the Second Lebanon War, Peki'in was hit by more than 120 Hizbullah rockets. "A lot of Israelis think we Druse are Arabs, but we're not Arabs. We split off from Muslims a long time ago," she continues. "All our sons go into the army; there's no such thing as a Druse boy who doesn't go into the army. My father is a disabled IDF veteran." Pointing to the tree in the courtyard, she notes that it is featured on the NIS 100 bill. She explains the colors on the Druse flag: "Red is for the heart, for love; yellow is for the sun and the wheat; blue is for the sea and the sky; white is for purity; and green is for nature." This is the flag, she says, of all native Druse communities. There are as many as a million Druse in the Middle East - in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and a tiny community in Jordan. "The Druse don't have their own country," says Nazha, "but we have our flag." Outside the Muadi family house in Yirka, three young men are coming to pay their respects. Two say they are Yousef's cousins, one is a friend but describes himself as Yousef's "brother." One of the cousins is an IDF officer, another a combat soldier, another soon to be drafted. "He loved extreme challenges," says one of the cousins. "In the ocean, in the mountains. He stood up to danger like a man." Yousef's father agrees: "He wasn't afraid of anything." His uncle, Wahid, a tall, grave-expressioned man, says, "He was like my own son. I'll never forget when the platoon commander told me how Yossi saved his life. I've never felt anything so strong in my life. I'm very sad about what happened. But I'm also very, very proud of him."