Another Tack: The price of losing control

It's self-deceiving to expect that Israeli leniency toward unbridled provocations by its Arab citizens won't affect local Druse

The Galilee village of Peki'in lays claim to unique distinction in Jewish annals. It's home to Jewish farmers who never left this land and never went into exile. Peki'in was founded by Jews who escaped Jerusalem after the Second Temple's destruction in 70 CE, and their descendants stayed there almost without lapse - except between 1936 and 1948. While they somehow avoided massacre or banishment by a host of callous conquerors, Peki'in's Jews were driven out by a gang of Druse collaborators in the riots instigated by infamous neo-Nazi mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini (with Third Reich funding). The Druse - who today comprise Peki'in's majority and are relative latecomers who only settled there in the 18th century - managed to oust native Jews with nearly two-millennia-deep roots, including Margalit Zinati, last scion of Peki'in's oldest continuously-resident Jewish family. In 1936 Peki'in was rendered judenrein, as other localities were in previous riots (most Jews were forced from Jaffa in 1921, as they were in 1929 from ethnically-cleansed Hebron, Gaza, Acre and many others). After Peki'in found itself within the boundaries of the renascent Jewish state, expelled Jews came back to a new adjacent development called New Peki'in, but Zinati dared return to the winding alleys of Old Peki'in. She lives next to the ancient synagogue, and tenaciously safeguards its key. Soon octogenarian Zinati may be the only Jew allowed to dwell there. The home of Orit and Aviv Seigelman was burned to cinders by fellow townsmen, and all other Jewish homes were ransacked beyond recognition during the recent October 30 riots. These were sparked, according to popular myth, by angst over a cellphone antenna hoisted atop a New Peki'in chicken coop. The entire poultry operation was promptly and thoroughly wrecked. Old Peki'in's eight Jewish families fled for their lives, and were advised by police to keep away. Only Zinati was allowed to remain; her renown bestows immunity, and her advanced age renders her harmless. THOUGH ANTENNAS served as pretexts for severe disturbances in other Druse townships (Usfiya, Mughar and Bukata to name but a few), Zinati knows the rampages weren't about them: "Youths here converted to extremist Arab nationalism - we assumed only a few dozen. The riots showed that they number many hundreds. They've been terrorizing us for years, torching Jewish and Christian-owned cars and vandalizing whatever they can. The police did nothing. At most they wrote our complaints down. Absolute helplessness! Lately, ever since Ramadan, it became insufferable. Peki'in seethes with incitement. They lobbed hand grenades at our homes. There was no alternative to police intervention." That belated and bungled police response encountered a violent, pretriggered ambush. Large bands of masked, club-wielding, rifle-toting, grenade-tossing thugs roamed menacingly and smashed whatever they targeted. They attempted to pull wounded cops out of ambulances, and inflicted merciless punishment on rescue vehicles and paramedics. They waylaid a 19-year-old policewoman, dragged her through the streets, kicked all parts of her body and repeatedly tried to stab her. She was saved only by her protective gear (which was nevertheless gashed and perforated), and by the courage of a retired Peki'in officer who shielded her. She was held captive, and released only as part of a swap in which law-enforcers let loose the hooligans they had come to arrest. Thereby our constabulary set a new precedent certain to encourage future rioters to nab hostages. SUBSEQUENTLY Druse elders, Arab politicians and tendentious journalists fulminated with outrage at the police "invasion" and defensive gunfire. Their inevitable mantra was that the officers violated the "blood bond" between Jews and Druse, who indeed dutifully and bravely serve in our armed forces. But does such service confer license to misbehave? Evidently. Druse shenanigans - from illegal hunting and forest despoilment and all the way to brutal onslaughts - are forgiven. The 2005 outright attack on the Christians of Mughar is a case in point. It started with a perceived Internet insult by a Christian schoolboy against his Druse classmate. At the end Mughar's entire Christian section was reduced to charred ruin. Its inhabitants charged (as do Negev Jews regarding Beduin outlaws) that the police was loath to move against Druse marauders owing to that sacred "blood bond." Throughout decades of on-and-off contacts with this country's Jews, as early as 1930, the Druse never shied from bluntly demanding reward for cooperation. Relations waned and waxed according to whichever side - Arabs or Jews - appeared to gain advantage. On the eve of the War of Independence, when the newborn Jewish state seemed sure to be vanquished, many Druse cast their lot with and participated in Arab attacks. A Druse regiment was beaten back at dreadful cost in Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan on April 1948. Realizing the Jews weren't pushovers, the Druse instantly switched allegiance. Golan Druse were initially chummy toward triumphant Israelis after the Six Day War. It took them a while to learn what saps these Jews are. The more Israelis began chattering about ceding the Golan, the more Druse affections chilled, until it became expedient to manifest bristling hostility. Should ruthless Syrian rule return, it's safer to get on Damascus's good side. Israelis in any case are ultra-liberal soft-touches. Minorities like the Druse develop acute senses to ensure their survival. The October 2000 "internal intifada" showed them that Israel was eager to kiss up to the very Arabs who rampaged, blockaded major roadways and beat up Jewish neighbors. The Druse aren't blind to the Israeli-Arab sector's brazen radicalization, explicit calls to divest Israel of its inherent Jewishness, illegal-yet-unpunished junkets to enemy states, unconcealed support for Hizbullah and Hamas and separatist aspirations by Arabs unabashedly inimical to the very state from which they demand full rights, benefits and perks. It's self-deceiving to expect that Israeli leniency toward unbridled provocations by its Arab citizens won't affect local Druse, who inexorably team up with whoever grows stronger and more threatening. In Peki'in Israel paid the price for losing control, for its seeming decline and weakening.