The Circassians Among Us

Regrettably I never had the opportunity to meet one of our Circassian citizens, the smallest of our minority population.

Their origins begin in the Caucasus mountain region and they were an integral part of the Czarist Russian empire. Many of the males served as soldiers in the Czar’s army while thousands of others served as guards and warriors in the Imperial palace.

They were originally a Christian people but converted to Sunni Islam in the seventeenth century. In the 1870’s the Ottoman Empire settled many Circassians in upper Galilee in mainly two villages that they still inhabit today. Kfar Kama, 13 miles southwest of Tiberias, was established in 1876 and Rehaniya, 9 miles north of Safed, was established in 1878.

Until 1918 at the end of the Ottoman empire the Circassion males served admirably in the Ottoman military forces and after the British Mandate of Palestine began, they were conscripted into the Mandatory police.

The Circassians had excellent relations with the pre-State Yishuv and later with the State of Israel.

During the thirty years of British mandatory rule in Palestine when fighting between Arabs and Jews became bitter and deadly, the Circassians took pro-Jewish stances. During the 1948 War of Independence the Circassians fought on the side of Israel.

Since 1958 all Circassian males must complete mandatory service in the IDF alongside Jewish and Druze soldiers. There was always complete equality for all soldiers in Israel’s military forces.

The Circassians proved to be among our outstanding soldiers. After completion of military service, many of them go on to serve in the Israel National Police Force, the Israel Border Police, and the Israel Prison Service and are renowned for their bravery and deep loyalty to Israel.

Their numbers are small…a total population of 4000… 3000 in Kfar Kama and 1000 in Rehaniya.

They are a well-educated people. 80% of the younger generation have earned post-secondary degrees and the percentage of adult males and females with post-secondary degrees is 49%.

The Circassians are loyal and devoted to Israel because there is a common history among us. Just as we were exiled and dispersed, so too the Circassians were uprooted and slaughtered during the 19th century Caucasian war. 1.5 million Circassians were slaughtered and 1 million more were deported from their homes. Most of the survivors re-built their lives in the Levant region of the Ottoman empire where they served valiantly as warriors and guards.

Their settlement in Palestine began only in the mid to late 1870’s and they live today in the original settlements which they had established then. They are a Hebrew speaking minority, as are the Druze, and are honored and esteemed by our military commanders who cite them for their bravery.

There are rumors that Netanyahu and his team may make certain adjustments to the hotly debated Nation-State law and it appears that it may be acceptable to the Druze. If the Knesset votes to accept the adjustments when they return in October from their recess, the changes will be more favorable to both the Druze and the Circassians, designating them as soldiers giving voluntary service to the state.

Hopefully it will put an end to claims of discrimination and will uphold the honor and esteem which we, the Jews of Israel, have for these two loyal minorities.

And maybe one day I will have the privilege of meeting a Circassian citizen of Israel face to face.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.