Josef Olmert

The Druze Crisis in Israel-Causes and Timing

The current crisis in Israel officially revolves around the ”Legal Reform” or the ”regime revolution ”, but in actual terms it is much more than that-it is a struggle, long overdue, over the core issue of the very identity of Israel. Put more bluntly, it is the struggle over what it is to be an Israeli, over the very essence of Israelism. It should come therefore as no surprise that a community of people who have defined itself for decades as Israeli takes part in it, adding an important dimension to the the overall situation-I refer to the Israeli Druze community, the only community of non -Jewish Israelis who is protesting now against what they see as an Israeli government attempt to change their status. Sadly, the Arab Israeli community of Muslims and Christians does not participate in the protest. It is sad because they do not want to take part in a protest whose most defining symbol is the flag of Israel, a protest which is at pains to display its patriotic character. Surely, Israeli Arabs have their grievances and expectations but these days, at least their leadership prefers to protest the situation with the Palestinians, not their particular status in Israel. Not so the Druze, and they tell us in the clearest possible way. The Israeli Druze community fights these days over its place under the Israeli sun, not the Palestinian. This is not a piece about the 1000 years history of the Druze people, nor about their religion, not about the connections between them and their brethren in Syria and Lebanon. All this is important, but not in this one.

What is important is to briefly explain the Druze concept of statehood , and here it is in sum-as minority they accept the need to be loyal to the state where they live in, but this is not a no question asked loyalty as it depends on a give and take relationship. We give loyalty and service, you accept our way of life and live with it even if it contradicts some of your laws and values. This description of Druze view may disappoint some, maybe many Israelis who like to think about the Druze role within Israeli society as being based on acceptance by them of the Zionist ethos of Israel, nor should it be like that. As one of my many Israeli Druze friends once told me; “we should not be Zionists or Palestinians, we should be loyal Israeli citizens.” Here is the concept in its entirety-let us be loyal and serve citizens in our way. And loyal AND SERVING they are and how. For the Druze community, the outstanding service of their sons in the IDF is the basis AND KEY to the entire relationship, and it is time after 75 years that the state of Israel understands, accepts and internalizes it. The Druze protest the wind mills in their villages in the Golan which they claim will infringe on their agricultural lands, but this is just the pretext. Beyond that they protest the lack of land and building permits in their villages in Galilee and the Carmel mountain, they protest the lack of employment opportunities in the villages for the soldiers when they finish their service, and they demand that the Kaminitz which imposes severe penalties on illegal construction will not apply to them. All these are the demands which are still secondary in importance to them. The one grievance which supersedes it all has to do with the NATIONALITY LAW. This law was greeted by them first and foremost as an insult, and in this society insults, surely what is conceived as communal are a cause for conflict. The insult was the sense of the Druze, that the law failed to acknowledge them as a community deserving special mention and attention in the law as part of the Israeli state. For many in the Western world all this may look unacceptable, perhaps a sharp contrast with basic Western concepts of citizenship , but this is the Middle East, and this is Israel, a state which is in desperate search for allies in an hostile environment. The Druze are allies, but they have felt that this alliance has been taken for granted by the Jewish majority, and for them it signaled an insult.

For years we have all the red lights from this community about a deepening sense of frustration and betrayal, and for years the establishment has ignored them. The genie is finally out of the bottle these days and for a reason. The Druze realize that the struggle in the streets is over the very fundamental issue of identity, and for them this IS THE problem. Violence is always not the right way to express political and societal grievances, but in Israel under Netanyahu and currently the likes of Ben Gvir and Smotrich violence, and threats of using it are becoming the order of the day. This is exactly what is happening with the hooligans who terrorize Palestinian villagers after Palestinian murderous attacks on Jews and then these Jewish avengers get the welcome encouragement from no other than the Minister of National Security. The Druze decided to send the strongest possible message to the Netanyahu government, in fact to Israeli society at large. The message is simple-we want to be Israelis, let us be, so talk to us. Listen to us and understand us.

The dialogue with them should not have come about under the shadow of threats and actual violence, but IF this is the only way for it to take place , then this in itself is a reflection of maybe the saddest reality of life in Israel these days-pressures work. Netanyahu suspends the works in the Golan, but he needs and quickly to move ahead with another step-change the NATIONALITY LAW.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina
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