A Minority Within a Minority: Who Are Israel’s Druze Community?

Published July 18th, 2017 - 06:35 GMT
Mourners carry the coffin of Ha'il Satawi, an Israeli policeman from the Arab-Druze minority. (AFP)
Mourners carry the coffin of Ha'il Satawi, an Israeli policeman from the Arab-Druze minority. (AFP)
The recent killing of two Druze police officers by Palestinian gunmen in East Jerusalem's Old City - all Israeli citizens - has cast a spotlight on the minority community in Israel.

But who are the Druze? And where do they stand in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Minority within a minority

Most of the 120,000 Druze of Israel live in 22 villages in the north of the country and are a minority within a minority, forming just two percent of Israel's population.

Thought to originate from Lebanon, the community is unique in its self-identification and shares a complex relationship with Israel's state, society, and Palestine.

An Arabic-speaking community practicing an offshoot of Ismaili Islam, most Druze identify with the wider community in Lebanon and Syria, and some form of Arab nationalism.

In the region, Druze communities have historically allied with the state for protection, and the majority pledge loyalty to Israel. 

A minority, however, identify as Palestinians.

In 1956, Druze leaders signed a "covenant of blood" with the Israeli state, conscripting the community into Israel's army as the only non-Jewish minority serving.

A year later, in 1957, the Israeli government designated the Druze as a distinct ethnic community separate from Palestinian Christians and Muslims, who form the overwhelmingly majority of Israel's 20 percent non-Jewish demographic.

Around 80 percent of Druze men enlist in the Israeli army, a higher rate than Israeli Jews, although women are exempt. 

Until 2015, the Druze served in the Sword Battalion - a subgroup of the army reserved for non-Jewish minorities - but it was disbanded and integrated into the wider army.

Young Druze refuse army service

The only Arabic-speaking group in Israel's army, Druze soldiers and police often serve at military checkpoints and other points of contact, and friction, with Palestinians living under occupation, leading to widespread hostility among many Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In Israel, they often find it hard to find work in the Palestinian community due to their army service.

Yet despite the community's loyalty to the Israeli state, the Druze face widespread socio-economic discrimination, with many dependent on the army as a means of social mobility in a highly stratified ethno-religious hierarchy.

While a minority has always shunned military service, in recent years a growing number of young Druze have vocally refused to serve in Israel's army, choosing prison sentences instead.

In the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Druze identity is equally complex. When Israel annexed the territory in 1981, an overwhelming majority of the community refused Israeli citizenship, affiliating primarily with Syria.

While many of the 20,000-strong community here want to reunify with Syria, the onset of civil war in 2011 has pushed others towards the Israeli state.

Follow Charlie Hoyle on Twitter: @CharlieCHoyle


Copyright @ 2021 The New Arab.

You may also like