Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Druze in Israel: Context

A paper issued by © ALISHA DELUTY AND KELLI ROSE, 2014 in their Druze Capstone Research Project  discusses


Following is a review of the context of the Druze community in Israel. A copy of the whole report can sent on request.

The type of state Israel is must first be reviewed in order to understand the level of social participation that the Druze have within Israel. The state of Israel is a parliamentary democracy where the government is formed based on an electoral process.25 According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, and considering the concept in its restricted political process sense, a parliamentary democracy is when the legislature, i.e., the parliament, chooses the government, which includes the prime minister and cabinet ministers. The cabinet ministers are decided based on a party, rather than a district, which receives the most votes in an election.26

This has also been referred to as a “procedural democracy,” in order to focus on process and structure rather than values and norms.27 The Israeli government is formed based on a multiparty system. There is free universal suffrage for all Israeli citizens over age eighteen. The Basic Laws of the state function as a collective constitutional corpus, outlining different functions of the Israeli government, including the roles of the president, the Knesset, the judiciary branch, the IDF, and the comptroller.28

Along with being a participatory parliamentary system procedurally open to all citizens, Israel can be characterized as an ideological state because it is a Jewish state with a Zionist ideology, as explained in the 1948 Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel.29 The Declaration notes that by law, all religious groups are allowed to practice their religion privately and publicly.30 

Each religious group has its own religious council and courts that govern “all
religious affairs and matters of personal status,” including marriage and divorce.31 The Druze community is a relatively small segment of the overall population. The population of Israel is approximately 7,821,850, of which 75.1 percent are Jewish, 17.4 percent are Muslim, 3.9 percent are defined as other, 2 percent are Christian, and 1.6 percent are Druze.32 Israel is, nonetheless, a Jewish state, and Israel’s “vehicles of state” demonstrate intentional policies towards furthering what the government considers to be Jewish interests.

Approximately 120,000 Druze live in Israel today, predominantly in the Galilee and Golan Heights. While the Druze are a transnational sectarian minority with about 450,000 in Syria, 350,000 in Lebanon, and 10,000 in Jordan, Druze have predominantly demonstrated a feeling of national belonging to the particular country in which they live.33 As a result, the Israeli Druze have developed a different national identity from the Druze of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Moreover, the Druze have always been a minority in the respective state within which they live and do not want a state of their own.34

A brief summary of Druze history is essential to understand the origins of the Druze community’s religious and quasi-ethnic identity as a minority group in the MENA region. The Druze religion developed from the Ismaili movement of Islam in the 9th and 10th centuries C.E., from the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. The Druze religion then spread in Egypt between the years 1017 and 1048. As it developed, however, the Druze religion was faced with much opposition, often violent, from Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.35 Today, the Druze are not just a minority in Israel, but also a minority in every country in which they reside (Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan).

They are also a religious minority branched off of the Ismaili Shi’ite minority sect of Islam, with a strong sense of history and local territorial connection. As the Druze religion spread throughout the region, it also developed into a quasi-ethnicity. Israeli Druze view the religious designation of “Druze” as also being connected to an ethnicity, hence the term quasi-ethnic.
They only self-identify as ethnically “Arab” due to a shared language and culture with other Arabs in the region, but are reluctant to make the self-identification as being “Arab.”36 The majority of Druze in Israel define themselves in terms of their Druze religion and Israeli nationality, not their Arab ethnicity, which sets the Druze apart from Israel’s Arab minority.37

The Druze community has lived in the territory of what is now Israel since before the state was established in 1948. Approximately 13,000 Druze lived in Palestine in 1948, which was less than one percent of the total population.38 During the Israeli War of Independence, the Druze initially attempted to remain neutral, but eventually they fought alongside the Israelis against five nations – Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. This created an inevitable tension between the Druze and the Arabs, which added to the division between them.39

The state of Israel has passed several laws on behalf of the Druze community at the administrative and legislative levels. In 1956, the state passed a law requiring compulsory conscription for all Israeli citizens. This law also applied to Israeli Druze males.40 The state recognized the Druze as an independent religious community in 1957, and established a Druze Religious Council and Druze religious courts.41 In 1962, identity cards noted that Israeli Druze were Druze, and not simply Arabs.42

After these laws were passed, Israeli officials realized that the Druze needed a separate education system.43 In October 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told the leadership of the Druze community that “from now on, the Druze will not need the special apparatus that deals with the minorities but the regular apparatus will be open to them.”44 The implication of this was that Druze education would be equal to that of Israeli Jewish education. In the 1970s, the Ministry of Education established a Druze education system in Haifa and the Northern district.45

By 1976, an education system was established for Druze villages where the majority of teachers were Druze.46 The goal of this type of education was to create an Israeli Druze identity among the students. These historical events set the stage for the relationship between the state of Israel and the Druze community.

25 While there are competing arguments concerning the nature of the state of Israel, it is outside the purview of this research to debate this specific political issue. The continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes any characterization of the type of state that Israel is to be a politically charged characterization. While we recognize that there are various claims and arguments supported against the notion that Israel is a democratic and non-discriminatory state, we also do not intend to debate this issue within our research. The most neutral and unbiased sources, such as the CIA World Factbook, were used to try to get an accurate picture of the type of state Israel is. With regard to discriminatory practice, this is in fact one of the main parts of our research as it relates to the Druze. Discrimination towards other non-Druze minorities was not included in our primary research objective, although certain examples of it did arise in our interviews.

26 “Library.” Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook
27 Saffon, M. P., and N. Urbinati. "Procedural Democracy, the Bulwark of Equal Liberty." Political Theory 41.3 (2013): 441-81.
28 “Basic Laws of the State of Israel.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
29 “The 1948 Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
30 The 1948 Declaration of Establishment states, “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion,
conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
31 “People: Religious Freedom.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
32 “Israel.” Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook.
33 Halabi, p. 2.
34 Gabriel Ben-Dor. “Inclusion of the Druze in Israel.” Personal interview. 10 Mar. 2014.
35 Halabi, p. 2. and Shawki, Taxi driver. “Historical roots of the Druze in Israel.” Personal interview 8 Mar. 2014.
36 Zeedan.
37 Ibid. and Halabi, p. 2.
38 Parsons, p. 74.
39 Although the Druze speak Arabic, we discovered ambivalence from our interlocutors regarding their self-identification as ethnically “Arab.” Several of our informants stated that since they spoke Arabic they are Arab, but then also distanced themselves from the “Arabs.” They view themselves as different, not just religiously, but also ethnically, from Arabs.
40 Zeedan.
41 Halabi, p. 3.
42 Ibid.
43 Firro, 2001, p. 42.
44 Firro, 1999, p. 190.
45 Majid Al-Haj. Education, Empowerment, and Control: The Case of the Arabs in Israel. New York: State University of New York Press, 1995, p. 73.

46 Firro, 2001, p. 50.

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