By: Callie Douthit – 2015
The Druze of Israel are a religious and ethnic autonomy within Israel that are often overlooked because of their size. In Israel, Druze account for nearly 1.3 percent of the population. With this small percentage, most would assume that the Druze have little freedom and rights as a religious group. But, prior and proceeding to the creation of the Israel as a state, Israeli leaders and government officials saw the Druze as a valuable ally for their state. When examining the State of Israel’s historical relationship with Israeli Druze, it is clear that use of ethnicization through military, leadership, and educational methods have allowed for the Israeli Druze community to be of higher stance than other Israeli minorities.
The State of Israel first enacted ethnicization, “the deliberate maintenance or even bolstering of communal identity by the state to serve its purposes” (Frisch, 1993, p. 53), in order to attempt to create an ethnic identity of the Druze, separate from Arab Muslims and Christian minorities. The first basis for the desire of a separate Druze identity stemmed from the Arab rebellion against Jewish businesses and the British who were in control of the state at the time. The rebellion and chaos led the Druze to choose neutrality in the matter, citing in a letter to British officials in 1929 that the riots were a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims and did not involve the Druze (Greif, 2005). But, this neutrality broke into cooperation with Israel and Jews by 1948 when the newly declared State of Israel was attacked by Arab armies. Following, Druze leaders were involved with gathering intelligence and arms on behalf of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Amid the establishment of the State of Israel, and after the attacks, the Israeli government passed a law in 1956 mandating that compulsory military conscription would be extended to the Druze community, though it was opposed by Druze elites (Halabi, 2014). This military conscription created what is referred to as the “pact of blood” between Israeli Druze and Jews. The pact of blood was strategic in assisting with the development of a Druze identity because it allowed Israeli Druze to gain economic and social-political advantages. Economically, the Druze were at a loss as land confiscations effected their jobs as farmers. With military conscription, the Druze had another option of occupation through military, unlike other minorities in Israel. Socio-politically, the Druze military service was viewed as indication of future cooperation and loyalty between the State of Israel and Israeli Druze.
More hope for future cooperation arose as the State of Israel granted more and more political rights to Israeli Druze. In observance, more political rights may have been granted because of the Israeli Druze loyalty to the State and the party that has predominantly ruled the government. Aside from being in allegiance with Jews to the State through military conscription, Israeli Druze have historically been in political alignment with the Labor Zionist party (Nisan, 2010). Sure enough, in 1957 the Druze community was formally recognized as an autonomous religious community, establishing Druze Religious Council with Druze religious courts. The head of these courts was a well-respected member of the Druze who was essential in the agreement of military conscription for Druze. Amin Tarif was named head of the Court of Appeals, giving him the unofficial status as spiritual head of the Druze. “No comparable figure appears in an exhaustive study by Ben-Dor on the Druze in Israel published 14 years ago” (Firsch, 2010, p. 583). Further separating Druze from Arabs, in 1962 the ID cards and birth certificates of Druze citizens were changed to replace “Arab” with “Druze” as their national classification.
Educational attainment and resources for Israeli-Druze were an issue of concern for both the State of Israel and Druze elites. Before any changes were made to their educational programs, Druze were enrolled in Arab educational departments. The argument behind the creation of a separate program was that Arab studies do not teach about any Druze figures, and therefore provided no Druze role models for the kids (Kassem, 2005). With this, the Ministry of Education made it a task to create a syllabus covering Druze religion, culture, and history in 1976. But, at the start of this new educational program problems arose after academic results were gathered and compared. Specifically, it was observed that Druze enrollment at university level was very low. Once these issues were identified and modified, enrollment rates for Druze at Israeli high schools and universities exceeded those of Arabs by 1988.
Looking back on the historic relationship between Israel and the Druze, it is evident that the Druze had been treated advantageously in comparison to other minorities residing in Israel. The State of Israel was able to manipulate politics of military, leadership, and education in order to create an ethnic identity of the Israeli Druze—separate from other Arab identities. Through ethnicization, the Israeli government was able to sway the Druze community away from an Arab identity and away from neutralization between Arab Muslims and Jews. The lightly prompted alignment with Zionism and ethnicization by the State of Israel ultimately allowed the Druze community to benefit economically, educationally, and socially by establishing a higher rank on the pecking order of Israeli groups.
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Frisch, H. (2010). State ethnicization and the crisis of leadership succession among Israel’s Druze. Ethnic And Racial Studies, 20(3), 580-593.
Greif, A. (2005). Druze and Jews. Political and Cultural History (Stanford), 1-5.
Halabi, R. (2014). Invention of a Nation: The Druze in Israel. Journal Of Asian & African Studies (Sage Publications, Ltd.), 49(3), 267-281.
Kassem, L. (2005). The Construction of Druze: Druze in Israel between State Policy and Palestinian Arab Nationalism. Diss. U of Cincinnati.
Nisan, M. (2010). The Druze in Israel: Questions of Identity, Citizenship, and Patriotism. The Middle East Journal, (4), 575.