Druze in Israel: Insiders and Outsiders

Reference: My Jewish Learning

By Rachael Gelfman Schultz

The Druze in Israel speak Arabic and identify as Arabs, but they are a community distinct from other Arab Israelis, with their own religion and cultural norms.

The Druze see their religion, which broke off from Islam in the 10th century in Egypt, as an interpretation of the three large monotheistic religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–and they regard Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed as prophets. The Druze religion has no set rituals and ceremonies, but eating pork, smoking, and drinking alcohol are forbidden. Druze have a strong belief in reincarnation. Druze religious literature is only accessible to a group of religious initiates called the uqqal. The Druze religion is closed to outsiders; they accept no converts.

Communities in Israel

Today, approximately 800,000 Druze live in Syria, 450,000 in Lebanon, and 120,000 in northern Israel. The Druze people in Israel live in the Carmel region, the Galilee, and the Golan. The Druze in the Carmel and the Galilee are Israeli citizens. Most of the Druze in the Golan are Syrian citizens who hold permanent resident status in Israel.

Druze in the Golan mostly identify with Syria, where their families live, and they often visit family and go to school there. But as permanent residents of Israel, they have access to Israeli schools, enjoy municipal services, and are better off economically than their families in Syria. The Golan Druze are distinct from other Druze communities in Israel. The former group is culturally more modern, because of Syrian influence and also because of distance from Druze religious centers in the western Galilee and Lebanon.

The Druze in Israel mostly live in separate Druze villages, though some villages have a mixed population that also includes Muslim and Christian Arabs. The Druze also have a separate educational system, and their religion, recognized by the Israeli government, has its own court system.

Nationalism & Military

Druze mostly do not identify with the cause of Arab nationalism. In the years preceding the founding of the State of Israel, Arab nationalists persecuted the Druze, often violently, while the Jewish leadership strove to develop positive relations with the Druze. In the 1940s, when Muslim Arab nationalists attempted, unsuccessfully, to take over the Druze‘s holiest site, Jethro’s tomb, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, the Druze relationship with Arab nationalists deteriorated further.
And so, in 1948, many Druze fought for Israel, and in the early years of the state many joined the Israeli army voluntarily. In 1956, a law was passed that extended mandatory service in the Israeli army to include all Druze men who are Israeli citizens. The major agitators for this law were Druze leaders who sought to gain the support of Israel‘s Jewish leadership and to improve the economic and social situation of Druze communities. The bond between Jewish and Druze soldiers in the Israeli army is commonly referred to as Brit Damim–“Covenant of Blood.”

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Rachael Gelfman Schultz holds a B.A. in religion from Harvard University, and completed her M.A. in Jewish Civilization at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a Jewish educator in Karmiel, Israel.