On Friday, July 14, three terrorists attacked two Israeli police officers at the Temple Mount in Israel, both members of Israel’s Druze community.
According to the Times of Israel, Haiel Sitawe, 30, leaves behind a wife, Irin, a three-week-old son, his parents and three brothers. Kamil Shnaan, 22, had an engagement party to his girlfriend that was to be held the following week.
A CNN article described the slain police officers as members of “Israel’s Druze community, an Arabic-speaking religious minority,” and a Fox News article described the Druze community as “ followers of a secretive off-shoot of Islam”
While both descriptions are accurate, neither offers a holistic explanation of the community’s significance and integral part in Israeli society.
Very few people bother to acknowledge the presence of Israel’s insular community, when in reality, the state’s relationship with the Druze community serves as a political asset to the Zionist cause.
Who Are The Druze?
The Druze, or muwahhidun (monotheists), have not only been around since the establishment of Israel, but have maintained their strong ethno-religious identity in the Levant region since the group’s founding in Cairo in the late eleventh century under the sixth Fatimid Caliph, al-Hakim Biamr Allah (996-1021).
Similar to the Jews of Israel, members of the Druze community take on the name as both a religious and ethnic identifier.
The Druze religion originally branched out of the Shi’ite faction of Islam. However, they have distinct places of worship from Muslims, and revere the Prophet Shuayib (said to be Jethro, Biblical father-in-law of Moses) as opposed to the Prophet Muhammad.
The Druze faith closely resembles Islam, however, parts of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and many other belief systems and philosophies constitute the religion as a whole. Reincarnation of the soul after death into other members of the Druze community is a distinguishing part of their religious doctrine.
In Israel, the Druze settle primarily in mountainous, highly elevated regions, isolated from major cities and populations. Villages can be found in the upper and lower Galilee, as well near Mt. Carmel.
A unique factor of the Druze community is their lack of national aspirations.
Unlike many Arabs that rally for a sovereign Palestine, the Druze have no such desire for themselves, so long as they can remain on their previously inhabited lands, and live according to their religious laws and traditions.
There are also a number of Druze villages in the Golan Heights, the territory annexed by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967. A majority of these Druze residents, originally Syrian citizens, have rejected Israeli citizenship. Instead, they possess papers that declare their nationality as “undefined.” Some individuals accept this ambiguous identity in fear of the increasing political tension on both sides, while others refuse to take on the identity of a nation whose existence has yet to be accepted by its geographical neighbors.
Political Identity Of Israeli Druze
The Druze are, by definition, Arab, with Arabic as the mother tongue of the community. However, not all Druze individuals will identify themselves with the rest of the Arab community, excluding the Druze in the Golan Heights.
Part of this disparity is due to the Mandatory Conscription Act of 1956, signed by religious leaders of the Druze community. The Act requires young men to serve three years with the Israeli Defense Forces, similar to the Jewish citizens of Israel, ultimately pledging their young men, and therefore loyalty, to the Israeli state. This was their key to maintaining the sovereignty of their village life and freedom to adhere to their religion and traditions, while remaining in good standing with the government.
While no average Druze had a direct say in the process, there was speculation of what would become of their relationship with the rest of the Arab population; the Christians and Muslims exempt from military service by Israeli law.
By 1957, the Israeli government recognized the Druze as a distinct religious and ethnic group, and even replaced the word “Arab” with “Druze” on their identification cards, before removing the ethnicity category completely from all identification cards in 2002.
Presently, Druze ethnic identification varies upon region, village, and even varies within households. A majority – if not all – Druze are proud of their unique Druze heritage. Despite this, many individuals choose to add the “Israeli” or “Arab” prefix when explaining their nationality.
The Druze Factor In Temple Mount Attack
In hindsight, this was another terrorist attack against the Israeli government, representative of the “occupying force” and “Apartheid State.” However, this was not a manifestation of the stereotypical Arab versus Israeli clash.
The terrorists were Muslim Arabs with Israeli citizenship, and the victims were Israeli Druze.
Both Israeli and Arab publications have produced several analyses on what Friday’s attack at the Temple Mount could mean for relations between the Muslims and Druze communities.
An article from Haaretz, a notoriously left-leaning Israeli publication, warns that the “Arab and Druze leaders must not fall into the trap that is being laid for them, which leads to a dangerous communal fights within Arab society.”
Arabs fighting for a change in government policy towards its Arab minority fear the polarization of this attack as a threat to the Arab nationalist cause.
On the other hand, an article from al-Monitor plays directly into the “dangerous communal fight within Arab society,” as the article refers only once to the Druze victims, describing them as “Israeli Border Guard officers from the Druze community,” withholding the Arab label, and continuing to discuss Israel’s racism towards the Arab community in reference to the three Arab-Israelis convicted of terrorism.
Israel’s Druze community, many unabashed Zionists, and others self-identified Palestinian-Arabs, continue to walk a thin line between two identities, and have found themselves victims to terrorists who were fighting the sovereignty of a government that has had historically strong ties with the Druze community.
Author’s Note: The information regarding the Druze community was acquired after weeks of field research, interviews, and time spent in Druze villages in both the Galilee and Carmel. Other sources cited in the research include The Druze in the Middle East by Salman Falah, 2002.