Why do I care so much about Israel? Why write constantly about different aspects of the Jewish State, a modern country in its 63rd year of existence, a country with a 3,000-year history?
When I “schlep” our readers on a constant journey, a guided adventure to the Holy Land, and to less-than-holy places here, I often wonder: Why?
For me it is obvious: Without Israel, Jewish people could not safely exist, not in Beverly Hills, not in London, Hamburg, Paris or Antwerp. Without Israel, no Jew will be safe in America or South Africa, Australia or South America. In short, Israel is our very essence. She is a constant reminder that we must not take the Jewish presence for granted.
At times we all need a reminder, and today I was treated to one by the Druze Community.
Druze, the descendants of Yitro (father in law of Moses), currently live primarily in Syria, Lebanon and Israel, once all part of the same larger area.
The Druze maintain their own religion (which must not be mistaken for Islam) that is kept secret and shared only among the clergymen (the “wise man of religion”).
Druze marry within the community, and one cannot convert into the Druze community, but the converse occurs when young men and women marry those from the outside and migrate from the community to live in the host nation.
To survive throughout the centuries, the Druze have maintained loyalty to the country in which they live, but carefully protected their religion as to not assimilate. Thus today, those who live in Syria are loyal to Syria, those in Lebanon are loyal to Lebanon and those in Israel are loyal to Israel.
There is one exception to this rule, the Druze of the Golan Heights, an area Israel conquered and was subsequently annexed to Israel almost three decades ago. They still have family members in Syria and are thus afraid of the consequences of showing loyalty to Israel. They are, though, the true light at the end of the tunnel, the catalyst that may bring about peace between Israel and Syria.
Families are split across artificial boundaries. The region can flourish if cooperation is allowed and encouraged. The will of the people to maintain normalcy and advance peace is bound to make it a reality.
The Golan Heights is craving for peace, and the hatred that is so prevalent elsewhere has not rooted itself as deeply as in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas or Hizbollah controlled areas (in Israel’s Judea and Samaria, Egypt’s Gaza or Lebanon).
There is no doubt in my mind that peace can be achieved here. Note, it is exactly this very “hostile” border between Israel and Syria-two countries that are still in a state of war-that has been the most quiet for decades.
The Druze in Israel are a non-Jewish minority. They speak, read and write Arabic. They are full citizens of the Jewish sate. They look and sound like the Arabs, but that is where the similarities end.
While they can claim they are a disadvantaged minority and blame the country for inequality, like the Arabs do, demanding rights others do not have, they lead by example. Unlike the Arabs, they serve in the military and see it as their obligation to Israel. 96% of the men serve, mostly in combat units, the full term length required. Many women serve in national service.
There are military sections in the Druze cemeteries for those who gave their lives protecting the country. Today, there are six missing and kidnapped Israeli soldiers. One, Gilad Shalit, Jewish, is believed alive already four years in the Gazan tunnels help captive by Hamas. Another, Majdi Halabi, is Druze. He disappeared five years ago and has not been seen or heard of since. There is a ten million dollar reward for anyone with reliable information of his whereabouts. The other four soldiers are Jewish.
There are four Druze members of the Knesset, one of whom is the Deputy Minister for the Development of the Galilee and the Negev and Regional Cooperation, Ayoob Kara. The Druze are not Jewish, a minority in the Jewish country, yet with equal rights and obligations. Relative to their percentage in society, they are “over”-represented in the Knesset. Possibly this is the recognition of Israeli society of their sacrifices and loyalty?
They do not claim to be a disadvantage minority. They believe in doing, fighting for one’s own success – at times despite all odds – and for earning one’s position rather than demanding it.
Druze do not seek excuses to avoid serving. They do not have the backup of Jewish or Christian philanthropy, and they do not have an easy card to life. Israeli Arabs are encouraged to go to Jordan to study (free of charge, all expenses paid). Druze in the Golan Heights are invited to Syria for the same (study & brainwashing both for the price of one, some spying expected upon their return to Israel). Yet the rest of the Druze in Israel serve their debt to their country and then face difficulties without the regular safety net.
While in the military, the Druze are Israelis. Once outside, they feel differently, as they return to their villages. There is a perception of discrimination. They are not lured by the Jordanians or the Syrians who are trying to set a foothold in Israel. They are not supported by “rich uncles from America.” Israelis seem to focus on building the Palestinian economy rather than strengthening that from within which is most loyal to Israel.
Thus, it was extraordinary to visit two major Druze villages amidst the Carmel forests. Here, on the Carmel Mountains, where the Prophet Elijah once stood, we were received with open arms and Druze hospitality at the home of the County Clerk, with the Minister and two of his sons attending, and a contingency of reporters.
The reporters were there because the Minister just returned from a mission to present Israel on Capitol Hill and in NY. With a myriad of news, from a Lebanese Army sniper shooting and killing an Israeli Lieutenant Colonel and critically injuring a Captain to the change of US Administration stance toward Israel, it was crucial that members of Congress, now fighting for every seat in the November election, have a resource whom they may ask, face to face, questions. The Minister is a person unafraid to answer all the tough questions, like the prospects of “a two state solution.”
I will skip the press conference, as it echoes many of the sentiments that are raised in the series “Postcards from America – Postcards from Israel,” including Israel’s Public Diplomacy, the role of elected and appointed officials, the real threats against Israel and Israel’s future.
At one point, the Minister was asked about the local soccer group. On the way to the County Clerk’s home for the lunch (we were invited for lunch, not knowing of the hastily arranged press conference), we talked about soccer, about how difficult it was to recently raise one thousand dollars for uniforms. It was exactly at the point that we went by the military cemetery, with Hebrew and Arabic inscriptions on the outside.
It was obvious to Shoshana Teri and me, two business people who call Beverly Hills our home, that the two were not coincidental. But later, when we were told that the local soccer group is called Hapoel (major team in Israel lending their name) Mo’in Dalyat-El-Carmel (village name), we asked who was Mo’in.
Mo’in Halabi was a Druze soldier who was killed in the Yom Kippur War during a failed attempt to conquer the Hermon Mountain in October 1973. Mo’in was a soccer player who formed the local team. He excelled in many things but died defending his country, the Jewish State of Israel, when the Arab countries launched a surprise attack on the holiest day for the Jews. The Druze believe in reincarnation, but we felt the loss.
Imagine yourself sitting among a group of people, all of whom are members of a minority, all who served in the Israel Defense Forces (from a community that reached various ranks up to a Major General), who are more loyal to their country than most. Now look carefully around those in the room and think about the message they send to their children:
Let us glorify the devotion to country, not to self. Let us do and set an example to others. Let us live and lead by example. Let us act with devotion, determination and loyalty. Let us give thanks to a soldier who died for his country. Let us look at a bright future, one in which there is soccer and laughter and training and team pride. Let us not complain but do. Let us be proud Druze in Israel, equal members of the Israel society though of a non-Jewish religion.
I was thinking of the Palestinian Authority that glorifies death, the Palestinians who highlight terrorists they calls “Sha’ids” (Martyrs). A cult of death that advocates killing oneself to murder as many non-believers (Christians and Jews) as possible. A society that promises four, five and seven year olds 72 virgins in heaven if they commit homicide terrorism (do the children even know what a “virgin” is?). Mothers who send their daughters to blow themselves up at hospitals where they were treated like equals, with the utmost and best care available. Mothers who strive for their kids to be Martyrs and children who march to the sound of “kill the apes and the monkeys” (the Jews).
The Palestinian Authority names soccer fields and public squares after terrorists, homicide bombers and Sha’ids. In sharp contrast, Israeli Druze name a soccer team after a soldier who gave his life to his country because it is a country that offers freedoms the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else. A country that does not differentiate based on religion, ethnicity or other traits and because it is a country they call home, a place they want their children and their grandchildren to be born and raised in peace and prosperity.
It was at that moment that Shoshana and I extended smiles and knew that we were going to present a small token of appreciation for the extraordinary hospitality, but more so for being who they are and for the Druze Mo’in team.
May we always be reminded of what Israel is all about. Israel must continue to thrive and be exactly what she is – a light unto all nations, a miracle in the Middle East and the Promised Land of God, Lord of Hosts, to His people.
It was a proud moment to be in an Israeli Druze village and be reminded that to experience the miracles, we only need to open our eyes and look; they are all around us.
The writers invite readers to view and experience an Israel and her politics through their eyes, Israel visitors rarely discover.
This point-and often-counter-point presentation is sprinkled with humor and sadness and attempts to tackle serious and relevant issues of the day. The series began in 2008, appears both in print in the USA and on numerous websites and is followed regularly by readership from around the world.