The BBC forgets – the Druze

star-BBCWorst kept secretflag

Israel’s forgotten tribe is supposed to be a feather-light food/travel piece and or the most part it is. But the BBC never loses the opportunity to stick the knife fork into Israel. The writer Dan Savery Raz is portrayed as an expert on Israel (co-authored the latest Lonely Planet Israel & the Palestinian Territories guide-book which makes one wonder about his other contributions to the BBC, Haaretz, Time Out, EasyJet Traveller and The Jerusalem Report.

It starts badly. Contrary to popular belief, the Holy Land is not just home to two peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – but a diverse mix of cultures. Minority groups in Israel include the A-B-C-D-E of Arabs, Bedouins†, Copts, Druze and Ethiopians. Although most visitors may know something of Bedouins, the delights of the Druze tribe are a well-kept secret.

Raz may have wanted to keep to his A-B-C-D-E imagery but in the process sacrificed accuracy. All Bedouin are Arabs. The majority Arab ‘Palestinian’ population have different customs and dialects but both are subsets of the larger group ie Arabs. Similarly except for a tiny group of possibly 2000 Ethiopian Orthodox Christians (ironically probably converted from Ethiopian Jews in the 4th century CE) all Ethiopians in Israel are Jewish and Israeli.

Who keeps the Druze a secret, except perhaps the BBC?

Widely regarded as a friendly community that lives in peace with Israel and its neighbours, the Druze people are an often-overlooked religious Arab minority (82.6% of Arabs in Israel are Sunni Muslim, 9% are Druze and 9% are Christian Arabs). Worldwide, there are around one million Druze living mainly in Syria and Lebanon, with 104,000 in Israel. Although they speak Arabic, the Druze are not Muslim, but call themselves muwahhidun (monotheists).

Although Arabic speaking most Israeli Druze don’t consider themselves Arabs and certainly reject the Arab nationalist agenda. This could have a great deal to do with persecution. “… Islam relegated the Jews to the “tolerated” and inferior status as dhimmis [tolerated “People of the Book”] while the Druze, designated as non-Muslims throughout history, wore the more ignoble badge of heretical apostates [khawarij] for exiting from the Muslim nation of believers. The Jews were punished with humiliation, and the Druze with death.” Nissan, Mordechai quoted by Lisa Murgatroyd.

Since 1957, the Israeli government has designated the Druze a distinct ethnic community at the request of its communal leaders. In a survey conducted in 2008, Yussuf Hassan of the Tel Aviv University found that more than 94% of Druze youth classified themselves as “Druze-Israelis” in the religious and national context.

Blending Islamic, Hindu and Greek philosophy, the Druze believe in reincarnation and share prophets with Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. They have their own flag, the Druze Star, with each of the five colours representing a prophet.

If one was going to describe the Druze religion the most important fact has been left out. The Druze religion is a ‘revealed’ religion only transmitted to initiates. As most Druze are not initiates (arguably a priesthood) most Druze only have a cursory knowledge of the details of the religion and and will refuse to divulge what they know to an outsider. Druze do not accept converts and marriage is only conducted within the religion.

While I have heard of the Druze star, most every Druze flag I have seen consists of stripes. Apparently there is also a variation with a green triangle at the hoist side but I don’t recall seeing one. Likewise there are different explanations for the colours‡.

Traditionally, Druze men are proud of their military service, but there are signs that this attitude is changing.

Druze soldier

Druze commander, IDF Herev Brigade

The Druze are conscripted at their own request as are the Jews (and Circassians). The BBC prefers to search out the complainers. It suits the narrative. On 30 June 2011, Haaretz reported that a growing number of Israeli Druze were joining elite units of the military, leaving the official Druze battalion, Herev, understaffed. This trend has led to calls for its disbandment.

It can be difficult to be a minority but one notable exception, though, is Naim Araidi, a Druze professor who was appointed Israel’s ambassador to Norway last year is minimising the Druse contribution in many spheres. It can also be read as ‘only’ one.

Majalli Wahabi

Majalli Wahabi

I won’t give a long list but surely Ayoob Kara, member of the Knesset for Likud and Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee deserves a mention as does Majalli Wahabi, who served as a member of the Knesset for Likud, Kadima and Hatnuah between 2003 and 2013. He briefly assumed the position of President due to President Moshe Katzav’s leave of absence and Acting President Dalia Itzik’s trip abroad in February 2007, making him the first non-Jew to act as Israel’s head of state. In terms of real power, Hasin Fares – former Commander of the Israeli Police also would be a good example of successful Druze in israeli society. He also served as the head of the Logistic Support department of the Israeli Police and the commander of the Israel Border Police.

Raz ends with a whisper. Over there, the Druze in Syria face an altogether more dangerous reality. Yes, they do and if the BBC lack of coverage of the Druze in Syria is any indication the Syrian Druze are the real forgotten tribe.

Extra credit

† A further linguistic quibble the plural of Bedouin is Bedouin not Bedouins.
‡ Other colour interpretations:

  • Red – symbolizes the heart and love of humanity
  • Green – symbolizes the farmer and the life
  • White – symbolizes the purity and the air
  • Yellow – symbolizes the sun and the wheat
  • Blue – symbolizes the sky and the faith
  • Green (Al-Akl) symbolizes “the mind,” Christ’s Consciousness, the pristine mirror of truth, Plato’s sun whose light makes knowledge of the truth possible.
  • Red (Al-Nafs) symbolizes “the soul,” the moon (the gentle reflector of the sun) the reciever of the light, and the shaheed of the truth in every age.
  • Yellow (Al-Kalima) symbolizes “the word”, who’s the mediator between Plato’s realm of eternity and Aristotle’s realm of material existence. “The word,” after all is the purest form of expression and the softest embodiment of the truth.
  • Blue (Al-Sabik) symbolizes the potential, the mental power of the will to be-come.
  • White (Al-Tali) Symbolizes the actualization of the potential, the be-coming of the blue power, the full materialization of Plato’s world of forms in the world of matter.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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