Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a long and apparently successful meeting Nov. 23 in Ramallah with leading members of the Druze community in Israel, telling the small religiously-based community that they are the “purest of all Arabs” for their attachment to their Arab origins and refusal to marry outside their community.
The Druze's Arab nationality is undergoing a rennaissance. Despite serving in the Israeli army, they felt betrayed in July 2018, when the Israeli Knesset passed the nationality law making all non-Jewish citizens in Israel second-class citizens.
Former diplomat Zidan Atsheh, who led the delegation, began the meeting by recalling the role the Druze played during the difficult days of 1948. “Druze welcomed everyone who came to our villages in 1948. Our hosting of them was our moral and national duty to our neighbors.” President Abbas responded by praising Druze for staying put on their land and blasting other Palestinians, including his own family, for abandoning their lands and becoming refugees.
Atsheh described the nationality law as the “assassination of the Arab identity in cold blood in Israel,” adding, “It will have long-term negative implications.”
Political science professor at Tel Aviv University Amal Jamal called for an increase in awareness building between Druze and fellow Palestinians. “There is a need to build new awareness. We need to rebuild the Palestinian narrative [taking into account] geographical and religious diversity,” Jamal, a Druze citizen who participated in the meeting, said on Palestine TV after the meeting.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also met with the delegation, telling them they are an integral part of the Palestinian people. “The ties of blood, religion, language, history and Arabism connect all denominations of Palestinians. And if the Israeli occupier wants to build walls between the one people, we will break them and extend our hands to build bridges between us.”
But despite the warm words exchanged, the major obstacle that has emerged over the years between theDruze and other Arab communities is the fact that the Druze serve in the Israeli army.
The 120,000-strong Druze community, which lives mostly in 18 village in the Galilee area, are obliged to serve in the Israeli army and many later continue in the army and border police as career officers. The current Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories is Maj. Gen. Kamal Abu Rokon, a Druze Israeli citizen.
A gathering of Druze leaders had agreed to obligate young Druze men to serve in the Israeli army in 1956 without consultation with the larger Druze community. Under the cultural attitude of obedience to elders, the decision was not contested and was seen as a possible way to improve the lives and living conditions in Druze villages in the Galilee.
Abbas made little protest of the compulsory military service. “We understand the army issue,” Abbas said. “If you live in the United States you have to live by US law, the same as if you live in any country.”
It is often said that the Druze population is loyal to the country that they live in, as they serve in the Syrian and Lebanese armies as well.
But Adnan Tarabshi, the Druze founder and director of Ya Malak theatre who has refused to serve in the Israeli army, says that Abbas is wrong.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Tarabshi, who is from the mixed Druze, Christian and Muslim village of Mughar in the Galilee, believes Abbas said what he did to please his listeners. “It is true that service in the Israeli army is compulsory and forced on us, but we should not justify it.”
Tarabshi, who believes that the Druze are part of the Palestinian people, called for the removal of Abbas through elections. “Abbas should not be in office any longer. He gave up on [the Galilee town of] Safed, gave up on the right of return and gave up on the resistance. He is not a political reference for me today. There are revolutions in the Arab world and we need a revolution against Abbas and his oppression, but it should be done peacefully. We are believers in democracy and we need to change the leadership through elections.”
Abbas has said that although he was born in Safed, he only intends to return to it as a tourist.
Palestinian relations with their counterparts across the green line are volatile. Ties are temporarily improved when communities like the Druze express problems with the Israeli leadership, and then there is a long silence once that relationship is mended. A steady and strategic relationship between these groups should be part of a larger Palestinian national unification strategy.
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