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First, do no harm: Israel and the Druze in Syria

Some Druze in Israel are campaigning for intervention to save their kin on the Syrian side of the border, but the Druze in Syria reject the idea out of hand. Instead, they are demanding that Israel stop supporting the people threatening to massacre them.

By Rabah Halabi

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, Majdal Shams. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, Majdal Shams. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra are fanatical religious movements that pose a danger first and foremost to moderate and enlightened Islam, then to the Arab world, and humanity itself. These same dark forces are threatening the wellbeing and very existence of the Druze in Syria, because of their religious beliefs, which they have held for nearly 1,000 years. If that threat is realized, the catastrophe that awaits the Druze will be on the same scale as that which struck other minorities in the region — the Yezidi and Christian minorities in Iraq.

Members of the Druze community in Israel are doing everything in their power to ensure nothing bad happens to their brothers. Some Druze citizens and leaders are demanding that the State of Israel intervene to help our bothers on the other side of the border. I am sure that they are motivated by nothing but good intentions borne of sincere concern. But their efforts are not only unhelpful, they are likely to further harm the very people they want to help.

The entire Druze leadership in Syria, as well as Lebanon, has rejected the option of such intervention outright — for reasons that are appropriate for them. Even in the middle of an unavoidable emotional storm, we in Israel, must not make decisions for stake-holders who have proven their ability to deal with their own problems, better than we have managed our own here at home.

But along with rejecting Israeli intervention, the Druze in Syria are astounded — as am I — by what appears to be Israel’s support for Jabhat al-Nusra. Clearly, the State of Israel acts according to its own narrow interests, without taking into consideration its friends and allies. But in this case I have serious trouble understanding what those considerations and state interests are, which have led Israel to actively support a murderous, extremist religious movement sponsored by one of the most regressive countries in the world — Saudi Arabia.

Israeli tanks positioned along the Syrian border in the occupied Golan Heights, January 29, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli tanks positioned along the Syrian border in the occupied Golan Heights, January 29, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel, obviously, denies claims that it is cooperating with Jabhat al-Nusra, but the Druze in Syria insist such cooperation is taking place, and there is significant evidence supporting their claim. One example is that Jabhat al-Nusra fighters are being treated in Israeli hospitals. Another example is the situation in Khader, a Syrian Golan Heights town in the demilitarized zone separating Israel and Syria, which the Syrian army is forbidden from entering according to the cease fire agreement between the two countries. Nevertheless, Israel is not stopping Jabhat al-Nusra from operating freely there.

As Druze and as Israeli citizens, it is our obligation to demand that Israel stop this unquestionably immoral support for Jabhat al-Nusra. For the moment, the Druze do not want Israel’s help. But they are also demanding that Israel stop supporting those people who are threatening to massacre them.

Meanwhile, the “enlightened” Western world’s true colors are once again exposed. Western states, first and foremost the U.S., intervene when their intervention isn’t needed, and refuse to intervene when they are asked or obligated to. Despite the attractiveness of Western enlightenment and morality, the only guiding “moral” is economic self-interest. If catastrophe strikes the Druze in Syria, and if god-forbid they are massacred, the West will not have clean hands.

The truth is that I don’t expect a lot from Israel or the West. I trust the Druze in Syria and their intelligent leadership. They are certainly capable of navigating through this ugly storm. We, the Druze in Israel, and all truly enlightened forces, should be attentive to them and help them whichever way we can without fanfare. This is the time to be silent, silent but not passive, at least not until the Druze are out of danger.

Dr. Rabah Halabi is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and at Oranim College. Among other things, he is an expert in Arab-Jewish relations and Druze affairs in Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Jello

      First, when translating, translate everything. Why did you leave out the first two paragraphs?

      “I’ll start by saying that usually I refrain from taking positions on current topics and I also hesitate to express my views and opinions in public. On this issue it took me some time until I decided to write, and I am choosing the words of this essay carefully.

      I have never connected to the ethnic/sectarian theme. On the contrary, I have worked for many years to expose the schemes of the Israeli authorities to develop the Druze identity in Israel, and the attempts to drive a wedge between us and our fellow Arabs. However, I am not apathetic to what is happening to the Druze in Syria these days, and what I will write here comes from me being Druze and also from my support for the weak and oppressed whoever they may be.”

      I thought this was a useful introduction and I don’t know why it was excluded

      On the face of it the article makes sense but the more you think about it the more problematic it becomes. The basis of the argument is that the Syrian and Lebanese Druze are not publicly calling for Israeli help or are outright rejecting the idea of it. However, there are obvious reasons why the Druze in Syria and Lebanon would take such a position. Those are not safe places to have a free and independent position on Israel and publicly calling for Israeli support at this moment in Syria or Lebanon would place the Druze there in mortal danger from all sides. Taking such public statements rejecting Israeli help at face value as the basis for an argument seems hardly appropriate for a serious discussion of the issue.

      Secondly there are some basic mistakes, fundamental misunderstandings, and, lets say some naivete to be generous, in the information presented here. Wounded Syrians are being treated in Israeli hospitals. This is publicly acknowledged information. They are not first questioned on which group they belong to. Presumably the author would prefer that the wounded were tortured a bit more by refraining from treating them while they were being questioned so as to avoid treating JN fighters. I would then presume that wounded suspected of being JN fighters would be wheeled out of the operating rooms and dropped back to die on the side of a hill. Or would it be preferable to hand them over to the Syrian army for interrogation? So much for “support for the weak and oppressed whoever they may be”. I can only imagine the reaction were Israel to pursue such a policy.

      Additionally, lets be generous and suggest that the author does not understand the idea of demilitarized zones agreed to in armistice negotiations. The basic principle is that both armies agree to enter the demilitarized zone. This applies to the IDF and the official Syrian Arab Army of the Syrian Arab Republic. It is somewhat difficult to prevent the infiltration of such zones by fighters in civilian clothes operating in civilian areas. Perhaps the author is suggesting that Israel should bomb anyone suspected of being JN operating in the Syrian Golan Heights?

      Then there is the basic mistruth in suggesting that Jabhat al-Nusra is operating in the Druze village of Khader, and the additional mistruth in suggesting that Israel is allowing Jabhat al-Nusra from operating freely there”. The Druze are in control of Khader and JN has been repeatedly warned by the Israelis to stay out of the village, warnings that they appear to have heeded.

      Lastly there is the knee-jerk liberal anti-Westernism in bashing Israel and the West for inaction after persistently insisting that Israel should not intervene in the first place. One wonders in what warped mind one can insist that Israeli intervention is neither needed or wanted while also assigning blame to Israel for its future inaction in a hypothetical scenario. If catastrophe strikes the Druze in Syria because Israel did not intervene, would the author’s hands really be clean?

      The Druze in Syria and Lebanon are constrained from publicly seeking international help from the US and Israel to help protect their people. The Druze in Israel are not. Yet the author would rather they sit quietly on the sidelines, except, of course, for trying to lobby Israel to let wounded people die rather than treat them.

      Reply to Comment
    2. JeffB

      I’d like some evidence that the Syrian and Lebanese Druze wouldn’t like Israeli intervention to support them. I have to say an “expert” claiming to not understand why Israel is supporting al-Nusra is either not much or an expert or a liar.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Rick

      Are you suggesting that Israel let the wounded die in the field? That would really start an international s#@!-storm.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Gustav

      ” Nevertheless, Israel is not stopping Jabhat al-Nusra from operating freely there.”

      The writer of this article must be joking, no?

      Israel is not intervening in this conflict in which clearly all sides, including the Syrian Druze are hostile to us and that’s supporting Al Nusra?

      Maybe, my dear, we just don’t give a damn? Maybe we just want to stay out of it and don’t care who kills whom? Since they both hate us. You think that’s unnatural for someone in our situation? Well then maybe you should judge us by your own norms. How would you behave if you would be in our shoes?

      Reply to Comment