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Israel's Druze reject Netanyahu's divide-and-conquer policies

A newly-approved Druze town is slated to be built atop destroyed Palestinian villages. But the Druze community refuses to let the government sow discord among Israel’s ethnic minorities under the guise of development.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting members of the Druze community, on the occasion of the Nabi Shueib holiday, at the home of Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tareef in Julis and at the Yad LeBanim building in Daliyat al-Karmel, April 25, 2013. (Moshe Milner/GPO, C.C. 2.0)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting members of the Druze community, on the occasion of the Nabi Shueib holiday, at the home of Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tareef in Julis and at the Yad LeBanim building in Daliyat al-Karmel, April 25, 2013. (Moshe Milner/GPO, C.C. 2.0)

With great fanfare, the Prime Minister’s Office released a press statement Tuesday announcing that the National Planning Council had approved the prime minister’s initiative to build a new Druze town in Israel. According to Netanyahu, the town would be the first since the foundation of the state.

Netanyahu made much of the plan, claiming it would “advance the Druze sector.” (Sector is the term Israel uses to describe its non-Jewish ethnic and religious minorities. This monolithic characterization helps the government form broad policies that affect very diverse groups of people). MK Ayoob Kara, Deputy Minister for the Development of Druze and Circassian communities, also backed the plan.

On the surface, this looks like a winning project: new housing for one of the country’s minority groups, which will be able to expand organically, backed by a Druze politician.

Yet there is far more to the PMO’s announcement than meets the eye. Samer Swaid, the administrative manager at the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, told +972 that, save for Kara, there had been no proper consultation with Druze representatives regarding the plan, and that there is broad opposition to the project — primarily over its location.

“The plan is to build it on the land of destroyed Palestinian villages,” Swaid explained, referring to the villages of Hittin and Nimrin, which were depopulated in 1948. “It’s a moral issue. We don’t want it to be a new settlement. There are also Druze religious rulings which forbid the taking of land that belong to destroyed villages.

A Druze soldier in the IDF guards a mobile power station, May 13, 1949. (Photo by GPO/Zultan Kluger)

A Druze soldier in the IDF guards a mobile power station, May 13, 1949. (Photo by GPO/Zultan Kluger)

“This is not just my opinion,” Swaid continued. “I have met with many Druze representatives and everyone is against the plan.” (Kara, for his part, expressed puzzlement over the objections.) Furthermore, Swaid added, the location of the new community is far from existing Druze towns and ignores established communities in desperate need of development — a fact that tends to be explained away by their proximity to existing nature reserves, hence limiting expansion opportunities.

Swaid’s organization is currently working on publicizing opposition to the plan, and he has not ruled out a petition in the future once the project advances beyond the planning stages.

There is also concern in the Druze community that this government plan may sow discord with Palestinians. Khalil Halabi, the spokesperson for the Committee for the Protection of Carmel Land, told Haaretz: “As a community, we cannot accept something like this,” adding that in the past Druze spiritual leaders had objected to the expropriation of land from Daliyat al-Karmel and Isfiya — the two largest Druze towns in Israel — when it became clear that the territory in question had formerly belonged to the destroyed Palestinian village of Umm al-Zina.

This brings up one of the most troubling aspects of the proposed new town. The nature in which it was planned and announced, without consulting the very people it concerns and riding roughshod over the legacy of the Nakba — one of the most painful and divisive aspects of Israel’s history — is symptomatic of the government’s paternalistic and self-serving approach toward its minorities.

“The Druze community has bound its fate to the State of Israel,” Netanyahu claimed in the press release about the plan. “The proportion of enlistment in the IDF is among the highest in the state… This is only part of our extensive activity for the Druze community and we are carrying out our commitments to the community.”

Before addressing the veracity of Netanyahu’s comments, let us first consider the implications of what he is saying: if you are loyal to the state and its most sacred symbol — the army — you will reap the benefits.

Miras Natour, a Druze resident of Daliyat al-Karmel and a doctoral student researching Druze social identity in the Carmel and the Golan Heights, explained: “There is a policy of division between Druze and Palestinians. This plan for a new town is a demonstration to Christians and Muslims to say: if you’re in our pocket, you’ll be rewarded.”

The spiritual head of the Druze community Sheikh Amin Tarif invites Prime Minister Golda Meir to take part in the Nebi Shu’eib celebrations at Kfar Hittim, April 4, 1968. (Photo: Cohen Fritz/GPO, C.C. 2.0)

Thus the approval of a new Druze town is a move with the capacity to exacerbate a potential friction point between two native groups, or in other words: dividing and conquering. Israel is no stranger to divide and conquer policies, whether by encouraging Druze enlistment in the IDF; legally distinguishing between Christian and Muslim Palestinians; implementing policies of separation between the West Bank and Gaza; or the 48-year occupation that has physically, culturally and economically severed Palestinians in the territories from Palestinian citizens of Israel.

As for Netanyahu’s glowing reference to Israel fulfilling its commitments to the “Druze sector” as a reward for loyalty, Natour is unequivocal: “It’s not true. Druze have been in the army for 60 years and they still get less than other sections of Israeli society.” From land expropriation to erosion of cultural and national identity and out-and-out racism, Druze citizens of Israel suffer from many forms of discrimination that the Zionist narrative demands remain swept under the carpet.

But none of that will matter in the Israeli government’s final analysis. By publicizing the plan, the ruling coalition gets to claim it is investing in Israel’s “sectors,” while any protest from the relevant communities can be safely written off as ingratitude or incomprehension. Meanwhile the government, high up in its watchtower, can continue to undermine the identity of the country’s ethnic minorities under the guise of development.

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    1. Merkava

      Not correct:

      “Israel’s Druze reject Netanyahu’s divide-and-conquer policies”

      Correct:

      “The Interior Ministry approved Tuesday the establishment of Ahuzat Naftali in the northern Karnei Hittim region in the lower Galilee, paving the way for the first new Druze town in Israel’s history. (…) An Arabic-speaking community with their own distinct monotheistic religion, officials say there are over 110,000 Druze living in the northern Galilee, and another 20,000 on the Golan Heights. (…). Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara, who is Druze himself, helped draft the original proposal and took part in the meeting Tuesday. He called the move “a historic decision” but stressed that the government must continue efforts to solve the housing crisis within the Druze community. “This decision will help ease the discontent felt among many young Druze. Israel must continue to do all it can to embrace the Druze community,” he said”.

      http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-to-establish-first-new-druze-town/

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        You haven’t read the article. The piece starts out agreeing with your point that on the surface this development seems positive. Then the article goes on to claim that many in the Druze community (besides Kara, evidently) disagree with what’s happening: “This is not just my opinion,” Swaid continued. “I have met with many Druze representatives and everyone is against the plan.” The article then goes on to give the reasons why many Druze object.

        Anyone has the right to disagree with this piece on any number of grounds, but no one has the right to disagree with things it doesn’t say or other straw-man arguments.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merkava

          Another gibberish from “Ben” alias “Bruce Gould” alias “Israel” alias etc: a Muslim jihadi abusing Jewish names rambling what even he himself does not understand. Get a life, moron.

          Reply to Comment
          • Eliza

            No Merkava – Ben is merely pointing out that you do not appear to have fully read the article. No gibberish in that.

            The support of Ayoub Kara for the proposed development is not in doubt. As Ben pointed out, the article then addresses the rejection of the proposal by many Druze on the grounds that the development is to be on the site of a Palestinian village destroyed in the 48 Nakba.

            No-one begrudges your right to your opinion or to have your say – but at some point it would be nice if you could make sense.

            As for me, nothing can be more damning of the Zionist project than hearing Netanyahu fishing for compliments by stating that it is the first new Druze town since 48. Better late than never – but Israel really does like to keep people in their little compartments, each with their own little towns (except the Palestinians of course).

            Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            “Merkava – Ben is merely pointing out that …..”

            And there you have it folks. Ben (who also goes by the aliases Eva, Lauren and Eva) just had a nice “slip of the tongue” and admitted that “Bruce Gould” and “Ben” are the SAME person! He deployed one of his aliases “Eliza” to defend his gibberish, got confused in the process and made an inadvertent admission. I guess that’s what happens when an old man starts feeling like- and posing as a chic!

            BTW, Ben,

            Do a research on Ayoub Kara. That might clear up a lot of confusion for you. Fearing back-lash by some Druze members does not change the substance of what I posted.

            And, before I forget, no one cites Haaretz: a financially struggling ideologically far leftist newspaper that relies on “sensationalism” and “half truths” to generate “internet traffic and money”, as a credible source. You might want to demand your subscription money back, moron.

            Reply to Comment
          • Israel

            Says Ginger LIES alias “Merkava”, the psychotic Zionist Jewhadi self-abuser, who is abusing Judaism as she breathes, and can’t stop herself from rambling like a Zionist loon. Get a conscience, and a brain, you Zionist anti-Semite.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      The old strategy: Cover it with forests.

      The new strategy: Cover it with a cheap Druze development town. We’ve been dragging our feet for 20 years on genuine development, but with this step we can exploit the Druze with ersatz development, while using them to cover up the Nakba, and at the same time play divide and conquer with the Druze and the Arabs. Three birds with one stone.

      http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.695890

      “…the plan is being criticized by prominent members of the Druze community who are unhappy that the new town is slated to be built on the site of two Palestinian villages that were razed in 1948, and say they would rather be able to enlarge existing Druze communities…

      sources close to Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muwaffak Tarif told Haaretz they were taken aback by the decision. Former minister Salah Tarif took a much harsher view, calling the plan detached from reality.

      “…instead of advancing the master plans that have been stuck for 20 years, we get a decision to build a town with 400 housing units, which provides no solution for the thousands of young couples without housing,” the former minister said.

      “For decades we’ve talked to the authorities about building a town close to the existing Druze towns. This recommendation is just a band-aid that’s meant to cover up the real problem – the condition of the existing towns.”

      The Druze are also concerned about the implications the decision could have for relations with Israeli Arab society since the area designated for the new town belonged to the Palestinian villages of Hatin and Namarin, whose inhabitants became refugees in 1948.

      “We Druze cannot accept such a thing,” said retired police superintendent Khalil Halabi, a spokesman for the Committee for the Defense of the Lands of the Carmel. He says that in the past the Druze spiritual leadership was opposed to receiving alternate lands in exchange for lands appropriated from inhabitants of Daliat al-Carmel and Isfiya, when it learned that the land being offered came from the abandoned village of Umm Azinat. “There is plenty of land near the Druze villages that could be developed,” Halabi said.”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Carmen

      I have a lot of respect for the Druze. Miras Natour couldn’t have put it any better. Divide and conquer has been the method used by all colonialist powers, obviously because it has worked so well. Netanyahu apparently believes that he has credibility among the non-Jewish population, but I’m guessing not so much anymore, especially after the death and destruction rained down on Gaze in July/August 2014, his continued penchant for incitement here and abroad, his behavior at the last elections and the recent speech he gave in Tel Aviv after the shooting resulting in 3 deaths last Friday. I think his target audience is the West. “Giving” them the skeletal remains of yet another Palestinian town, instead of moving the usual suspects onto it. Thank God for the internet and reports like these.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Karl

      >> potential friction point between two native groups

      The author is trying to say that the Hebrew ethnic people are not indigenous to the Levant.

      That song and dance didn’t work out very well for Rachel Corry, and it won’t work for the author.

      PS: Arabic-language-prevalence amongst our Druze cousins is a simple historical accident. It can change, and – in 3 or 4 generations – it will fade away amongst them. Like Yiddish amongst the Jews.

      In 5 generations, the low price of oil will do all the work for us – Hebrew, Aramaic, & Coptic, will be the languages of Israel & Gaza.

      The likes of Ms Rowland can find their Arabic futures in Michigan. It looks to be happening already.

      Reply to Comment
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