The Druze of Israel: Hope for Arab-Jewish Collaboration

In the war-torn Middle East, it is rare to find two groups with different religions, nationalities and histories working together and developing a flourishing relationship. Yet, in Israel the strong relationship between Arab Druze and Israeli Jews shows hope for the future of the Middle East.

It's remarkable even that the 130,000 Israeli Druze, neither Muslims nor Christians, have survived in the Middle East, avoiding the often gruesome fate of other minorities like Christians, Yazidis and Shiites.

The Arabic and Hebrew-speaking Druze of Israel have a strong community with their own schools and religious courts. A study showed that 94 percent of Druze youth identified themselves as "Druze-Israelis" loyal to Israel. They live predominantly in northern Israel in mountainous villages with some villages mixed with other Arabs.

When a small element of Syrian Druze attacked Israel recently on the Golan Heights, they were condemned by Israeli Druze. In turn, the Israelis warned the Islamists to stay away from Syrian Druze villages. The 17,000 Druze living on the Golan Heights have been loyal to the Syrian regime but now are increasingly resigned, and probably even relieved, that they are in Israel rather than war-torn Syria.

A secret religious group founded in the 11th century, the Druzes are unique in a number of ways. They revere Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, as their chief prophet and the Tomb of Jethro is located in Israel near Tiberias. Their prophets are Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. They haven't proselytized since the middle of the 11th century. The Druze function as a separate monotheistic religion with a belief in reincarnation. They believe in the unity of G-d and reject iconography. They have no set of rituals and ceremonies.

Only a qualified elite (less than 10 percent of the population) have access to sacred scriptures and read Druze religious literature. There is no clergy and they do not smoke, eat pork or drink alcohol. The women who are widowed or divorced are not allowed to remarry. Unlike Arab women, the majority of Druze women work outside the home.

Their often mountainous villages provide some protection for the Druze. Having fought the Israelis in the 1948 War of Independence, they switched sides and since 1956 have accepted compulsory military service. They were influenced by persecution before 1948 by Arab nationalists who tried to seize their most sacred tomb, that of Jethro on the sea of Galilee.

Fully 80 percent of Druze males have served in the Israeli military. Some Israeli Druze women also have served in the army and risen to high posts. Overall, 760 Israeli senior officers have been Druze with a number serving in elite units. They are proportionately better represented in combat units than Jews. Recently they dissolved their own special unit and are fully integrated in the Israeli army.

As Israeli citizens, Druze vote in elections, enjoy the prosperity of Israel as a First World economy, benefit from universal health care, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary system and have several Knesset representatives. The Druze have served as Israeli actresses, diplomats, politicians, judges, commander of the police and even Acting President of Israel.

The fact that the Druzes, as a distinct group of Israeli Arabs, have, despite job discrimination, flourished in Israel, offers hope for the future of Arab-Jewish cooperation and working together in the strife torn Middle East.