Israel’s Druse community is proud to take part in both Remembrance Day and Independence Day, identifying itself as an integral part of the state whose members have served in all of the wars in its history.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are around 130,000 Druse in Israel.
Among them, 20,000 live on the Golan and are seen as distinct in terms of national loyalty as they tend to identify with Syria as opposed to Israel.
The Druse originated in the 11th century as an offshoot of the Ismaili Shi’ite Fatimid dynasty in Egypt and its ruler Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, believed to be a messianic, divine figure.
The Druse made their way north and settled in the region covered by the modern states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel.
Amal Naser Eldeen, the director of the Druse Yad Lebanim Center in the village of Daliyat al-Karmel and a Likud Knesset member from 1977 to 88, spoke with The Jerusalem Post on the eve of Remembrance Day.
“The Druse were the only ones who told the Jews yes, when they were surrounded and attacked by Arab armies,” Eldeen said. “There were agreements between the Jews and the Druse before the existence of the State of Israel,” he added.
The Yad Lebanim Druse Center founded in 1982 maintains the rights and memories of fallen Druse soldiers.
Three hundred and ninety two Druse soldiers have been killed while serving in the IDF.
Eldeen fought for recognition and rights for Druse from early on, and made a deal with Menachem Begin when he was the head of the opposition.
Begin told Eldeen that he was planning to improve the conditions of the Druse if he won the elections. He joined the Likud in 1977 and was elected to the Knesset that year.
Asked by the Post what he remembered from the 1948 war, he said, “I remember that the Arabs said that they would throw the Jews into the sea and they came with all of their weapons, when there were 600,000 Jews in the country,” emphasizing that “the Druse stood with the Jews…. You have to understand that the Jews are not alone, but with the Druse.”
Eldeen’s son Lutfi fell in a battle while serving Israel in the South in 1969. One of his two daughters then named her son Lutfi and he fell too, during the war in Gaza in 2008. Another son, Saleh, was captured and taken prisoner by Hamas in 1995. His whereabouts are unknown.
Eldeen has two other sons, one who just finished his army service and another who is set to join the Israel Air Force. He says that today all positions are open to the Druse in the army.
Yad Lebanim also serves as a military preparation academy, preparing Druse youth for their army service.
In 1956, military service became obligatory for the Druse and Circassian populations.
Asked about what he thought about the current debate in Israeli society regarding haredim and Arabs in the army, Eldeen said that Arabs should not be forced to serve because they “have family on the other side,” so they should do national service.
As to haredim, he said there is no excuse for them not to serve in the army, and that they must also learn professions.
Eldeen understood that some haredim will still be allowed to dedicate themselves exclusively to the study of Torah, and pointed out that the Druse also have an arrangement whereby 15 percent are granted army exemptions in favor of religious studies.
Asked about the difference between the Druse in the Golan and those in the rest of Israel, Eldeen said that Israeli Druse were an “inseparable part of the state,” but that the Golan Druse have family in Syria, though he notes that all Druse are the same, like Jews.
Bringing up the subject of the Syrian war, Eldeen said, “Syria is an enemy country, with or without Assad.”
View original Jerusalem Post publication at: http://www.jpost.com/National-News/Druse-participate-in-Israels-joy-and-sorrow-309838