‘The atmosphere is changing here’: The Druze community confronts the Nation State law

Yumna Patel on September 12, 2018
In the aftermath of the Nation-State law, when Israel officially declared itself a Jewish state, the fallout among minority communities in the country was felt through massive protests, stories of “betrayal,” and demands for civil rights equal to Israeli Jews.

One of the first groups to protest the law was the Druze community, an Arabic-speaking ethno-religious minority numbering approximately 120,000 in Israel — less than two percent of citizens.
Following the Nakba in 1948, Palestine’s Druze community — who predominantly reside in the northern regions of Galilee and Carmel — became citizens of the new state of Israel.
In what has been described by historians as a “divide and conquer” policy implemented by Israel in the early years of the state, the Druze community were offered certain “privileges” not afforded to other Palestinians in Israel, in an effort to establish the notion that Druze were distinct from the larger Palestinian Arab community.
In 1956, Druze leaders signed the so-called “covenant of blood” with the Israeli state, conscripting the community’s male population into Israel’s army, making it the only non-Jewish population with mandatory conscription. The Circassians, a small Muslim minority, were also imposed with mandatory conscription.
Just one year later, in 1957, the Israeli government designated the Druze as a distinct ethnic community separate from Palestinian Christians and Muslims, who form the overwhelmingly majority of Israel’s 20 percent non-Jewish population.
As Israeli and international media reported on the Druze protests in early August, a major theme of the coverage was the topic of “betrayal” that was felt among the community, particularly those men who had served in the military.
Images of crowds flying Druze and Israeli flags next to one another were plastered on the front pages of newspapers and websites, talking about Israel’s “most loyal minority.”
As thousands of Druze took to the streets to protest the betrayal of the Israeli government, a relatively small group of Druze activists watched, in what they hesitantly described as a sense of happiness.
“Yes, I guess you could say we were happy in a way,” Hadiya Kayoof, 27, told Mondoweiss. 
Kayoof is a Druze woman from the village of Isifyah near Haifa. She’s one of the founders of “Urfod — Refuse, Your People Will Protect You,” a group of Druze activists who have refused military conscription and provide legal and emotional support to young
Hadiya Kayoof, 27, is Druze Palestinian and activist with the group “Urfod”
members of the community who are in the process of refusing conscription.
“Of course I wasn’t surprised when the Nation State law was passed,” Kayoof, who identifies as Palestinian, said. “For me, I know that Israel was built on the expulsion of my nation and my people; it’s a racist colonial state, so it’s not new for me that there is Jewish supremacy in Israel.”
“The law showed everyone [in the Druze community] that believed in the Israeli democracy, that there is no real democracy in Israel. Its either you are Jewish or non-Jewish, and if you are non-Jewish you won’t get your rights,” she said matter of factly, “it doesn’t matter if you serve in the army or not.”
One of Kayoof’s colleagues, Khaled Farrag, 37, who is part of the founding team of Urfod, expressed similar sentiments regarding the law.
“I personally, and I think also the whole movement of Urfod, were quite welcoming to the Nation State law, because it didn’t or really isn’t going to change so much on the ground,” Farrag said, “what it states is actually happening since the Nakba.”
Khaled Farrag, 37, is one of the founding members of Urfod
In their conversations with Mondoweiss, both Kayoof and Farrag expressed a sense of misguided outrage among the Druze community towards the nation state bill.
“The Druze protests were misguided and quite dangerous, because it emphasized the fact that many Druze go to military and that’s why they should get their rights,” said Kayoof, who as a Druze woman, was not obligated to serve in the army.
“This kind of mentality implies that, if you don’t go to military and don’t show your loyalty then it means that you do not deserve any rights. We should get equality because we are citizens of Israel — a citizenship that wa forced on us — not because we are loyal to the state,” she said.
Kayoof continued to point out the hypocrisy of such a mentality, highlighting that women make up around 50% of the Druze community, and do not serve in the military.
“Does this mean a woman shouldn’t have her rights at all, because she didn’t go to the army? It means a man or husband or brother, they collect your rights for you,” she said, “it’s very partricatchal.”
According to the activists, the passing of the Nation State law brought to the surface an “identity crisis” among the Druze community that has been festering for decades, ever since 1948.
“There is a huge identity crisis among the Druze in Israel,” Kayoof said. “Part of it is because our mother tongue is Arabic, so it is very weird to try to convince yourself you’re not Arab when you speak the language. It’s very contradictory.”
“On the other hand, people in the community are being brainwashed in schools and are told that they are Israeli, and therefore need to be loyal to Israel, one part of which is serving in the military,” she said.
For Kayoof, one of the most effective forms of “brainwashing” of the Druze community by the Israeli government, happens in schools, where in the 1970’s, the government separated the Druze curriculum from other Palestinian curriculums.
“So in the 70’s, Druze schools started to study according to a special curriculum designed by Israel in order to manipulate their identity,” Kayoof said, adding that it took her years of her own research to overcome years of “brainwashing.”
“In elementary school, we studied according to that curriculum where they had a great emphasis on the so called relationship between Druze and Jewish people, and they tried to instill in us an identity which is called Druze-Israeli, rather than Palestinian,” she said, adding that she was taught that “the Palestinians only live in the West Bank and Gaza, and are bad people that want to kill us all.”
Farrag, who comes from a family of refusers who are deeply in touch with their Palestinian identity, told Mondoweiss that when the Nation State law was passed “the Druze community, specifically those who have been assimilated within Israeli society and detached from their Palestinian roots or Arab culture altogether, it was a heartbreaking moment for them.”
He reiterated Kayoof’s point, which for the two, seems to lie at the heart of the crisis in the Druze community: “They though the army service gave them privileges within Israeli society that will protect them from racism and discrimination.”
“But the reality is, that there isn’t a specific discrimination against Druze, its the same as the discrimination against all Palestinians,” Farrag said.
“We see it in the underdevelopment of villages, no housing and planning and industrial zones, no jobs in the villages,” Farrag, who grew up in a Druze village in the Galilee, said. “If you go to a Palestinian village and a Druze Palestinian village, you’ll see the same issues and problems.”
“And on an individual level you face the same racism. Lots of Druze, even those who served in the army, once they take off the uniform, they are back to being an Arab, a second-class citizen.”
While many in the Druze community, according to Farrag and Kayoof, may be in denial about their identity and their place within Israeli society, the activists say they’ve already begun to see the tides turning with the passing of the Nation State law.
According to Farrag, within one week of the law being passed and the subsequent protests, there was a significant increase in the number of young Druze reaching out to Urfod for support.
“After the protests happened and the campaigns started, we had somewhere between 10 to 12 people turn to us and the Urfod support team, saying that ‘because of the Nation State bill, I’m not planning to join the army’.”
Farrag said the Urfod team were mostly approach by fresh high school graduates who would have to join the army in the coming months.
“Another two guys who have been dodging the draft for a year reached out to us as well,” Farrag said.
“For all of that to happen in one week, it’s an indicator of what is happening,” he said, “we usually get 10 objectors every three months. It’s clear that the atmosphere is changing.”
Though their message seems to be resonating with more and more people in their community each day that the law remains in effect, Farrag and Kayoof say the protests and changing attitudes towards the Israeli government are not good enough.
“We need to abolish this law,” Farrag told Mondoweiss.
When asked if they would accept a deal that Druze leaders have attempted to negotiate with the Israeli government, which would see an amendment to the law that would give Druze equal status as Jews, both Kayoof and Farrag responded with a resounding “no.”
“The best possible solution is just to cancel this law,” Farrag said.
“It is not about the Druze having this special status in Israeli society,” he continued, “if we are to struggle against this bill, it has to be a whole Palestinian struggle for the damage this bill does to the Palestinian minority and the Palestinian cause in general.
“Of course, we should never accept such a deal,” Kayoof said, “our struggle should not be against this specific law. This law is not our problem. Our problem is more fundamental. Our problem is Zionism, this racist ideology. That is what we need to eradicate.”
“Even if they abolish law, it doesn’t mean the racism is no longer here in Israel. No.”