International Writers Magazine: Comment
A small peace of Israel
away in the sun-lined Carmel mountains a few miles south-east
of Haifa is the community of Daliat el Carmel, home to 13,000
of Israels 106,000 Druze. The absence of election paraphernalia
on its winding, narrow streets is striking. But there is something
else which marks out this village, making it an anomaly in the
Arab world: its citizens unbending allegiance to Israel.
As the Labour, Likud
and Kadima (Forwards) parties jostle for attention in Jerusalem
and Tel Aviv vying for representation in the 17th Knesset, denouncing
in unison the election of Hamas in last months Palestinian elections,
it is the economy which is most important to the Druze. Built-up stone
housing and dilapidated buildings characterise the landscape as young
men smoke and drink coca cola in the streets below. Average salaries
are $200 a month here and many generations have emigrated to Lebanon
and Syria in search of an improved standard of living.
Dr Fawaz Kamal, who now works as the Director of the Arabic Press Department
in the Israeli Government, is one such case. He says that after completing
his Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) service, he studied at Hebrew University
and moved to Philadelphia to study for a PhD. In 1948, military service
was voluntary for the community but, when the Military Service Law came
into effect in 1956, the Druze opted to become the only Arab community
in Israel for whom service is compulsory.
are very loyal," Dr Kamal says over a substantial lunch of
cousa, fuul and pitta in the village. "Druze see themselves
as Israeli but they want to keep their identity; we have our roots
in the community. What is significant in Israel is that you can
live in these small communities."
The Druze are a
close-knit, conservative and one-thousand year-old religion. There have
been three or four cases of adultery in previous years in el Carmel
with the perpetrators chased from the community; homosexuality remains
an alien phenomenon. Such behaviour has led to the unflattering adjective
kisrawi (idiot) used to describe Druze men from the nearby locality
Kisra, near Tefen. Dr Kamal tells me that locals have a strong belief
in the soul and in reincarnation; the people will collect their deeds
on Judgment Day, he says. They shun material belongings, echoed at the
busy shuk, where people flock to buy shisha pipes, mosaic carpets and
Israeli flags daily.
As the politicking accelerates before the elections in Israeli towns
and cities, the airwaves and television slots clogged by cosmetics-daubed
MKs, locals here go about their daily lives. One shopkeeper says: "I
intend to vote. But it is such a sure outcome; everybody knows that
Kadima are going to win," he says taking a break from customer
inquiries. "They are so far ahead."
At the Beit Yad Labanim building which sits in the old Western side
of el Carmel, once known as Sir Oliphants House, in
memory of British traveller and diplomat Laurence Oliphant who worked
towards the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine in the late 19th
century and lived in the village, there is a memorial to the loyalty
of the Druze soldiers. Alongside photographs of the 355 Druze who have
died in Israels wars is a local adage emblazoned on the wood-panelled
walls. It reads: "Lighter than the eagle, stronger than the liar."
Written in Arabic and Hebrew, it is a signature of this communitys
devotion to the state, known as taqiyya, which calls for adherence to
the government of the country and has led to the highest proportionate
loss of people in Israels many battles.
There are currently two Druze MKs in the 120-seat Knesset; nine have
represented this minority throughout Israels 58-year history.
The Bedouin and Palestinians are officially the other minorities. Arab
citizens of Israel represent 12.4 per cent of the electorate,
numbering 503,000 of 4.1m voters. The Druze account for 1.5 per cent
of the population, yet turnout in el Carmel has been amongst the highest
in the Arab communities. In 2001, following the deaths of 12 Arab Israelis
in the al-Aqsa Intifada, only 18 per cent of Arabs voted. Polls predict
that 30 per cent of the Druze community will sign a cross next to the
Ken box on their ballots - the Kadima Party.
The rise of Kadima has brought with it an increased awareness of Israels
Arab minority. London-born MK Yohanan Plesner tells me from Tel Aviv
that rates of poverty have grown in the past few years throughout Israel.
"Kadima is aiming to bridge these gaps," he says, his confidence
and American accent the product of a degree at Harvard. "Israel
introduces itself as a remedy for Arab societies. But where were
at now is a more complicated reality it is about a struggle for
El-Carmel is the largest Druze settlement in Israel, yet there are few
job opportunities available. 40 per cent occupy positions in the defence,
army and police industries with a small number relying on the verdant
and fertile land that surrounds the village for income. Others travel
to kibbutzim to work as electricians and builders.
"Most Druze use the fire place because electricity is so expensive,"
Dr Kamal says outside Beit Yad Labanim, where the sun bounces off the
hills dotted with olive trees and vineyeards, from which the village
derives its name - dalia means vine. "The
villages here are very poor and have been neglected. Although people
have emigrated, some return on the weekends. But people do want to develop
the villages; we are very loyal."
© Kevin Widdop March 2006
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