Druze village’s character shaped by education, sport, and loyalty to Israel

By Maxine Dovere/JNS.org

Click photo to download. Caption: The headmaster of the high school in the Druze village of Julis, Dr. Yousef Hassan, is pictured in his office, with pictures of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and philosopher Yeshayahu Liebowitz—who he says are his heroes—on the wall. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

JULIS, Israel—The enclaves of one of Israel’s most loyal and ardently Zionist indigenous populations lie not far from the coastal city of Acre. This community is no historical remnant—it is a modern group of Israelis whose service and sacrifice for the Jewish state is legendary. Residents are lawyers and doctors, entrepreneurs and merchants, teachers and engineers, and political activists. The community’s young men serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with great honor, and its young women are beginning to enter national service.

That description applies not to one of Israel’s Jewish communities, but rather to the Druze village of Julis, one of the smallest of the Druze communities in northern Israel.

Makif, the village’s high school, sits at a high point in the village, providing an extraordinary view that extends all the way to Lebanon. As the school’s headmaster speaks, pictures on the wall to his right, of current Israeli President Shimon Peres and late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, seem to smile upon his words. The headmaster, Dr. Yousef Hassan, says Rabin and philosopher Yeshayahu Liebowitz are his heroes. A red loose-leaf binder resting on his desk is filled with selections from their writings.   

Education is at the core of the development of Julis’s future. 

Click photo to download. Caption: The El-Mona Garden in the Druze village of Julis. Credit: Avishai Teicher/PikiWiki Israel.

“With both the boys and the girls, our aim is to make them good citizens,” Hassan tells JNS.org.

Hassan describes the high school’s development of Atsama, a program dedicated to the empowerment of women. Structured as an adjunct program to regular academic studies, it works with the young women of Julis to develop self-confidence and readiness for employment, and provides them with counseling regarding higher education, job training, and social services. Hassan notes that about 25 percent of Julis’s high school graduates continue to university, a percentage he is seeking to increase. Seventy percent of university students from Julis are women.
 
“The difference in the family of an educated woman is a distinct improvement of the family situation. Educated women have smaller families; the children of educated women are better educated,” Hassan says.

Druze history began in or around the year 1014, when the faith’s precepts were formalized by a group of scholars and leaders in Egypt. The Druze call themselves al-Tawhid, meaning “the People of Monotheism,” or al-Muwaḥḥidūn, “the Unitarians.” Their beliefs incorporate elements of Abrahamic religions, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, and other philosophies. The Kitab al-Hikma (Epistles of Wisdom) is their sacred text.

The Druze identification as a separate sect is noted as early as the 11th century by Christian scholar Yahya of Antioch. Benjamin of Tudela, the famous Jewish traveler of Lebanon, wrote about the Dogziyin (referring to Druze) around the year 1165. Druze, while being known for their loyalty to the countries in which they reside, maintain strong community ties even across borders. In Israel, most reside in the north. After the 1967 Six-Day War, about 20,000 Druze in the Golan Heights came under Israeli sovereignty.

Daliyat al-Karmel, the largest of the Druze villages in Israel’s north, is home to former Member of Knesset Ayoob Kara, whose brothers and uncles died defending Israel. Kara was the first Druze Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and the first non-Jew to receive a ministerial portfolio, serving as Deputy Minister for the Negev and the Galilee. Kara has called for unity between Druze and Jews “to strengthen the Zionist connection.” He says Zionism is consistent with the Druze tradition because Druze are the descendants of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, and were “commanded to watch over the Land of Israel.”

The Druze are a people divided by politics and borders. Globally, their population is estimated to be between 1 and 2 million, with major populations concentrated in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. Six to 7 percent of the Druze, about 125,000, live in Israel. Druze in Israel are deeply integrated into the Jewish state’s social and economic fabric;they are the only non-Jewish minority drafted into the military.

Druze soldiers have a higher participation rate in combat units than Jewish soldiers, and a higher percentage of Druze soldiers rise to officer ranks. When JNS.org visited the Druze village of Julis, memorial wreaths honoring a 19-year-old IDF soldier who had fallen on Aug. 12, 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, were still resting alongside the young soldier’s tomb. In total, 33 young men from Julis have given their lives to protect the Jewish state.

The bond between Jewish and Druze soldiers is commonly known as “brit damim”—a covenant of blood. The strength of that covenant is evident through research findings: According to a 2008 Tel Aviv University study, more than 94 percent of Druze youth classified themselves as “Druze-Israelis.”

History is a constant for the Druze people. Holy places and shrines are scattered throughout the Druze villages. In Julis, the tomb of Sheikh Ali Fares, a revered 18th-century leader of the faith, dominates one of the highest points in the village. Ali Fares spent the majority of his life in seclusion and prayer on the hilltop where his tomb is located. The tomb also holds the remains of Sheikh Mohana Tanf, a 19th-century Druze leader.

Now, in the midst of modernity, Julis aims to maintain a collaborative spirit among its residents.

“There is an energy here,” says Asraf Hino, director of the Julis Community Center, whose offerings include art, music, and other social programming. “If everyone does his job, the whole community will benefit.”

Former Julis mayor and current mayoral candidate Nadim Amar is the driving force behind multiple community projects aimed to foster cross-cultural connections, among them the Amutah Sport Julis (Julis Sport Association), which invites young men ages 5-18 from the area to play soccer. A group of 350 boys is divided among age-specific teams, including a team of 18-year-olds that participates in international competitions. Druze, Jewish, Christian, and Arab boys play together.

For nine years, Joan Samoshi of Kibbutz Matsuva has traveled about a half-hour, each way, to bring her son to Julis Sport Association practices and games. “It’s a very broadening experience,” she tells JNS.org. “We have to start at home and let people in, and not worry only about your own.”

“Wonderful things happen here,” Nadim Amar tells JNS.org regarding the Julis Sport Association. “Twelve years ago we made sports a means of improving the culture. Through sports, people come together from all the area towns.”

“The kids bring their parents,” he adds. “They have a cup of coffee and find themselves speaking about things in general—not just soccer. As the kids grow, they realize the importance of the connections. Soccer is only a means to the end.”

Download this story in Microsoft Word format here

Posted on September 2, 2013 and filed under Features, Israel.