It is Saturday afternoon. There are hundreds of shoppers and day-trippers in Daliyat al-Karmel and in Isfiya—two Druze villages in Israel’s north. In the past, an attempt was made to join these two villages into one, but the effort failed. “The Druze population is not uniform,” Wafa, a resident of Isfiya, explains to me. “A person’s familial and clan affiliations are much more influential,” than ethnicity, he says.
Indeed, despite the broad protest effort surrounding the recently approved nation-state law (which the Druze, a non-Jewish Israeli minority, find offensive, as it defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people), quite a few dissenting voices can be heard within the Druze community. Wafa is one of these voices.
“I support the nation-state law and understand that its aim is not to harm the Druze population or any other minority in Israel,” he says. “But what can you do? Our youth no longer listen to their elders. They read what people are saying on social media, and they think that the nation-state law labels us, the Druze, as second-class citizens. But the nation-state bill is actually designed to protect the status of minorities in Israel.
“Because if Israel becomes a state of all its citizens, the minorities will be the first to pay the price. Just look at what’s happening now to the Druze communities in Syria, in Lebanon and in other countries, and you’ll see the status of minorities in countries that claim to be equal,” he says.
According to Wafa, “There are people who insist on fomenting dissent and stirring the youngsters against the state. Ultimately, the ones to pay the price will be the Druze. I am 100 percent certain that this dispute over the nation-state law will be resolved, but we, the Druze, will end up paying the price.”
At the Daliyat al-Karmel center, some 20 buses are waiting to transport demonstrators to the mass protest in Tel Aviv. One of the activists, who insists on anonymity, passes between the buses and ensures that none of the protest signs are of a political nature.
“We are not against the state or its symbols,” he says, showing me that every Druze flag is paired with an Israeli flag. “On Friday, there were some radical leftists here, and they were handing out little Palestinian Authority flags. Those flags went into the trash, and we demanded that the activists leave. With all due respect to the left-wing organizations and the pro-Palestinian organizations, our protest is not anti-Zionist or against the state.”
‘We are not Palestinian. We are Zionist Druze.’
In other Druze villages across the Israeli north, the general consensus is that the protest has taken a turn that makes most Druze, even those who oppose the law, uncomfortable. “It is not acceptable for anyone to call MK Avi Dichter, who authored the law, a Nazi,” says Daliyat al-Karmel Mayor Rafik Halabi, a former journalist and one of the leaders of the protest movement against the law.
“You, in the media, are warmongers and inciters,” says Wahil, a Druze IDF officer in the reserves. “Most of the Druze don’t even care about the nation-state law. But there are these people who make sure to push the young people to protest. The people behind this are not part of the Druze community. They are radical left-wing activists.”
“Nowhere in the law does it say that the Druze people don’t have civil rights. We have never demanded national rights, and we have no problem with the State of Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people. Quite the contrary. The Druze people have linked their fate with the Jewish state of Israel in a covenant of blood. The Druze people have thrived here since the state of Israel was established, unlike the Druze people in other, neighboring countries, who are persecuted.”
Dozens of buses begin making their way from the Druze villages towards Tel Aviv, heading for the protest. “There will be tens of thousands of people in the square, but our hope that this demonstration won’t come back to bite us,” says Wafa with a sigh. “Sadly, even people who don’t identify with this cause have to agree with it because that’s the trend in our community. It is true that they don’t listen to their elders, and it’s OK for them to have their own opinion. But they have to keep in mind that within our small, unique community, we have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy the protection of the State of Israel.”
“I’m afraid that the Jewish public will think that we are coming out against the state,” he continues. “It is important to me and many like me to clarify: We are not Palestinian. We are not Palestinians living in Israel. We are Zionist Druze, who love the state and identify with its values and its symbols—99 percent of the Druze sing the national anthem ‘Hatikvah.’ We will continue to fight for the state that, over the course of its 70 years, has extended all the civil rights to its minorities.”
Wafa adds that he hopes “those encouraging the youngsters to label Israel an ‘apartheid state’ and call the prime minister and the MKs ‘Nazis’ don’t end up causing an irreparable rift between the Druze and the Jewish populations in Israel.
“Our young people need to understand that the moment they stop serving the interests of those encouraging them to protest against the state, they will disappear. And then what? The New Israel Fund will take care of them? Where were they until now?”