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Analysis: Druze and Muslims sit together on a powder keg of tensions

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Lieutenant-Colonel Kamil Shanan, an Israeli policeman killed in a terror attack on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, 14 July 2017.
Israel Police
Both the victims and the perpetrators were Israeli, both were Arabs. Here ends the common denominator.

The political and diplomatic implications of the attack on the Temple Mount, one of the most explosive sites on the face of the earth, are self-evident and far from over. Less discussed, but not less sensitive, are the possible domestic repercussions of the terrorist attack: two Israeli Druze officers killed by three Israeli Muslim zealots. Both the victims and the perpetrators were Israeli, both were Arabs. Here ends the common denominator.

The rest is a potentially dangerous friction between the country's large Muslim minority of almost two million people and the tiny minority of about 150,000 Druze struggling for decades to find their place in the domestic complexity of Israeli society and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions and riots between the two communities – three if you add Christian Arabs to this complex equation – have a tense and sometimes bloody history.

Shots fired at the window of a mosque in the northern village of Maghar, home to Muslim, Arab Christians and Druze, including one of the police officers killed in Friday's attack. A grenade thrown at another mosque in the village - this might be just the beginning of another cycle of violence between the communities. Ten years ago, Maghar was the site of inter-religious riots when the Druze community suspected Christian neighbors of posting immodest pictures of local Druze girls. No one actually saw the pictures, but the rumors were enough for arson attacks on Christian homes and cars.

Israel Police

The Christians at that time talked in terms of a "Kristallnacht," in reference to the pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany in 1938. Jewish policemen sent to control the situation in Maghar were overheard whispering their concerns: "If this is what they do to each other, just imagine what they can do to us.” That is the story in a nutshell. Back then it was just rumors of pictures posted, but now we have the killing of two of the finest and brightest sons of the Druze community. Will this tragedy and its destructive potential be sufficient to impose restraint on all sides?

So far, all sides walk carefully along this tightrope. The stakes are high, and the alternative is literally playing with fire - a fact that both sides are very much aware of.

Though most Druze define themselves as Arabs, sociologists talking about Israeli society always make the distinction, mentioning “Arabs" and "Druze” as two separate entities. The Druze religion is an offshoot of early Islam, but conceptually very different.

Jalaa Marey (AFP/File)

“We don’t have holy stones,” explains Mohammad Ramel, a prominent member of the Druze community, referring to the sanctity of the Temple Mount to both Jews and Muslims. Speaking to i24NEWS, Ramel made an overt attempt to put the blame for the atrocity on influence from the outside.

“I believe the three Muslims perpetrators were under the influence of the Islamic State militant group, not of the Israeli Islamic Movement,” he says. "I do not foresee any form of repetition of the Maghar events. In fact, instead I see a large number of Muslims coming to comfort the two bereaved Druze. The fact the terrorists were Muslims is of no significance. What is significant is the fact they were Israelis.”

Ramel is not the only one to push the blame onto more abstract entities beyond the borders of the state. Islamic State is not in Israel, whereas members of the Israeli Islamic movement are in the physically close position of being neighbors.

Not all Druze sound so reconciliatory. “I think there are many responsible for this act of terror, and I strongly believe insiders from the mosque itself were involved,” says a young lawyer from the Druze community who prefers to remain anonymous. Between the lines, he criticizes the decision to post Druze officers in such sensitive locations as the Temple Mount.

Another public opinion leader in the Druze community notes that four Druze officers have been killed while on duty in Jerusalem over the past two years "despite making up 1.4% of the Israeli population." His meaning - the Druze pay a disproportionately high price for what is a Jewish-Muslim conflict. On the other end of the spectrum, many Druze (including the father of one of the slain officers, former Labor MK Shakib Shanan) take immense pride in the role the Druze play protecting the security of the state.

Israeli Police Spokesperson Unit

Both attitudes reflect further friction between the Muslim and Druze communities in Israel. One main difference is the mandatory military service of the Druze while Muslims are exempt from military service. Over the decades, the Druze have expected some form of payback from the state for their loyalty and the price they have paid for that loyalty.

For decades, the community has claimed they have been disrespected and neglected by Israeli authorities, as well as being disdained by the Muslim community which ridicules them for getting nothing in return for their services rendered to the state. Among other undercurrents, there is also competition for favor from the authorities. Even now, in the midst of the unbearable grief, the Druze community raises the idea that they want not a “covenant of blood” with the State of Israel, but instead a “covenant of life” that will not only improve their lives but also their status among other minorities.

Even in this atmosphere of self-imposed restraint, the one overt expression of anger is directed at the mild reaction of the official Arab-Muslim authorities in Israel. Some Arab lawmakers issued a statement deploring any use of violence, but placed the blame for the attack mainly on "Israeli policy and the continuing occupation.”

The Druze community expected an overt condemnation of the killing of their officers from the elected leadership of the Arab community in Israel, but it has not come. Rafik Halabi, head of the municipal council of Daliyat al- Carmel, the largest Druze town in the country and former head of news at the Israeli Broadcasting Authority wrote on his official Facebook page: “… they are meek-of-heart cowards peeping out from their holes, afraid to raise their voice.” At the same time, he called on the Druze community “not to generalize, and not to see all Muslims as enemies.”

Who better than he, a former officer in the Israeli army and head of news at the national broadcaster, to understand that all sides are now holding explosive material that must be handled with care.

Lily Galili is a feature writer, analyst of Israeli society and expert on immigration from the former Soviet Union. She is the co-author of "The Million that Changed the Middle East."


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