The Olive and the Tree: The Secret Strength of the Druze by Ruth Westheimer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Druze of the Holy Land
Situated in the north of what is recognized today as the Modern State of Israel, lies a community that is a minority within a minority. The Arabs are minorities in Israel and the Druze are a minority amongst the Arabs. Little is known about these hill dweller who have villages in the Carmel, Galilee and Golan. Their religion is secret even amongst themselves, their history though available to all is by and large unstudied. The Israeli Jews go up there for great deals, good food and warm hospitality. The Druze are known for the loyalty to the state. They serve in the Israeli Defense forces and have lost a high proportion of their numbers in the IDF defending the country, even a higher proportion then Israeli Jews do. The Druze believe in a concept of taqiyah which abides them to go along with the sovereign of where they live.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer , noted author on many books on sex, has delved into this little known community with the help of Gil Sedan. Her research started off as a documentary which then turned into a book. She has a Jewish background and is both a survivor of the Holocaust and a veteran of the Jewish Haganah. Her book is very even handed and those who know nothing about the Druze will find this book to be both a light read and very informative. Not many are able to plumb into the depths of the community as she has.
She covers several topics in this book such as relations to the state,religion , customs and more. As noted earlier the Druze are loyal to the state of residence, and there are Druze in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Each Druze community is loyal to the state and their own people.The Druze loyalty to Israel has put some friction between the Israeli Druze and the others. Yet they believe in loyalty to the Druze.Such a stance has alienated them from other Arabs.
As for religion it is very secretive even amongst themselves. Most Druze are not religious in fact they have few rituals and very few religious commandments. Like Muslims they are to refrain from adultery, alcohol and smoking. Most of them though do smoke. The ones who know and study the religion are called the "Wiseones" and the ones who are the majority and secular are known as "Ignorant ones" When a Druze becomes observant they shave their head, grow a handlebar mustache and wear a turban like hat. In the Druze religion both men and women are deemed equal and both can become knowers of the religion.
This equality extends onto other areas of life. Both can work and hold jobs and pursue education. A woman can also divorce a man as a man can divorce a woman. Once they are divorced however, there is no going back. The equality does not extend into all areas of life. While the Druze way may not include honor killings that are present in Arab culture it is still there. Both male and female druze are not allowed to marry outside of the community, For men the penalty would be banishment, loss of inheritance, children not part of the community and for a woman the penalty is death. The Druze have been known to carry out this penatly. This is followed more strictly in Israel then it is in Syria or Lebanon.
THe religious extremist among the Druze have tried to limit womens freedom but have not been successful. They wanted women in the home and not be allowed to drive a car. The community did not listen. In Israel the Druze identity is more solid and reinforced then it is in other countries. In ARab countries they identify themselves as Arab while in Israel they are definitely Druze. As noted earlier the Druze are loyal to the state but that special relationship has been strained at times.
While the Druze serve in the army, other ARab like Muslims and Christians go to university and get higher paying jobs. When the Druze leave the army they are often lagging behind in education and are often unemployed while their Christian and Muslim counterparts are working and building homes for their family. The Druze are often treated with both trust and mistrust and do not have the same opportunities as the Jews do. This has caused tension between the communities.
The Jews and Druze have been allies since post World War 1. Yet the Druze are not treated equally and in many respects lose out. Another factor complicating things has been Israels favoritism of the Christians over the Druze when Israel invaded Lebanon. Some of the Druze revolted and joined the Lebanese Druze against Israel. Not all Druze identify with Israel some have identified with the Palestinian cause and have advocated against serving in the IDF.
The Druze of the Golan are a different category, being Syrian citizens under Israeli occupation. After the 1967 war they found themselves under Israeli rule and at first they availed themselves of the many opportunities it provided them. Yet when Israel returned the Sinai desert to the Egyptian they started becoming more Syrian. The author makes it like thhey appreciate living in Israel but if the land is ever returned to Syria they will be asked why they were so cozy with the Israelis.
Another interesting aspect of their religion is the belief in reinacarnation. They believe that after they die they will be born into another Druze body and this is something that they believe strongly. They have stories of memories andd of knowing people form past lives.
The book gives a brief sketch of their over all history, on how they came to live in Israel and a bit more in depth view of their relationship with Israel. If you wish to learn more about the Druze this is a good place to start.
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