The Druze are a unique people living in northern Israel. Neither Jewish nor Muslim, they are Israeli citizens who have an interesting bond with the Jewish state.
There are 120,000 Druze living in Israel, as well as larger populations in Syria and Lebanon. They are Arabs who broke away from Islam in the 10th century, and they follow their own religion, revering Jethro as their main prophet.
Before 1948, the Druze were persecuted by Arab nationalists–and, during the Israeli War of Independence, they fought alongside Jewish soldiers. Since then, Druze serve in the Israeli army, with a higher percentage of officers than the general population. There are also currently five Druze members of Knesset.
The Druze exist as a closed society, neither accepting converts nor living with outsiders. One of the Druze community’s most high-profile visitors of late was Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who filmed a documentary in 2007, The Olive and the Tree: The Secret Strength of the Druze–in which she explored their culture, their relationship to Israeli Jews and Muslims, and the ways that they’ve managed to preserve their very private cultural identity (and secrets) in a world that leaves them very little room for either.
January 6, 2011