The Druze in Israel: Questions of Identity, Citizenship, and Patriotism

By Nisan, Mordechai | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

The Druze in Israel: Questions of Identity, Citizenship, and Patriotism


Nisan, Mordechai, The Middle East Journal


The Druze of Israel constitute a very unique community within the pluralistic, though Jewish-dominated, social map of the country. Their religious heritage and ethnic integrity set them apart, even while they have participated in the political and military domains in close affiliation with the Jewish population. Through research and analysis, a picture emerges of Druze solidarity with the Zionist ethos, as they simultaneously distance themselves from the Arab and Islamic themes resonant among the Israeli-Arab sector of society. The tiny Druze group prioritizes while balancing its allegiances, vigorously defends its interests, and campaigns for improved socio-economic conditions in the complexity of their minority experience in the state of Israel. The paradoxes of Druze life, simultaneously loyal to state and community, present an intricate picture of perseverance, patriotism, and patience in Israel.

The Druze community of Israel enjoys a special place alongside and in-between the Jews and the Arabs. Accounting for less than 2% of Israel's population, numbering just 122,400 people of a total of about seven million, the Druze community is marginal quantitatively and seemingly no less qualitatively to the country's national Jewish ethos.1 Jewish national history, biblically-embedded, using the Hebrew language, and bound to Judaism, is the paramount cultural definition of Israel. Yet unlike the predominant non-Jewish Arab minority population, overwhelmingly Palestinian by national identity and Muslim by religious affiliation, the Druze have preferred a more insular identity, remaining outside of the ideological rift in the country while sharing the Arabic language and aspects of Arab culture with the large Arab-Israeli community. Most pointedly, the Druze have shown no readiness to identify with the Arab narrative of Palestine, as formulated in "The Democratic Constitution" by 'Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and the "Haifa Declaration" of 2007. A similar Arab political manifesto was issued by the Arab Monitoring Committee in its document, "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," which, like the other statements, proposed the nullification of Israel as a Jewish state.2 The call for reconstituting Israel as a "democratic, bilingual, multi-cultural" state, effectively a bi-national entity that recognizes the Palestinian Arabs as nationally equal to the Jewish people of Israel, did not evoke Druze solidarity or enthusiasm.

The Druze, sandwiched between the Jews and Arabs of Israel, by their collective identity and public stance have nonetheless made a discerning mark on Israel's ethnic and political map. Multiple identities are common benchmarks in Israel, as is the same in the rest of the Middle East. For the Druze, the Israeli identity, not just the formal citizenship, is a special communal badge that indicates that Israeli-ness sustains not only Jews but non-Jews as well. Other communities - Circassians, Bedouins, and some Muslims and Christians - may also comfortably adopt the Israeli identity in a natural native fashion, but the Druze exemplify the pinnacle of this phenomenon. It then is a question to what extent the Israeli establishment and society generally have accepted or in fact habitually accept the Druze as run-of-the-mill, unhyphenated Israelis. Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state" is the Jewish state of the Jews, and others.

The issue of citizenship has multiple faces in both conception and policy implementation. It can be addressed as an integral manifestation of an ethnic community, or as John Stuart Mill defined it, "identity of race and descent."3 Alternatively, citizenship is granted by principle based on territorial residence. The "right of blood" [jus sanguinis] or the "right of soil" [jus soli] are essential and competing, if not clashing, legal and philosophical categories in the Israeli experience. Israel definitely and explicitly accords citizenship as rightfully enjoyed by all Jews coming to Israel; but Israel also recognizes birth and residence within the state, of Jews and non-Jews, as criteria for citizenship.

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