Druze are not mercenaries in the service of the state

After the IDF revealed the soldier killed in a botched operation in Gaza four years ago was a Druze man, Israelis were reminded of the fateful day three and a half years ago.

I, too, was reminded of that difficult night, but also of events that had taken place four months earlier when the Knesset passed the controversial Nation State Law in July 2018.

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מהומה בקרב חברי הרשימה המשותפת על הצבעת חוק הלאוםמהומה בקרב חברי הרשימה המשותפת על הצבעת חוק הלאום

Knesset votes for controversial Nation State Law in 2018

(Photo: Amit Shabi)

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kehir el-Din was the first IDF fatality following the approval of the contentious legislation. In his life, as in his death, Kehir el-Din was the essence of a Druze Israeli patriot. He was proud of his ethnic affiliation and of his country.

He was raised in a Druze village in the Galilee, graduated from a military academy, volunteered to serve in the paratroopers and later joined the Intelligence Corps’ special unit, force where he served for two decades.

He saw in his service a calling. He also saw sought to lead Druze youth towards involvement in the Israeli society for the benefit of a better future.

Despite his demanding military job, which required him to conduct himself clandestinely, he volunteered for numerous social roles, working with the youth of his village of Hurfeish and other Druze communities.

Mahmoud nurtured a dream to work in education after leaving the IDF because he saw in education a way for advancement of the Druze sector in Israel.

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סגן אלוף מחמוד חיר א-דיןסגן אלוף מחמוד חיר א-דין

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kehir el-Din

(Photo: Courtesy of the IDF)

He did not fulfil that dream, but his hopes were somewhat advanced with the Druze students reaching the highest level of high school equivalency testing and matriculation. In addition to a growing presence of Druze students in Israel’s academic institutions, primarily in the fields of technology, industry and economy.

After his picture was published and some of his heroic actions were revealed, the discourse over the Nation State Law and its failings to ensure the equality for Druze citizenry, returned to the public domain.

I warned elected officials back in 2014 against promoting a law that ignores the Declaration of Independence, which advocates for equality for all citizens of the state and is especially offensive to the Druze community.

In the months leading to the bill’s approval in 2018, I spoke publicly about the failings of the legislation to adopt the principle of equality for all citizens, as it appears in the Declaration of Independence.

In the days before the Knesset vote, I appealed again to legislators to stop and reevaluate the bill. Unfortunately, they did not listen to my appeals and did not anticipate the scope of the Druze community’s protests.

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"המטה לתיקון חוק הלאום" מגיע לביתו של בנימין נתניהו בקיסריה"המטה לתיקון חוק הלאום" מגיע לביתו של בנימין נתניהו בקיסריה

Druze protest Nation State Law in 2018

(Photo: Zohar Shahar)

Let me state clearly: We demand for the bill to be amended. Not because of our protests and not because of our mass enlistment to the Israeli security forces. We demand an amendment because we are born-and-bred residents of Israel.

Druze citizens are not mercenaries in the service of the state, nor our we visitors here. We are proud citizens who love Israel, are rooted in it, and identify with it.

We have been an integral part of the state since its establishment 74 years ago. Druze leaders forged an alliance with the Jewish people to fulfil their national vision, and have fought alongside them for Israel’s independence.

Druze citizens believed in the basic principles upon which Israel was established, in the values of its visionary, Benjamin Herzl, who saw a developed nation in partnership with its indigenous population.

We believed in the values of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who envisioned the fulfilment of the national dream, while maintaining full equality for all citizens.

The Druze community together with the Jewish people celebrated Israel’s founding on the basis of the Declaration of Independence, and answered the calls of its founders to take part in building its future based on full equality.

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A Druze military cemetery on Memorial Day A Druze military cemetery on Memorial Day

A Druze military cemetery on Memorial Day

(Photo: George Ginzburg)

Our partnership was formed on those principles. The blood of the fallen Druze soldiers was mixed with that of their Jewish brothers, as it was absorbed by our land to fulfil our shared dream for a prosperous and strong nation, providing equality to all.

Despite all of that, the Druze community has long suffered from neglect, lack of funding and discrimination.

While our sons fight in the service of the country, they must also fight in the courts for the right to build their homes and live honorably.

Druze towns and villages are in need of infrastructure, on the same level provided to their Jewish neighbors, they seek industrial parks that will attract the high-tech industry, just like the Jewish towns and villages have been able to build.

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A home of a Druze veteran of the IDF demolished in 2016 for violation of building codes A home of a Druze veteran of the IDF demolished in 2016 for violation of building codes

A home of a Druze veteran of the IDF demolished in 2016 for violation of building codes

(Photo: Mohammed Shinawi)

Our community is calling out in real pain, that is the result of years of discrimination. How can this country we have fought for and helped to build, see us as less than equal to our Jewish brothers?

The Nation State Law strips us of our sense of belonging to Israel.

I am always moved by the support and affinity directed towards the Druze community from other sectors of the Israeli society. Our Jewish brothers have rallied in our support, and in support of the nation.

We are often embraced by Israel’s military officers, public figures, intellectuals and general public who share our call for equal rights. They exhibit the beauty of the country we all love and are prepared to die for.

Israel is strong. It is unlike any other country and is a leader in many fields and an inspiration for others. We must be proud of our country before all else.

Israel can and must be a guiding light to others in its treatment of ethnic minorities and in their assimilation into society.

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הפגנה נגד חוק הלאום בכיכר רביןהפגנה נגד חוק הלאום בכיכר רבין

Druze rally against the Nation State Law in Tel Aviv in 2018

(Photo: Moti Kimchi)

Our renewed call to amend the Nation State Law is an opportunity for elected officials to right a wrong.

Members of all political parties from all political spectrums must admit the bill wronged the Druze community.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kehir el-Din will be remembered as one of Israel’s greatest heroes. “It is incumbent upon us,” he said, “to repair the rift caused by the Nation State Law and ensure equal rights to all, as a guarantee of Israel’s social cohesiveness and national unity,” he said.

Amending the bill is not only a moral debt of our Jewish brothers to us, but is also in favor of the country’s international standing as a member of the enlightened world.

Sheikh Mowafaq Tarīf is the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel

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