What do Syria, a nation in civil war, Lebanon, formally the Switzerland of the East, Israel ,the self prescribed single democracy of the Middle East, and Jordan, crossroad of the Holy Land, have to do with each other?Why would they share a flag? Not only that; they share a people, the Druze.
The Druze are a secretive religious sect that broke off of Shia Islam in the tenth century. During the pinnacle of Islamic culture and academic exploration in the Fatimid Caliphate, a philosopher and a tailor came together to study in the Dar al-Hikmah or “house of Knowledge” in the newly founded Ciaro.
Druizm was only open for 24 years. Since 1043 AD the only way to become a Druze is to be born of two Druze parents.
They developed a secret knowledge, with mixes of Hinduism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, Neoplatonic and Iranian teachings and the monotheistic religions, and with Iman-Caliph Al-Hakim supporting them the two began to gain followers. They split over theological differences and a few years later the Druze religion was closed to outsiders. The secrets of the inner knowledge were kept hidden while the community transitioned between persecuted and privileged as the Middle East transformed under the Caliphates, the Crusades, and the Ottomen Empire. Finally the community settled in mountain pockets that would split them into minority groups between four very different nations. As the ever morphing balance of power in the Middle East shifts again the Druze community is a small but key player.
At age 15, and any time after, a Druze can choose to be an uqqal (knowledgable). Men and women have equal opportunity to become uqqal and rise in the ranks.
The Druze claim they are not seeking their own nation, and happily support the nation state they live in. Israeli Druze are considered vary good soldiers, and there are many high ranking Druze in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and in the government as well. Israeli Druze have their own court and school systems in villages in Carmel and Galilee, a strategically important territory for security and tourism. Good relations with the Druze has been a priority for Israel, which recognizes the religion and has funded development in their towns, villages and body places. Israel has even made accept ions for non-israeli Druze to come in through closed borders for pilgrimages.
Now Israel is hoping their efforts will go beyond stability in Carmel and Galilee. The Jerusalem Post headline “Analysis: Druse state in Syria could be Israeli ally” suggests a hope for bigger things. Gary Gambill, Middle-East political expert, in his Syrian report for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, stated that the many minority groups of Syria, including the Druze, “would prefer some form of succession or extreme decentralization over the uncertain outcome of majoritarian.”
In light of the fact that Druze have “formed militias to fend off rebel incursions, while tending otherwise toward neutrality” and the fact that the Jabal Druze community is one of the most sizable ethnically homogeneous territory, this might be how the Syrian situation pans out. Gambill argues that the most reasonable path to peace is small partitioned states and that the U.S. should act accordingly. Israel certainly has hopes this outcome would benefit them.
Gambill’s report came in October 2013, earlier that year, in July, Al Arabiya News reported that residents of Druze city Soueida, in southern Syria, “were instructed by their religious leaders to stay out of the conflict” despite Assad sending Lebanese Druze to persuade them to join forces. But as early as February a Youtube video was up declaring “…we are the Muslim Unitarian Druze sect…we have been and continue to be defenders of our property and sons, and protectors for them.” This statement came for the “Jaysh al-Muwahhideen”: translated Muwahhideen, the self-identifying term Druze use, means Monotheists/Unitarians, and Jaysh al means “Army of”. The Jaysh al-Muwahhideen’s rhetoric strongly supports the idea of neutrality and a purely self-defense agenda, but an in-depth analysis by Oxford student Alymenn Jawad al-Tamini suggests that in practice the Druze militia is highly connected with the Syrian army and still strongly supports the regime. Weather this is because the Islamic opposition is a frightening alternative or for nationalistic reasons Jawad says its doubtful that the Syrian Druze independent or not will ever align with Israel.
The only time the Druze had a semi-autonomous state was under French colonialism of Syria from 1921 to 1936. It was called Jabal al-Druze or Jabal Druze State and was incorporated into Syria after the Syrian Revolution.
All of this is being played out on a miniature scale in the Golan Heights, which is predominately Syrian Druze. Israel captured the Golen Heights in 1967 and since 1981 has offered Israeli citizenship to the Druze, who in large have ignored the offer remaining true to their Syrian nationality. Recent reports, however, have shown that since the Syrian conflict more Druze have accepted the offer. A major factor is that Druze students in the Golan Heights do not feel safe continuing at Syrian universities and instead are opting for Israeli universities. Israel is doing all it can to capitalize on an opportunity to solidify its claim of the Golan Heights and has declared plans to invest some $59.8 million into Golan Druze villages. Political analyst Tobias Lang said “We’re not likely to see widespread acceptance of Israeli citizenship among the Golan Druze anytime soon” but recognizes that the attitude is shifting as more recognize the benefits of Israeli citizenship as apposed to Syrian.