Jewish Studies The Druze Community in Israel
by
Rami Zeedan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0182

Introduction

The Druze religion began during the reign of the Muslim Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (ruled 996–1021 CE). Al-daʾwa (the call) invited those who believed to join the new faith— al-Tawhid (Unitarianism). After the disappearance of al-Hakim in 1021, the Druze were persecuted by the successor Fatimid caliph, and those captured were either forced to renounce their faith or be killed. As a consequence, the Druze went underground in the hope of survival. A few years later, the call to join the new Druze religion was ended. Since then, one cannot convert to become a Druze, as only one who is born to Druze parents can be considered a Druze. The Druze beliefs and practices are influenced by the Qurʾan as well as by Greek, Persian, and Indian philosophies. The religious texts are known collectively as Kitab al-Hikma (The Book of Wisdom) and include a collection of epistles and correspondence between luminaries. These Epistles of Wisdom are considered secret and are hidden from any Druze Jahil (layperson) as well as from any non-Druze. Based on these texts, the Druze believe in an abstract and direct connection to God, and in the free will of human beings. However, the most significant component of the Druze religion is the belief in the reincarnation of the soul after death. At the End of Times, God will send each soul either to Heaven or Hell, following one’s actions in all of his or her lives. The Druze have similar traditions to other Arabs living in the Middle East and North Africa. They also celebrate the same festivals as other Muslims, such as Eid al-Adha (the sacrifice feast) which honors the sacrifice of a son that Ibrahim was willing to make. The total number of Druze worldwide is not known, but estimates range between 1.5 and 2 million people. Most of the Druze live in the Middle-East, with the largest community in Syria. Others live in Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. Nowadays, Druze can be found in some European countries, in Canada and the United States, and in many Latin American countries. Druze have lived in the Middle East, including Palestine, since the beginning of the religion, at the beginning of the past millennium. The settlement of the Druze in Palestine was strengthened during the 17th century, but was weakened by the end of the Ottoman period. During the British Mandate over Palestine, the Druze numbered only about ten thousand, or less than 1 percent of the population in Palestine. Following the 1948 war, the Druze—then numbering roughly fifteen thousand—were allowed to stay in their villages owing to agreements made with the newly established state of Israel. In 2018, the Druze in Israel number about 140,000 people, making up around 2 percent of Israel’s population. More than 90 percent of them live in sixteen villages and towns with a Druze majority. Excluding the Druze living in the four Druze villages in the Golan Heights (proclaimed as Syrian territory), the vast majority of the Druze in Israel consider themselves Israelis. Druze serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and they are integrated into the Israeli political system. Yet, they suffer from a national identity crisis compared to other Israeli Arab-Palestinians, while their socioeconomic situation is the same as other non-Jewish citizens.

General Overviews

Armanet 2018 offers a new perspective on the cultural dynamics surrounding the Druze holy book. Betts 1990 and Firro 1992 provides a comprehensive historical review of the Druze religion and society in the Middle-East. In the author’s second book, Firro 1999 offers a historical review of the Druze community within the Israeli polity. Atashe 1995 supplements the information on the Druze community in Israel. The earlier Ben-Dor 1979 compares the Druze of Israel with Lebanon and Syria. Smooha 1978 focuses on the different social cleavages in Israeli society and polity, including the Druze. One of the major issues regarding the Druze is whether it is a sect of Islam or a separate religion. Firro 2011 claims that the Druze faith was influenced much more by Sufism than by Sunni or Shiʿite beliefs, and in any case is not an Islamic sect. Nisan 2010 continues the same argument by suggesting that the Druze faith is a separate religion from Islam. Obeid 2006, on the contrary, claims that the Druze faith emerged from Islam, however it disconnected from Islam and dynamic spiritual process based on freedom of choice. In the movie “Fog,” Halabi 2013 presents stories of reincarnation of the soul after death, which is considered as the most significant aspect in differentiating between the Druze and other religions. Alaʾmama provides a closer look at society, religion, and culture in Druze localities as well as biographic entries on Druze religious leaders.

  • Alaʾmama.

    E-mail Citation »

    Alaʾmama is the website of a magazine with the same name. The website and the magazine are published in Arabic and they focus on religious, cultural, and social issues among the Druze, especially in Israel. It includes stories from Druze localities, biographic entries on Druze religious leaders, as well as news on Druze religious gatherings. The paper version has been published since 1982, however all magazine issues are available online. Alaʾmama is based in Daliyat al-Karmel, Israel. In Arabic.

  • Armanet, Éléonore. “‘Allah Has Spoken to Us: We Must Keep Silent.’ In the Folds of Secrecy, the Holy Book of the Druze.” Religion 48.2 (2018): 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2017.1386370E-mail Citation »

    The article explores the cultural dynamics of bond and separateness around the Druze holy book. The article focuses on language used by Druze to exercise the corporeal and spiritual aspects as well as the overt and covert aspects of the Druze faith.

  • Atashe, Zeidan. Druze & Jews in Israel: A Shared Destiny? Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book offers a historical review of the Druze in Israel. It offers a description of the Druze faith, and their mutual cooperation with the Jews in Palestine.

  • Ben-Dor, Gabriel. The Druzes in Israel, a Political Study: Political Innovation and Integration in a Middle Eastern Minority. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1979.

    E-mail Citation »

    Studies the Druze society and politics in Israel in comparison to the Druze in Lebanon and Syria.

  • Betts, Robert Brenton. The Druze. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    Based on interviews, the book offers a general survey of the history, traditions, and society of the Druze. It also presents their political significance in the Middle East as of the late 1980s.

  • Firro, Kais. A History of the Druzes. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume focuses on the religious, political, and characters of the Druze community as a religious minority in the Middle East. It gives attention to the historical development of the Druze in the modern Middle East, in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan.

  • Firro, Kais. The Druzes in the Jewish State: A Brief History. Social, Economic, and Political Studies of the Middle East and Asia 64. Brill, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book traces the historical development of the Druze in Israel. It sheds light on the political, social, and economic status of the Druze as part of the inquiry into the Zionist policy to separate the Druze from the other Arabs in Israel that led to the Druze’s crisis of identity.

  • Firro, Kais M. “The Druze Faith: Origin, Development and Interpretation.” Arabica 58.1 (2011): 76–99.

    DOI: 10.1163/157005811X550309E-mail Citation »

    Based on a review of Druze literature, this article examines the basics of the Druze faith and provides insights on its origins and relations to the different Islamic sects. It claims that the Druze faith was influenced much more by the Sufism, who argued that God should be reached without intermediaries, than by Sunni or Shiʿite beliefs.

  • Halabi, Rafik, dir. Fog. Connect 100, for Channel 2. 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    This documentary traces the mysterious story of a Druze soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who was killed during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. By doing so, it tracks two stories that claim to provide evidence of reincarnation, which is the main belief among the Druze. The movie was directed by Mr. Rafik Halabi, who is an Israeli-Druze. 57:00 minutes. In Hebrew and Arabic

  • Nisan, Mordechai. “The Druze in Israel: Questions of Identity, Citizenship, and Patriotism.” The Middle East Journal 64.4 (2010): 575–596.

    DOI: 10.3751/64.4.14E-mail Citation »

    The article examines the Druze solidarity with the Zionist ethos. It refers to the Druze as a separate religion from Islam.

  • Obeid, Anis. The Druze & Their Faith in Tawhid. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book analyzes the Druze texts and beliefs and provides a survey of the Druze historical development as a society and as a faith. Obeid suggests that the Druze faith has emerged from Islam, however it is progressive and dynamic spiritual process based on freedom of choice.

  • Smooha, Sammy. Israel: Pluralism and Conflict. Berkeley: Univ of California Press, 1978.

    DOI: 10.2307/1954062E-mail Citation »

    The book outlines several types of social cleavages that make up Israel’s society and polity, including the Druze. It examines pluralism and inequality in Israel.

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