My Time with the Druze
High in Israel’s northern mountains, tucked neatly into the woodland slopes, Beit Jann peers down over the Galilee watershed. It’s an isolated village, but a special one, and for more than spectacular views. Beit Jann is home to 11,000 residents, all of whom are Israeli citizens, but few of whom are Muslims or Jews. They are Druze.
The Druze are a religious and cultural minority that branched from Islam around 1000 CE. Their communities have endured throughout the Middle East, scattered, and they have no homeland of their own. Their code of conduct dictates that they serve the government of whatever land they inhabit, and although they are friendly, they are seclusive as well—nobody except one of their descendants can be Druze. Their numbers only increase with the growth of their families.
Beit Jann is a beautiful place, but there’s pain beneath the surface. The Israeli Druze are suffering what they call an ‘identity crisis’ — they are Arab, but they are also Israeli. They come from Islam, but they are not Muslim. They serve in the Israeli army, and they go to Israeli universities, but their home is not Israel… it’s just the country they live in. The kids of Beit Jann have inherited this crisis, and now, they’re struggling to find where they fit.
The Yahel volunteers and I visited Beit Jann in early 2019 to learn more about the Druze, and how their identity struggle impacted the community. This is where I met Horizons for the Future — Beit Jann’s preeminent youth organization. Horizons for the Future is trying to unite the kids through group education, seminars, and community projects, where they are challenged to explore their identity and their personal values. Most of the members are secular, but their families are traditional, and Horizons has had great success in cultivating their sense of cultural pride.
I was only with the Druze for a few days, but their hospitality is something I’ll never forget. Our bus arrived at twilight, and I was immediately introduced to the Kablan brothers. They invited me to their home for the night, where we sat on small pads eating stuffed cabbage rolls and spiced chicken while trading stories and watching old Bollywood films. I don’t speak Arabic, so our communication was clumsy, but the language barrier was easily broken by Google Translate and the picture albums we kept on our cellphones. The Kablans didn’t need to speak with words, anyway—they spoke with kindness instead.
Identity crises aside, the Druze of Beit Jann are flourishing, and I’m privileged to have been a guest in their highly sequestered community. Some see their reclusiveness as problematic, finding fault in split loyalties. I, however, see the Druze as an example of shared society—they are citizens of the state of Israel, and they contribute to the country just like anyone else. It’s far better existence than violence or conflict, and I think most modern communities can learn something from them.
I hope one day, the whole world will live together like the Druze live with the world — with dignity, and respect.