Our meeting last Friday—between Brit Olam and the Arab Druze community—went very well. It was truly an auspicious event, to witness the beginning of what we all hope to be a fruitful partnership between Brit Olam and the Druze. It has been personal honor for me to have the opportunity to observe and participate. As I mentioned in an earlier report, Ms. Sohir Hmdan (4th candidate on the Brit Olam slate) is the first Arab Druze woman to run in an Israeli Parliamentary election (Knesset).
Ofer Lifschitz (chairman of Brit Olam), Ms. Kinneret Golan (#1 Brit Olam slate), Rebecca Tobias and myself drove north from Tel Aviv very early in the morning and arrived in the small Druze hamlet named Yano'ah. The small hillside village is located about ten miles inland from the coastal city of Nahariya and an equal amount south of the Lebanese border. After a couple hours of travel we approached the region of where this mysterious religious sect lives—you could see the unmistakable Druze flags flying with their characteristic five colors shining in the morning sunlight.
I'm driving a little tiny Hyundai Getz rental car, smaller than pretty much any other ride seen on the roads in the United States, unless you're including what to Americans would be considered an 'extreme-Green experimental vehicle'. Cars here overseas are tiny in comparison to the tanks and other various war machines occupying the roads stateside (read: Hummer et al), and if anyone knows me, the first thing they notice is that I'm not very petite. So the impact to an objective viewer might be like seeing an oversized kid tooling around in a go-cart. Four of us and multiple boxes of flyers and other promotional materials crammed into the Getz-mobile finally get directed by locals into the right section of Yano'ah. We approach a large three story cement edifice that has an Israeli and Druze flag flying together at the entrance of our meeting space. Greetings by dozens of Druze seemingly from all walks of life: religious, secular, young and old.
Immediate hospitality; we were offered a taste of a bitter Arabic coffee being heated by hot coals in an ornate brass serving tray and sweet dates, almonds and walnuts. We all sat around being warmed by the embers as a frigid wind blew into the open cement structure. It can be very chilly and windy in the mountainous regions of the northern parts of Israel.
I mention to our host, Sheik Said Hmdan, my latest saying in my personal quiver of foreign phrases, "Habiltay Ef Sharee, Ef Sharee." The impossible is possible, I say in butchered Hebrew.
He looks at me and says, "I don't speak American".
Mental note: work on pronunciation; what good is an arrow if it doesn't fly straight?
We visit, chit-chat and wait for fellow Brit Olam candidates and staffers to arrive congregating one-by-one along with more and more Druze, each received with profuse amounts of affection, compounding the assembly. I'm a little nervous—as an American poised to give a speech in which I will be sharing an ambitious strategy of communal action for the Druze, a Levantine people with whom I've known for less than a week.
The Druze population in the Middle East lives in a mountainous region overlapping the national borders of Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, not unlike the Kurd nation living in the unofficial contiguous 'Kurdistan' region in parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. The Druze are a nation within the nations in which they dwell, they have not proselytized or sought out any converts to their religion since 1043, when the Druze became a closed community. For almost a thousand years, no outsiders have been brought into this secretive religious sect, not even through intermarriage. One has to be born Druze to be a Druze. For as long as they've been in existence, the Druze have been misunderstood and persecuted for their Spiritual and religious independence by virtually all the differing mainstream religious and political currents in the Middle East at one time or another. In the face of life-threatening discrimination, they have adopted a collective strategy of cooperation and a 'blending-in' respecting the laws and adopting the customs of whichever particular majority people or religion that is in power. In Israel, they serve with distinction in the Israeli Defense Forces and are valued as loyal citizens.
Like Jews, in many ways the Druze can be seen to have had a similar experience having lived as a minority within larger majority cultures. In 1995's Sussex Academic Press publication, "Druze and Jews in Israel - A Shared Destiny?" author Zeidan Atashi shares this view as reported by Robert Brenton Betts in Middle East Policy,
The "shared destiny" between Druze and Jews in Israel that Atashi speaks of is based on their similar existence over centuries as a minority wherever they lived. Like the Druze, he says, the Jews "participated in all spheres of life... in their adopted countries,"... at the same time preserving and maintaining "their religion, heritage, language, culture and family ties."
Throughout human history, the co-mingling of destinies for neighboring peoples has proven to be a successful peacemaking tool, either through intermarriage, trade or co-habitation. It is a very active and real peace-making. This is implementing the suggestion of using compassion and understanding to protect oneself as the only true antidote towards staving off hatred or escalating conflict.
Responding to violence with violence is the knee-jerk reaction to defend oneself, but fighting fire with fire alone is only one-half of a balanced security portfolio; to wit, fire can also be quickly snuffed out with water. Getting out of one's comfort zone, pressing in and really thirsting for understanding, inclusivity and even belonging to the 'other' builds an emotional and spiritual bulwark against the runaway train of tribal blood-feuds and warfare. The point is, that being of value to your neighbor is the most successful peacemaking tool there is; trade, service, treaties, etc.