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August 31, 2015 | 16th Elul 5775

Meet the neighbors II

Galilee Diary #243
July 24, 2005
Marc J. Rosenstein

But had the People of the Book believed and been god-fearing, We would have acquitted them of their evil deeds, and admitted them to Gardens of Bliss. Had they performed the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to them from their Lord, they would have eaten both what was above them, and what was beneath their feet. Some of them are a just nation, but many of them – evil are the things they do.

The Koran, Sura V, lines 70ff.

The million Arabs who are Israeli citizens, living within the “Green Line” of the 1949-1967 borders, are themselves by no means homogeneous, in religion or in ethnicity; they comprise several distinct groups, and the relations among some of them have been, at various times, fraught with tension, even to the point of violence.

Of the 80% or so who are Moslem, all are Sunnis. Within this category, there are a few Sufi (mystical) communities, and of course the Bedouins, who number around 185,000, or nearly a fourth of the Moslems. The Bedouins migrated to this area from the Arabian Peninsula over the centuries; most of them live in the Negev, though there are a number of Bedouin villages and encampments scattered around the Galilee. They are more distinguished by their culture and their genealogy than by their religion, which is within the definition of “mainstream” Islam.

On the slopes of Mt. Carmel, in Haifa, is the village of Kababir, settled by Arabs who belong to the Ahmediyah sect of Islam, founded at the beginning of the 20th century in Pakistan, where it has tens of millions of adherents. Ahmediyah Islam believes in active proselytization but only through education and the preaching of universal harmony and mutual respect.

Around 10% of the Arabs of Israel are members of Druze communities. The Druze religion split off from Islam in the 11th century in Egypt. Often persecuted by the Moslems, the Druze almost all live in mountain villages in Lebanon, Syria, and the north of Israel. Perhaps on account of this history of persecution, the Druze religion is secret, known to most members of the community only in general terms; only a small elite group in each community are initiated into the sacred texts. Some Moslem practices have been kept by the Druze, but not the major holidays or the Ramadan fast. Conversion to or from the Druze religion is not possible.

The remaining 10% are Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, but with a large Catholic minority – and a few scattered Protestant congregations. While the clergy study Greek and Latin, the liturgy is generally conducted in Arabic. Recently I wandered into a Baptist prayer meeting in an Arab village, in Arabic of course, which felt pretty strange.

Despite the fact that the Druze community agreed at the beginning of the state that their males would be drafted into the Israeli army, and despite the high rate of volunteering for the army among the Bedouins, these two communities remain in many ways the slowest to modernize. The Christian communities, on the other hand, tend to be the most westernized and the most likely to adopt modern dress, mores, and lifestyle (Me’iliah, a Christian village in the northern Galilee, is reputed to have the highest percentage of M.D.s of any community in Israel). This at times leads to conflict, as the Christians are envied and resented; recently a mixed Druze-Christian village near us was swept by a wave of riots and destruction aimed at the Christian minority by frustrated Druze youth. In general, in recent years, the Christians have felt themselves to be a minority within a minority, and to articulate a rather dark view of their future here. For me, hearing Christians express their sense of powerlessness after the riots set off historical echoes that made me sad, while it almost (but not quite) brought an ironic smile to my lips.

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