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August 31, 2015 | 16th Elul 5775

Co-existence II

Galilee Diary #386, April 20, 2008

Marc J. Rosenstein

At that time Abimelech and Phicol, chief of his troops, said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything that you do. Therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my kith and kin, but will deal with me and with the land in which you have sojourned as loyally as I have dealt with you.” and Abraham said, “ I swear it.”
-Genesis 21:22-24

A few days after my weekend in Peki’in (described in the last Galilee diary entry) the police internal investigations division announced that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any police for their behavior in the riots that occurred in the village at the end of October. It is hard to get a clear picture from the media of what really happened that morning. There had been ongoing tension in the village – as in many Arab villages – regarding the placement of cell phone antennas. Everyone wants good cell reception but no one wants to live near an antenna. There are various conspiracy theories abroad, e.g., that the Jews are using cellular antenna radiation as a way to harm the health of the Arab population. There are also known cases of local residents allowing cell phone companies to install antennas secretly in their homes or agricultural buildings, for the rental income, without evincing concern for the effects on their neighbors. Misinformation and disinformation abound. In any case, local young men had vandalized an antenna. The police came in force to arrest them, moving into the village at 4 am with a large contingent. This was seen as deliberately provocative, and indeed did provoke riots in which there was some chaos, resulting in injuries on both sides, and an escalation of the rioting to attacks on buildings that had been bought by Jews interested in restoring a Jewish community in Peki’in. Here again, the rumor mill had generated a story that the Jews’ intention was to take over the village and drive the Arabs out.

Life seemed normal in Peki’in as we wandered the alleys last week. Since tourism is an important source of income (restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops), no one was interested in having the place feel scary. However, the message of the events is unmistakable, and for many people it is scary: the dominant ethnic group in Peki’in is the Druze. The Druze religion originated in Cairo in 1017 and takes its name from an early leader, Mahmud al-Darzi. It is essentially a mystical interpretation of Islam that is viewed by mainstream Islam as heresy. Ultimately, the Druze settled in the mountains of southern Lebanon, Syria, and northern Israel, where they at times were allied with, and at times were at war with, their Moslem and Christian neighbors. After 1948, those who ended up inside Israel agreed to be classified as a separate nationality (not “Arabs”) in Israel’s weird catalog of official national identities, and suggested that their men be drafted into the Israeli army. Over the years they were renowned for their bravery, and rose to high positions in the army. They make up 10% of the Arab population, or about 2% of the total population.

However, despite their official designation, the Druze’ language and dress and food and lifestyle and just about every aspect of their culture indicate that they are Arabs. Which, I suppose, is why, while most Jewish Israelis see them as “good” Arabs, or argue that they are not really Arabs at all, the Druze end up being treated (when not in uniform) like other Arabs, and feel that their educational and economic opportunities, and their social mobility, and their general treatment by society are not commensurate with their contribution to the state – a contribution that is often doubly painful due to how they are looked upon by the other Arabs. They find themselves in a lose-lose situation. I don’t know how long this situation has been festering, but in recent years it has become increasingly visible and has occasionally spawned violence. For all those of us trying to ignore it, whatever happened in Peki’in in October made it clear to everyone that we seem to have still another ticking bomb under our chair.

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