By Arlene Bridges Samuels
Israel’s citizens make up a colorful tapestry of religions and ethnicities, with some two million Arab citizens and more than seven million Jewish citizens who immigrated (made Aliyah) from 112 countries. Most formerly lived in the Diaspora region outside ancient Israel, which began in the sixth century B.C. after the Babylonian exile. Jews were forcibly scattered throughout the world for millennia.
When more Jews began trickling back into their homeland in the 1800s, they brought centuries of prayers with them. Due their deeply grounded spiritual DNA, even in exile they practiced Judaism as best they could and steadfastly proclaimed, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Their varied languages, foods, and traditions from previous nations were bound together upon arriving in Israel, as they learned and acclimated to Hebrew. Now, they celebrate their freedom in the only Jewish country in the world.
Jews portray many colors of the world, coming as they do from Ethiopia, Asia, Russia, Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, the Pacific, and beyond. In fair-skinned, black, or toffee skin tones, they gazed upon their ancestral homeland with blue, black, and brown and green eyes. The indigenous wanderers are home now, full of hopes and dreams that became reality—evidence of promises from the God of their ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Adding to Israel’s fascinating tapestry are the Druze, one of Israel’s minority social and religious communities. I have wonderful memories spent with Druze after a daylong visit in Bukata, one of 18 Druze villages in Israel’s Golan Heights. A friend arranged for a group of us to visit before the 2019 Government Press Office’s Christian Media Summit began in Jerusalem. So, we boarded a bus and traveled north.
Stepping off the bus after traveling up via breathtaking hairpin turns and taking in the beauty of the Golan, we were greeted warmly by the Bukata Local Council members. First, we celebrated by eating their delicious food spread out on a decorated table in their meeting hall. Then we walked over to the soccer field where they held a game in our honor and presented us with heavy, gold-colored medallions imprinted on both sides—one with Local Council Bukata in Arabic and their flag, and the other side with an Israeli and American flag with the Bukata name in Hebrew. The beribboned lanyard featured blue and white, the colors of Israel’s flag. When the leaders hung them around our necks as the soccer teams competed, I was delighted with their warm expressions of welcome.
The Druze emerged from Islam centuries ago. They speak Arabic but practice their own religion. The Druze are ethnically Arab but do not identify as Palestinians. They are monotheistic, do not proselytize, and allow no outsiders into their religion, contrasting with their open arms of hospitality.
Druze number about 138,000 in Israel. Others live in Lebanon and Syria. One English-speaking Druze commented that they live in the Golan Heights in three bordering countries yet near each other—within “shouting distance,” like an extended family. The Israeli Druze fare much better in Israel than under the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and the Iran-controlled regime in Syria.
Israel has offered Druze citizenship since 1980. Nevertheless, Druze have maintained a strong relationship with Syrian Druze. In a Times of Israel article last year, “As ties to Syria fade, Golan Druze increasingly turning to Israel for citizenship,” it reports an excellent summary of the ins and outs of Druze dissatisfaction with Israel. Yet within their philosophy is a concept called taqiyya, which calls them to be loyal to the country in which they live.
Applications for citizenship are increasing though because Syria—since 2011—has fragmented into a disaster under President Assad and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The article mentions that currently 20 percent of Druze are Israeli citizens, and the remainder are Permanent Residents.
Israel does not require Arabs to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), although they may choose to do so. Like Jews, though, Druze are required to serve after reaching the age of 18 while Druze women do not serve. At Israel’s 75th Independence Day ceremony last April, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog honored 120 members from the three branches of the IDF and their families at the president’s official residence. In his speech, Herzog referred to pre-state Israel, saying, “We were, and still are, like dreamers,” telling the honorees that they represent the realization of that dream. He closed his heartfelt remarks by voicing the reality that “We could not have done any of this if we hadn’t done it all together!” Each soldier received medals, certificates, and scholarships, including Jews, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, and yes, Druze who often serve in elite and combat units.
I enjoyed another encounter with a Druze representative in a memorable event also in the Golan Heights. Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) initiated a history-making proclamation ceremony for 120 of us in Christian media from 30 nations. The event was moderated by Eric Stakelbeck, TBN’s host of The Watchman, who highlighted the unity among three faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Druze. Representatives included David Parsons, vice president and senior spokesman for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, and Aharon Eisental, chief rabbi of Hispin Village. The trio also included a Druze representative, Sheik Salim Abu Salach.
One of the GPO staff offered her own, original heartfelt prayer: “Our Father in heaven, Rock and Redeemer of Israel and Jerusalem, bless the Golan Heights and those who seek its peace and send blessings and success to all their work. Envelop us in Your peace, bestow eternal happiness to the inhabitants of our land. Remove war and bloodshed from the world and bequeath a great and wondrous peace from heaven. ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore’” [Isaiah 2:4].
This prayer is currently very much needed, especially in the Druze community, as I conclude with a sorrowful, shocking event.
Last week, four Druze were shot to death in northern Israel’s Abu Snan, a majority-Druze town. One of the four victims was Ghazi Sa’ab, who was running for mayor and was a former IDF and Border Police officer. The quadruple murders come amid an internal Arab crime wave that has already taken the lives of 157 Arabs this year. One hundred forty-eight killed were Arab Israelis. Earlier this week, Israel’s Shin Bet and police met with Arab leaders who are demanding action in what is thought to be organized Arab crime.
I invite you to join our CBN Israel team to pray with hope for the day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
- Pray for the Druze community who are suffering the grief of shocking murders.
- Pray for the Druze, a minority who are loyal to Israel, having sacrificed more lives relative to their small population than all the others.
- Pray for practical solutions to stem the tidal wave of crime against Arab Israelis.
- Pray for Israel’s security personnel who are already under intense stress from enemies that have sworn to destroy them.
- Pray for Israel and our world to acknowledge the blessed hope that our Lord offers through His sacrificial love.
Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.