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Guest Writer: Druze, Jews, And An IDF Lose

emili (1)Former Combat Fitness Trainer Emily Rose on the disbanding of the IDF’s Druze Battalion.

“Let’s Talk About Integration”

“Where are you going?” I yelled, “We haven’t warmed up yet!” I tried to run after them until their commander approached me politely and said, “They won’t come. A Haredi (religious) unit won’t follow a female instructor.”

I was 19 years old, only a few weeks out of Wingate Physical Training Course and it was a particularly hot day at the Nahal Infantry Training Base where I served. My officer had sent me to lead a group of trainees for a short run. Before I could finish reciting my usual, “Good morning everyone! We’re going to have a great run today,” the trainees in front of me had shielded their eyes, turned around and started running in the opposite direction. This month’s decision by the Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff to cease recruitment to Cherev, the Israeli Druze platoon, came with the stated intention of integrating Druze soldiers into the mainstream of the IDF. Many Druze commanders and officials support this idea while several made public statements against it. It is in response to this that that I‘d like to talk about integration.

I had the privilege of serving as the combat fitness trainer for three rotations of basic training for the Cherev battalion on Nahal Training Base. Though its soldiers live in the north, I watched them bus down to the southern part of the country for training every two or three weeks. It was my time in Cherev that exposed me to the unique culture and heritage of the Druze of Israel.

I was always taught that there is no such thing as separate but equal. The clash between multiculturalism and integration is a constant dilemma in any modern melting pot. For me, the solution was simple. I always advocated for total integration and so, at first, the idea of an all-Druze battalion was counter-intuitive. While serving in this unit I learned why it is that Cherev works so well. Cherev is unique because it allows for the preservation of culture within an integrated system. It is yet another example of brilliant Israeli innovation. Cherev accomplished what I never thought possible. It embodies what is, indeed, separate but equal.

DRUZEI have learned that the Druze village, as an institution, is the cornerstone of Druze society. On that bus down to Nahal Training Base, I watched the boy from Yarka sit next to the boy from Horefesh. I witnessed the trainee from Julis sit next to his commander from Beit Jan. If you had an ear for it, you could hear the linguistic differences from one village to another. I realized that it is often considered taboo, for instance, for a man to marry a woman from another village and that the Druze of the Galil teasingly refer to the Druze of Dalit El Carmel as the “Ashkenazi Druze.” Cherev is more than just a military battalion. It provides a context for the development of a multifaceted identity. My service in Cherev taught me about integration because I saw it before my very eyes. It was the internal integration of the Israeli Druze community.

Any Cherev soldier will tell you that the most amazing part of being in Cherev is their unique masa cumta, beret ceremony. At the end of eight long months of grueling basic training, we marched in full gear through several of the northern Druze villages. The hike was a celebrated event that brought children running out into the streets, carrying the multi-colored flag of the Druze, to greet the warriors upon their homecoming. I will never forget the sparkle in the eyes of the children gazing up at the brave warriors who, for them, embodied the feeling of protection and security. Mothers emerged from their houses offering us hulwiyat, sweet desserts, and in every village we were fed, followed by an array of cheering enthusiasts, and blessed by the local sheikh. I participated in this hike three times and on my third one, I decided to stop to visit the great shrine to Nebe Shu’ayb, known in Jewish tradition as Yitro. Shu’ayb is seen as an ancestor by the Druze and, in fact, many Israeli Druze are given variations of his name at birth. I had already visited many of the Druze holy sites but this was the most magnificent. It was a holiday so I asked my friends if they would come here to pray.

“We don’t pray,” one of them replied, “We are not required to pray.”

“But if you don’t pray, “I asked, “then how do you speak to God?”

“We don’t speak to God,” he said with a grin, “we prefer to listen.”

While Yitro was not of the people of Israel, it is written in Exodus that he advised Moses to establish a system for a distribution of power while Moses was learning to govern a people who had not yet sipped from the fountain of freedom. Yitro’s contribution to our nation allowed Moses to construct a system that would help deliver our people out of the psychological house of bondage and into the framework of nationhood.

It was in Cherev that I learned that Druze have suffered from violent acts of persecution since the 11th century, that they have had to hide their identity and religion in order to survive and that, in so many respects, they have walked a journey that is parallel to our own. Druze have had to fight to keep their traditions alive as we are reminded today while the Druze suffer from brutal persecution in Syria. It was during my service in Cherev that I learned to be proud of my country for allowing the Druze to practice their religion freely and without fear. It saddens me that Haredi-only platoons will remain active, even as they marginalize female soldiers, while Cherev Battalion is being disbanded in the name of integration.

Emily Rose is now a student of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  

Follow her on Twiter @emilyarielrose.


1 Comment on "Guest Writer: Druze, Jews, And An IDF Lose"

  1. Rachamim Slonim Dwek | 29th April 2018 at 11:59 am | Reply

    As a former NACHAL G’dud EXO I am saddebed that Ms. Rose failed to understand several important facets of the IDF relationship with the Druse. They are our allies, NOT our friends.

    First, there are 3 distinct Druse demographics in Israel. Only 1 is allied with us. Second, all Druse were our sworn enemies until the 1920s. It was the Druse that committed pogrom after pogrom in the Galilee, that entirely destroyed Tiberias, most of Akko, Tzefat, and to a degree, Hafia. From the 14th to 19th Centuries they raped our women, murdered our children, stole our land.

    Times and attitudes change but with 2 out of 3 Druse demographics loathing us should we really be selling propaganda like this article? Let Ms. Rose walk into the Golan preaching that, or amongst the Anti Israeli Druse of al Maghar (the Communist and pro Arab majority).

    As for the IDF? It was the Druse themselves who lobbied long & hard to disband the 299th Indepedent Battalion. They saw that it was a glass-ceiling formation that impeded true integration.

    Anglos like Ms.Rose with her Western mindaet can never hope to understand what is at play. As for a Jew praying at what for us amounts to a Pagan shrine? While denigrating Traditional Jews like the 97th Battalion that she referred to? It is tragic, pathetic.

    Ms. Rose, learn what you are before trying to educate others about OTHER groups.

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