The View From Dalyat El Carmel
Israel is of course best known as the Jewish state, but there are also many non-Jewish citizens of Israel. Of singular stature and importance to Israel are the Druze. To help our readers better understand Druze history and culture, Israel Matters (IM) interviewed Dr. Hussein Naseraldin (HN), the Head of the M. Sc. Program in Industrial Engineering and Management at ORT Braude College in Karmiel, and a lifelong resident of Dalyat El Carmel, the largest Druze village on Mount Carmel.
IM: Thank you for joining us Hussein. Could you start by telling us just a bit about yourself?
HN: Great to be with you! I’m an industrial engineer and a 1992 graduate of the Technion. I worked for eight years in industry as an engineer and quality manager, after which I returned to the Technion for my graduate degrees. I am the first Druze in Israel to obtain a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering; after finishing my doctorate I spent two years as a post-doc in Canada before returning to Israel and embarking on my academic career. Living abroad was at first a shock for my wife Sana and children back then (Joseph and Ali) and me, but it was even harder on my parents to see us leave our village, for it is tacitly expected of you not to leave the family.
IM: As an Israeli citizen, did you serve in the Israeli army, or do Druze not serve typically?
HN: The Druze most certainly do serve in the army, and indeed many Druze soldiers have died defending Israel, both in wars and counterterrorism operations. I was exempted from service as I was raised in a religious family and was destined to become a religious leader until later in life where I had to make a choice between continuing my religious training or advancing my career.
IM: The Druze presence in Israel’s north easily predates the founding of the modern Israeli state. When did the Druze arrive in what is now northern Israel, where did they come from, and why did they settle in the Galilee?
HN: Looking back to when the Druze first arrived in the Middle East, we can say that the Druze have been recognized as a community for about 1,000 years when the Druze religion, kept as a secret until today (and only religious people can read the books) was spread all over the world. It is estimated that there are about 2.5 million “Druze” in the world. The Druze population in the north of Israel goes back about 400 years to the time of Fakhr al-Din al Ma’ani, who was the Emir of the Druze in the Chouf mountains in Lebanon. Fakhr al-Din was at war with the Ottoman Turks, and he sought to populate areas to the south to defend against a possible Ottoman advance from Egypt. The Druze villages of the Carmel were established at that time. There used to be sixteen Druze villages on the Carmel mountain alone. Of these only two villages remain: Isfiya (10 minutes up the road) and Dalyat El Carmel.
IM: There are also Druze villages in the Golan like Majd al Shams and Buq’ata that were part of Syria. How do they relate to their Israeli cousins?
HN: Unlike the Jews, Druze do not see themselves as a dispersed people that all came from one place yearning to return to that specific place and be reunited in a majority Druze nation. They are connected on a deeper level – the faith. A common saying depicts them as a copper tray: wherever you knock on it, it resonates in all other places. That said, the Druze do not have nationalistic aspirations. We share a common religious and spiritual outlook on the meaning and purpose of life, but we also see ourselves as citizens of wherever it is that we live. So it is that there are Druze in Israel, but also in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and other countries around the world.
IM: There is a difference between having a country and being in love with the land. Having lived on the Carmel mountain your entire life, it seems as if you know every trail, every vista, or even what is under every rock!
HN: The Druze are spiritually at one with nature and the land with less concern for who rules as long as we are free to practice our social and religious ceremonies.
IM: How do you feel Jewish Israelis view the Druze, for example in comparison to Arab Christians and Muslims?
HN: This is related to my last point. Unlike those Arabs who hold nationalistic aspirations and see themselves as more Palestinian than Israeli, Jews do not feel threatened by the Druze. Jews see us as committed to Israel. It was not always like this. My parents told me stories about villagers packing up their belongings expecting to move back to Lebanon in the time leading up to Israel’s War of Independence, but we did not have to leave. Keep in mind that many Druze helped in the war for the establishment of the state of Israel. More than a dozen received the Decoration of State Warriors ( עיטור לוחמי המדינה ), a medal of valor given only to people who fought beside any of the military forces for the
establishment of Israel from 1909 until 1948. So, we stayed and became an important part of the country, contributing
to the military, industry, culture, food, indeed Israeli life overall. There is also a historical angle to the Druze-Jewish
relationship. It is a bit symbolic and thought provoking: the most important prophet of the Druze religion is Nabi
Shuaib, also known as Jethro, who was the priest of Midian, Moses’s father-in-law, and has a Parasha in his name!
IM: In 2018, Israel passed a law declaring Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. Unlike Israel’s Declaration of Independence, this law did not make reference to the equality of all Israeli citizens. How did your community react?
HN: This is indeed a sore point, and one of the few times Druze people came together to protest. It was a hard emotional blow as we felt we were being identified as second-class citizens even though many Druze have served for decades in the Israeli army and died in defense of the country.
IM: It is one thing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and aspire to Jewish ideals and values in conducting its affairs, but another thing to think one achieves that aspiration by putting other people down.
HN: This was a symbolic and political ploy that has more to do with divisive internal Israeli politics than with mainstream Israeli views of the Druze people and our contributions to society (or contributions of other minorities). The capability of the Jewish people to include and embrace minorities is a strength-test of their character that has developed over endless barriers and challenges. The tiny Druze community is a sort of litmus test.
IM: Turning to a happier topic, the Druze have left their imprint on Israeli culture – music, sports, art, cuisine – and now we see Jewish Israelis coming to live in towns like Isfiya for the lifestyle. How is that working out?
HN: This mix of Druze with Israeli culture has occurred much faster than with other minority groups, plausibly due to our military service. For us, it is like the chalutzim era in Israel all over again. We have Druze counselors, an ambassador, Israel’s representative for the Mediterranean Region, an engineer on the Iron Dome rocket defense team, representatives in the Knesset, and the IDF’s chief medical officer, among others. As for myself, I am the first Druze Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering. We are experiencing a lot of firsts, and it makes for an exciting and interesting life. We are a part of the Israeli scene, no question.
IM: Druze cuisine is famous inside Israel as distinct from Arab cuisine which is also popular. How did this happen?
HN: Druze food really evolved; our meals are not the same as what we would have eaten hundreds of years ago. The major transformation occurred during the Ottoman period. People were very poor, and food was very basic using whatever could be grown locally. Food became more luxurious during Ottoman times.
IM: Hussein, you have been very generous with your time. Are there any parting thoughts you would like to share?
HN: Druze values promote love of others, honesty, and sincerity. Also, regardless of how men and women function differently in society, our Druze religion clearly states that men and women are equal. One is not better than the other.
IM: Thank you very much for sharing your personal and penetrating insights into Israel’s Druze community!
Eating like an Israeli
No visit to Hussein and Sana is complete without partaking in their fabulous Druze salads. Here they share a Druze classic lentil and onion Majadarah.
1. Two cups of lentil
2. Two onions (white, big)
3. Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil
4. One cup of Bulgar
1. Leaves of green onion
3. Black oily olives
1. Slice the onions into small cubes
2. Put the olive oil in a pan and add the onions
3. Put on medium heat and fry the onions until they are brown (possible to stop before brown and after they are even closer to black, depending on taste)
4. Wash the lentils, remove the stuff on the surface, and then remove from the water
5. Put lentils in cooking pot, add water to cover the lentils to twice their volume
6. Cook on medium heat until the lentils start to peel off. About 15 minutes plus minus. There should be extra water when the lentils peel off; if needed add hot water.
7. After lentils are ready, add the onions and oil and put the lentils, onions, and oil on low heat together for another 10 minutes. You should see that the onion dissolved into the lentils.
8. Wash the Bulgar (put in water and remove floating stuff).
9. Drain and add to the lentil and onion mix, stirring lightly for a couple of minutes.
You can serve it with tomato salad (tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, mint, olive oil, salt, lemon).
Add the extras above in small pieces on the side.