From Syria’s Suwayda massacre to Israel’s ‘Nation-State’ law: The Druze between rocks and hard places

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

The last week of July and first days of August were momentous and difficult for Druze in Syria and Israel. On July 25 ISIS members attacks the Druze in Suwayda and surrounding villages in southern Syria and murdered 260 people. ISIS also kidnapped 14 Druze women and at least 16 children. Later the images of the women, trembling and frightened, were sent by messages on phones and circulated online.

In Israel the same day as the Syrian attacks Druze in Israel were debating the ‘Nation-State’ law that was passed in July. Druze politicians expressed outrage at the law and petitioned the Supreme Court against it. They were responding to anger in their constituencies back home. Some Druze in the army also sought to resign after years of service in protest. Despite reassurances from the Prime Minister and high level meetings and talk of “our brothers” by the Education Minister, the anger in the community continued.

The tragedy in Suwayda shook the Druze community. This area had been relatively untouched by the seven years of civil war and the attack on the community was unprecedented. The only other similar massacre were attacks by Nusra front earlier in the war. Druze in Syria served in the army and supported the state against the Syrian rebels. But they had their own tensions with the state. In Suwayda some were accused of desertion. There were different groups. The ISIS attack appeared to reveal lack of security and there were those who blamed the government for stripping the defenses and also bussing ISIS members who had surrendered to the desert near Suwayda. There were also condemnations from pro-regime elements who claimed the Druze had spurned the army and the weakness in security was their own doing. And of course there were conspiracies, alleging ISIS came from US-held areas near Tanf or that the attack was allowed by the regime to force Suwayda back into the regime’s hands.

Either way what was revealed in Syria is the way the Druze are victims of the war. ISIS was ostensibly launching an attack to distract Damascus from its battles with ISIS near the Golan. However it targeted Druze, like Yazidis in Iraq, for ideological and religious bigoted reasons. So the Druze minority paid a price for ISIS brand of religious far-right hatred. In a sense they suffered for the regime. But they must be on the side of the regime because there is no place for them if they oppose the regime. Suwayda would today be a wasteland if they had joined the rebels. So pragmatic calculations led to this.

In Israel also the issue of loyalty to the army and the state caused consternation and questions about the Nation-State law. Why serve a state that spurns you in its laws, some asked. It’s one thing to be de facto a Jewish state, but why wave around a new law in the face of people who served in the army and continue to serve? Why not equality, finally, for them. As in Syria, Druze are critiqued by those who oppose the nature of the state, but they also suffer for the state and feel they don’t receive enough from it. This is a pragmatic bargain as well. In both places the state pays lip service to caring for this minority, but often takes the minority for granted.

This is not a simple situation, and there are differences and diverse views within the Druze community. But the tragic week of late July and early August shows the difficulties facing Druze particularly and minorities in general across the region.

 

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