It was a sentiment repeated Thursday by those who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Israeli Jews and lost loved ones protecting the State of Israel, a “blood alliance” many now question because of the recently passed Nation-State Law.
The Jewish Nation-State Law is a Basic Law with constitutional heft that declares Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. It anchors in law the state’s menorah emblem, Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, national holidays and the right of all Israeli residents to preserve their heritage without consideration of religion and nationality. It also removes Arabic as an official language and instead gives it special status.
Over 85% of Druze voluntarily serve in the IDF, with a large majority in combat positions, special units or Border Police. Many reach senior positions in the military and police.
In the northern village of Hurfeish lie the graves of 35 Druze soldiers. The most recent is that of Adv.-St.-Sgt.-Maj. Kamil Shnaan, who was killed by Israeli-Arab terrorists who opened fire on him and his partner, Adv.-St.-Sgt.-Maj. Haiel Sitawe, on the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem last year.
Another one belongs to Col. Nabi Merey, the brother of local council head Mofad Merey, himself a colonel in reserves.
Merey joined the IDF and fought in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War and later became deputy commander of the Givati Brigade, the Arava Battalion and then deputy commander of the Gaza Division. In 1996, at the age of 42, he was killed by a Hamas sniper while trying to save his soldiers during an attack in Gaza.
“We are Israelis. There is no difference between us. I am Israeli Druze just like you are a Jewish Israeli,” said Col. (res.) Mofad Merey. But “this law bothers me. I was raised to serve my country and that is how I raised my sons and community.”
Merey told the Post that following the passing of the Nation-State Law, there were many questions by soldiers and commanders in the village.
“Everyone is asking about the law, there is a really negative feeling,” he said in his office while answering his telephone, which did not stop ringing.
Three Druze officers have thus far stated their intention to stop serving in the military in protest of the law, including one Hurfeish resident, 23-year-old Shady Zidan, an officer with the rank of deputy commander in a combat battalion.
“Keep the army out of this game,” Merey stressed. “We will deal with it and they need to serve and protect the country. We will make this right for them.”
For Mudi Saad, the Nation-State Law is just the tip of the iceberg of acute problems the Druze community faces.
“Netanyahu didn’t expect this to happen,” Saad said, referring to the backlash against the law. “We know it’s the Jewish state and that’s okay. But this law takes away our rights and takes away the equality we have. We serve in senior positions so why can’t we be equal in civilian life? Whoever gives to the country should get something back from the state.
“This law needs to be fixed so we aren’t second-class citizens,” he continued, adding that perhaps this “could be a trigger for better things in the future.”
Mourad Saif from the northern town of Yanuh-Jatt lost his uncle fighting with the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon War, and his brother in 2014, in a terrorist attack on a synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.
“Hero” was the word used to describe 30-year-old police officer Zidan Saif, who was the first to respond and was shot in the head during a gunfight with terrorists. Zidan Saif left behind a 21-year-old wife and a four-monthold daughter, along with his parents and five brothers, including Mourad.
“When my brother died, everyone loved us,” he said. “They [the state] promised us so much, but now four years later everyone forgot about us. There is no respect. We fought and died for this land and this is what we get?”
Saif spoke with the Post in his home. We sat in his living room across from a large picture of his brother as Saif’s one-year old daughter crawled along the floor laughing.
“Many families who lost loved ones... they threw us in the garbage. I don’t know what I would tell my sons and daughters about this.”
Calling the law “a total tragedy,” Saif said he was for a Jewish state but against a law that he called undemocratic.
Saif, the first Druze to serve in Sayeret Maglan – one of the IDF’s elite commando units, whose mission is to operate deep in enemy territory – said he has heard many youth in his village question whether they should serve in the IDF, and that several days ago the pre-military meetings held before every draft had been canceled.
“I’m hearing a lot of people who say it’s better to go to jail than to serve,” he said, adding that the majority of Druze are warriors “who can leave home and never come back. Many are asking, ‘Why should I fight if I get nothing in return?’ I could be like most Jewish Israelis and be a jobnik and go home at the end of the day,” he said, referring to the term for those serving in noncombatant positions.
Nevertheless, if there were to be a war tomorrow, “Even with this law I’d be the first to the front lines. It’s not for the country, it’s for my land and my family,” Saif said.
But for Maj. (res.) Ziad Faresh, the deputy council head of Hurfeish, the choice to pick up arms to defend his country is something he is not sure about anymore.
“It’s a bad, sick feeling... a feeling that your time is done. The soldiers feel as if they have been abandoned,” he told the Post. “This law adds fuel to the flames of the already negative feelings that the Druze community had.
“We were born here. We are Israeli citizens in every way and we are only asking to be treated as equals. The question, and what bothers us, is that for a Jew who doesn’t serve and gets full rights and we don’t... why is that? We and the Jews are the same but this is like stabbing us in the back.”
Thousands of people attended a rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night in support of the Druze community. Dozens of buses brought protesters from Druze villages across the North and thousands of non- Druze joined them.
This support by the everyday citizen is not lost on the Druze.
“We are very thankful for the support we are getting,” Faresh said. “The more people who come, the louder they will hear us and the more strength we will have.”