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Druze—Loyal Friends

June 28, 2022

by: Janet Aslin, BFP Staff Writer

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Unlike the melting pot of America, the State of Israel can be compared to a mosaic. Even its Jewish majority contains a dazzling number of expressions of Judaism that can often be identified by the clothing worn or the type of kippah (yarmulke) on a man’s head. Hidden among the many mosaic pieces, we can find a very tiny piece that represents a unique group of Israeli Arabs known as the Druze. Although the 147,000 Israeli Druze make up just 1.5% of Israel’s population, since the nation’s rebirth in 1948, the Druze have made significant contributions to the modern State of Israel.

From Egypt to the Levant

Numbering less than one million worldwide, the Druze religion has its roots in Egypt, emerging from Isma’ilism (a sub-sect of Shia Muslims) in AD 1017. Named by outsiders after Muḥammad al-Darazī, one of its founders, the Druze suffered severe persecution in Egypt. Soon members of the new faith could only be found in isolated areas of the Levant. Today, the majority of the Druze population is located in Syria, while Lebanon, Israel and Jordan contain smaller groups.

The Druze follow a blend of Isma’ilism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism and several other “isms.” The Druze canon includes the Bible, the Quran and philosophical works of Plato. However, these are given far less importance than their own “Book of Wisdom.” Only a very small minority of their sages or “knowledgeable ones” are able to read and understand the “Book of Wisdom,” while the rest of the community are considered uninitiated or laypeople. 

The Druze religion remains a secretive one about which not much is known. A mere 26 years after its founding, the Druze stopped allowing conversions to the faith, and that prohibition continues until today. Marriage outside the faith is prohibited, and more than 90% of Israel’s Druze population lives in a few tight-knit communities in northern Israel.

On Israel’s Side

Since the Crusader Period (AD 1099–1291), when they were given the task of guarding the area’s inland regions from the Crusader forces, the Druze have consistently distinguished themselves as powerful warriors. When the modern State of Israel was declared in 1948, the Druze voluntarily sided with the Jews to fight against the Arab armies threatening the annihilation of the fledgling state. They have stood with Israel in every war since then.

In 1956, primarily at the urging of Druze leaders, Israel passed a law requiring mandatory military service for all Druze men who are Israeli citizens. In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the tight bond between Jewish and Druze soldiers is known as the “Covenant of Blood.” In contrast, Israeli Arabs are exempt from military conscription, although they can volunteer to serve.

Areas of Excellence

One characteristic of the Druze is their loyalty to the countries in which they find themselves living. It would not be possible in the space of this article to tell the stories of all Druze citizens who have made a difference by their acts of service to the nation of Israel. We’ll look at just a few of them.


During the past year, COVID-related news reports in Israel usually cited the name of Professor Salman Zarka, Israel’s chief COVID-19 officer. Zarka is a proud Israeli Druze citizen. Before receiving his appointment as Israel’s chief COVID-19 officer, Zarka spent 25 years in the IDF Medical Corps, achieving the rank of Colonel Brigadier. Upon his retirement in 2014, he became the head of the Ziv Medical Center, a 350-bed hospital in Safed, the first Druze to hold such a position.

Zarka was born in the Druze community of Peki’in to parents who could neither read nor write but encouraged all their children to strive for excellence in whatever they chose to do. Zarka, who has multiple degrees from Israeli universities, specializes in the areas of public health and public administration. He is an inspiration to the next generation of Druze men and women.

Druze soldiers in the IDF carrying the Israeli and Druze flags.


There are many examples of Druze heroism in the line of fire. One of the most horrific terror attacks occurred in Jerusalem in November 2014. Armed with axes, knives and a gun, two Palestinian terrorists entered a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood and brutally murdered four of the early morning worshipers. One of the first responders was an Israeli Druze police officer. Thirty-year-old Master Sergeant Zidan Sayif was shot in the head and killed as he shielded other worshipers with his own body. He left behind a wife and four-month old daughter as well as his parents and four siblings. Many members of the ultra-Orthodox community attended his funeral in recognition of his bravery and sacrificial act.


Members of the Druze community have served in the Knesset (Parliament) since the late 1950s until today. It was hard to choose just one to highlight in this article. Majalli Wahabi was a MK (Member of Knesset) between 2003 and 2013 and has the honor of being the first Druze and only non-Jew to be named acting head of state for a brief time in 2007. Wahabi’s political career began in 1996, when he met Ariel Sharon, then deputy defense minister, and became Sharon’s personal ambassador to Egypt and Jordan.

A Lasting Friendship

We have only skimmed the surface of the rich history of the Druze people. They are mysterious in matters of faith, yet open and friendly should you happen to visit the colorful outdoor bazaar in Daliat al-Carmel, one of the largest Druze communities, located about 20 kilometers (12.4 mi.) southeast of Haifa. In a region where Israel has few solid Arab friendships, the Druze shine as one examines the past 74 years since the modern State of Israel was born.

Photo Credit: Click on photo to see photo credit

Photo License: IDF Soldiers

Photo License: Druze Man

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