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February 24, 2022

The Israeli Druze

The Israeli Druze

Numbering some 120,000, this fascinating community makes up just two percent of Israel’s population. Approximately 100,000 Druze live in the Israeli Galilee region, and the remaining 20,000 in the Golan Heights. What makes the Druze so unique?

Druze Women in Traditional Garb

Druze Women in Traditional Garb (Photo: צולם ע”י צביקה שיאון, CC BY 2.5)

Israeli Druze History

The Druze religion and community were born in eleventh century Egypt where a local ruler founded the new sect which was considered an offshoot of Islam. The Druze revere Muhammad, living 300 years prior to the founding of their religion, as one of their prophets. The name “Druze” is derived from one of their early prophets called Darazi. The Druze revere the father-in-law of Moses, Jethro, whom some Muslims identify with Shuʻayb. The tomb of Jethro near Tiberias is the most important religious site for the Druze community. From the very beginning, the Druze were subject to intense persecution, fleeing from their native Egypt to the Levant. Their religious tenet of guarding their faith clearly has cultural origins. For one thing, the Druze are divided into “the uggal” (“knowers” indoctrinated in the tenets of their religion) and “the juhal” (“ignorant ones,” who are bound to accept the Druze faith “by blind faith,” so-to-speak).

Many of the Druze tourist sites are associated with the Druze religion. The tomb of their prophet Jethro (called “Nebi Shu’eib”) located at the Horns of Hittin, overlooking Lake Kinneret, is their holiest religious site. Maqam Abu Ibrahim, a beautiful stone structure with a red dome in the Druze village of Daliat El-Carmel, dedicated to the memory of the Prophet Elijah, is their second holiest site. Some of the other notable Druze religious sites are connected with prominent figures in the “Tanakh,” the Jewish Bible.

Hilwah (Druze Praying House) in Yarka

Hilwah (Druze Praying House) in Yarka (Photo: צילום:ד”ר אבישי טייכר, CC BY 2.5)

Druze Society

The Israeli Druze principally live in some sixteen villages in the Galil and Golan Heights, which largely consisting of Druze or a mixture of Druze and Christian Arabs. A tour of the Druze villages can be combined with visit to the Muchraka Carmelite Monastery, where by tradition the Prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal.

Druze Scouts March to Nebi Shu'eib

Druze Scouts March to Nebi Shu’eib (Photo: מרכז הדרכה דרוזי, CC BY 2.5)

Israeli Druze on Mount Carmel

If you are looking to see the Druze in their own locale, the villages of Ussefiya and Daliyat el-Carmel, both nestled on Mount Carmel near Haifa, are musts. Both have colorful markets. Historically, Ussefiya was the Jewish town of Husifah in the Roman-Byzantine period. Its’ name was located in a beautiful mosaic synagogue floor. Depicting the zodiac, it is now on display at the Israel Museum.  Remnants of the Crusader era have also been found in Ussefiya (also called Isfiya). The village attracts tourists and hosts many artists and art shops and there is no shortage of of Druze restaurants.  You can choose delicious Druze bread, falafel, humus, tehina, and meat dishes. The “Druze heritage house” on 8th Street in Daliyat el-Carmel houses an exhibit about the Druze lifestyle. In recent years the villagers have begun hosting groups in their homes, and such a visit offers a glimpse of their houses, culture and tradition.

The Israeli Druze: Did You Know?

The Druze religion is secret and closed to converts. From the theological perspective, the secrecy derives from the tenet that the gates of the religion were open to new believers for the space of a generation when it was first revealed and everyone was invited to join. Since the Druze belief is that everyone alive today is the reincarnation of someone who lived at that time, there is no reason to allow them to join today. Therefore, the Druze refrain from missionizing, and no member of another religion can become Druze.