Israeli Druze vow to stand by their fellow Syrian Druze as long as necessary.
By: Sheri Oz
After over a decade of civil war in Syria, hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of displaced persons, the Druze of Israel have not given up on their brethren in the war-torn country.
Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif is an Israeli citizen and the spiritual leader of the Druze community in the Jewish State. For about a decade he has been ensuring that large sums of money find their way to Syria to help the Druze community there suffering under conditions imposed by the civil war that began in 2011 and continues to the present day.
There is no electricity in much of the country and water is only available sporadically. Unemployment and malnutrition are rampant. According to reports in the media, up to 90% of the population lives in poverty and many families cannot afford to buy nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products.
In addition, once the Syrian army ceased protecting them, the Druze population in Syria has been vulnerable to jihadist militant assaults, such as the massacre that took place in Qalb Loze in 2015. They are also subject to forced conversion to Islam.
Sheikh Tarif has taken upon himself responsibility for helping the Druze in Syria. In 2018, he was in the U.S. to discuss their needs with United Nations agency representatives, American policymakers, leaders in the American Jewish community and the Russian Ambassador.
The Sheikh said Israel was asked not to intervene because that may pose a danger to the Syrian Druze population, however, the Netanyahu government was closely involved in efforts to provide humanitarian aid and to protect the Druze population from the Islamists.
‘We are in daily contact’
The Druze religion is an offshoot of Islam that was established about 1,000 years ago. Adherents are concentrated in Syria (800,000), Lebanon (300,000), and Israel (150,000). Four Druze towns came under Israeli jurisdiction when the Golan Heights was liberated by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since the civil war began, over 200,000 Syrian Druze immigrated to other countries.
There is a very strong communal connection among all Druze. “We are in daily contact with our brothers in Syria and Lebanon and with Druze throughout the world,” Sheikh Tarif says. “We cooperate regarding religious and humanitarian issues. But we do not get involved in political issues in each other’s countries.”
Aid is passed on to the Druze in Suwayda, where most of the Druze Syrians are concentrated.
Sheikh Tarif said that he wanted to build a hospital in Syria, and according to former Druze journalist Hamad Awidat, this was accomplished in a rather unique manner. Building a hospital would have involved a bureaucratic nightmare; therefore, they established several separate specialized medical clinics instead. This was four years ago, and now residents can get free medical and dental treatments.
Awidat describes an ongoing fundraising campaign by which Israeli Druze send millions of dollars in cash to their war-impoverished Druze co-religionists. Some individuals have even contributed gold.
An activist involved in the fundraising says that in addition to medical treatment, the money is put to use in digging water wells and establishing local businesses, such as a bakery. For the approaching Eid al-Adha holiday, 1,000 families will be gifted $50 each, compared with a school principal’s monthly salary of $30.