Saturday, June 13, 2015

Druze and Syria

There are some 130,600 Israeli Druze  who reside in Israel primarily in the region of the Galilee. Some members of the Druze community have  reached the senior echelons of Israel's military and the government.The Druze villages and population are:
Daliyat al-Karmel (15,000), Yirka (14,750), Maghar (11,600), Beit Jann (10,600),Isfiya (8,500), Kisra-Sumei (7,000), Julis (5,700),Yanuh-Jat (5,300), Hurfeish (5,250),Shefa-'Amr (5,150),Peki'in (4,150),Sajur (3,700), Abu Sinan (3,450) and Rameh (2,200).

This past week members of the Druze community expressed their anxiety, saying they are very concerned about the fate of their brethren across the border in Syria.

“We are worried about the Syrian Druse and demand that the world not stand by and do nothing,” said the Israeli Druse and Circassian Local Councils Forum head Jaber Hamoud. “The Druse love peace, but they know how to defend themselves. They need the means, not knives and axes." "The Druze have largely kept out of the conflict in Syria, only taking up arms to defend their towns and villages."

Who are the Druze?

The Druze are an esoteric monotheistic religious community found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. The religion incorporates elements of Ismailism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and other philosophies. The Druze call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid "People of Unitarianism or Monotheism" or al-Muwaḥḥidūn "Unitarians, Monotheists." The Druze revere the father-in-law of Moses, Jethro, whom some Muslims identify with Shuʻayb. According to the biblical narrative, Jethro joined and assisted the Israelites in the desert during the Exodus, accepted monotheism, but ultimately rejoined his own people. The tomb of Jethro near Tiberias is the most important religious site for the Druze community.

Sheikh Amin Tarif was the preeminent religious leader of the community from 1928 until his death in 1993. He was highly esteemed and regarded by many within the community as the preeminent spiritual authority in the Druze world.

Druze citizens are prominent in the Israel Defense Forces. Border Police. Police and in politics. The bond between Jewish and Druze soldiers is commonly known by the term "a covenant of blood" (Hebrew: ברית דמים, brit damim)

On the Golan Heights

After Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights in the Six Day War of June 1967 four formerly Syrian Druze villages; Majdal Shams (9,700), Buq'ata (5,900), Mas'ade (3,100) and Ein Qiniyye (1,735), came under Israeli rule. In the late 1970s, the Israeli government offered citizenship to all non-Israelis living on the Golan. By offering Israeli citizenship to the residents of the Golan Villages it would entitle them to an Israeli driver's license and enable them to travel freely in Israel.

Ninety percent of Druze residents of the Golan until recently continued to regard themselves as Syrian citizens. Many were afraid of reactions or repercussions by the Syrian Assad family regime to their family members who reside within Syrian territory should they accept Israeli citizenship. That 10 percent who applied for Israeli citizenship are entitled to vote, run for Knesset and receive an Israeli passport.

For foreign travel, non-citizen Golan Druze are issued a laissez-passer-by the Israeli authorities. As Israel does not recognize their Syrian citizenship, they are defined in Israeli records as "residents of the Golan Heights."
Since 2012 in the light of the deteriorating situation in Syria, Golan Druze have applied to Israeli citizenship in much larger numbers than in previous years. Though young residents of Majdal Shams are not drafted by the Israel Defense Forces, there has been a marked increased desire by them to volunteer for service in the IDF, Border Police and Police.

As part of their "resistance to Israeli occupation" many Golan Druze consistently show open public support for the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad had historically been high among Golan Druze in order to acquire the favoritism of the Assad's government to conduct trade across the border with Syria.

Some tensions have recently arisen in the community due to differing stances on the Syrian civil war, though open public support for the Syrian opposition is relatively uncommon.

In Syria

Druze made up about 3% of Syria's 22.5 million population before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. Many Druze live in the Jabal al-Druze region in the southern province of Suweida, where they constitute the vast majority of the local population. But there are also several Druze villages in other parts of the country, including in Idlib Provence.

The head of the Druze community in neighboring Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt, who is a Lebanese politician and the current leader of the mostly Druze Progressive Socialist Party (PSP),said the incident was an isolated one. Furthermore Walid Jumblatt, said he had made contact with Syrian opposition factions and "influential regional forces", according to a news website run by his political party. This contact had yielded a "joint effort" to guarantee the safety of Druze villages in Idlib Provence which had "stood by the revolution", it reported.

Walid Jumblatt has been a consitant supporter of the Syrian regime from the 1970's. Since the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad in 2000, he has campaigned for Damascus to relinquish control. With the onset of the Syrian Civil War, Jumblatt and the PSP moved towards an anti-Assad stance. Jumblatt has been crucial in negotiations regarding the Syrian Druze during the Syrian Civil War, and has stated about al-Nusra Front “I cannot classify, like Western countries, Nusra as terrorist because most of Nusra are Syrians. The terrorist regime of Bashar obliged the Syrians to join Nusra”.

In light of the recent attack Jumblatt responded that; "Any inciting rhetoric will not be beneficial, and you should remember that Bashar Assad’s policies pushed Syria into this chaos."

The spiritual leader of the Lebanese Druze community, Sheikh Naim Hassan, expressed condolences over the killings.
“We stand in silence, pain and sympathy with our people on Qalb Lawzeh. We pray for the martyrs,” he said after the Beirut meeting.

In the latest incident in the Druze village Qalb Lawzah in Idlib province, at least 20 to 25 Druze villagers were murdered by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in north-western Syria,(close to the Turkish Border)  the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The shooting occurred after a Tunisian al-Nusra commander tried to confiscate a house belonging to a Druze man who he claimed was loyal to the Syrian government. Relatives of the house's owner protested and tried to stop the commander.

The al-Nusra commander accused the Druze of being "kuffar" (infidels), because the Druze faith is an offshoot of Islam and is considered heretical by jihadists. The dispute soon escalated and turned violent. It was reported that a villager seized the rifle of an al-Nusra fighter and opened fire, killing one of the jihadists. Among those killed were elderly people and a child. Rebel groups allied to al-Nusra, including Ahrar al-Sham, eventually intervened to stop the bloodshed.

al-Nusra's leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani told Al Jazeera that Druze and other religious minorities who did not fight it would not be targeted. He said representatives had been sent to their villages to "inform them of the doctrinal pitfalls they have fallen into".

Druze activists living in Idlib Provence have reported that Druze residents have been subjected to religious persecution by al-Nusra with several hundred forced to convert to Sunni Islam. The group was also accused of desecrating graves and damaging shrines.

Wiam Wahhab, a Lebanese Druze politician close to Assad, urged Assad’s government to supply the residents with weapons. Wahhab also called on all the Druze in the southern Syrian province of Sweida to carry arms and defend their villages, since al-Nusra opposition fighters have reached the region that had previously been spared from the fighting in Syria’s four-year long civil war.

Wahhab also warned of revenge attacks against Nusra Front members in Lebanon in retaliation for the killings in Qalb Lawzeh.

Who or what is al-Nursa?

The al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra  is a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria  and Lebanon. It's name in Arabic is: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام‎ transliterated as Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām, "The Support Front for the People of Al-Sham", or JaN or JN). It is sometimes referred to as Tanzim Qa'edat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Sham or al-Qaeda in Syria or al-Qaeda in the Levant.

The al-Nusra Front, or JaN  has been described as both "the most aggressive and successful" and "one of the most effective rebel forces" in Syria, and has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations,  Australia, Canada, New Zealand,  Russia,  the United Kingdom, the United States,  and Turkey.

Jabhat al-Nusra is made up primarily of Syrian mujahideen (is the plural form of mujahid (Arabic: مجاهد‎), the term for one engaged in Jihad) who adhere to Sunni Islam.
The goal of Jabhat al-Nusra is to overthrow Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria and create an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law. At this stage they are focusing on the defeat of the Syrian regime rather than on global jihad.
There have been statements to the effect that Syrian members of the group are only fighting the Assad regime and they are not interested in attacking Western states though group still views the United States and Israel as enemies of Islam. They have consistently warned against Western intervention in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra leader Golani has stated that "We are only here to accomplish one mission, to fight the regime and its agents on the ground, including Hezbollah and others".

In early 2014, Dr. Sami Al Oraidi, a top Sharia official in the group, acknowledged that his group is influenced by the teachings of Abu Musab al-Suri. The strategies derived from Abu Musab's guidelines include: providing services to people, avoiding being seen as extremists, maintaining strong relationships with communities and other fighting groups, and putting the focus on fighting the government.

The tactics used by Jabhat al-Nusra are markedly different to that of rival jihadist groups such as ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Levant/Syria] Dar al Islam al Sham. Whereas ISIS (Daish) has alienated local populations by demanding allegiance and carrying out beheadings,Jabhat al-Nusra has cooperated with other militant groups and has declined to impose Sharia law where there has been opposition. Analysts have noted this "benevolent policy" used by Jabhat al-Nusra may give them a greater long-term advantage.

Jabhat al-Nusr leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani was instructed in early 2015 by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to pursue the following five goals;

  • Better integrate his movement within the Syrian revolution and its people
  • Coordinate more closely with all Islamic groups on the ground
  • Contribute towards the establishment of a Syria-wide Sharia judicial court system
  • Use strategic areas of the country to build a sustainable Al-Qaeda power base
  • Cease any activity linked to attacking the West. 

Since early 2015, there have been persistent reports of the al-Nusra Front considering leaving al-Qaeda and planning to abandon its current name and merge with smaller Islamist groups, such as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, in order to form a new entity that will receive funding from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

In a statement issued on 9 March 2015, the group reaffirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda and denied plans to break away from it.

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