5 facts about the Israeli Druze, a unique religious and ethnic group

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Israeli Druze wave their community flags during a protest on June 14, 2015, in reaction to a shooting in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province that killed members of the Druze minority. (Photo credit: Jalaa Marey / AFP / Getty Images)

Like a number of other ethnic groups in the Middle East, such as the Kurds, the Druze live in several different countries, separated by borders drawn after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s. But unlike the Kurds , who are largely Muslim, the Druze are a unique religious and ethnic group. Their tradition dates back to the 11th century and incorporates elements from Islam, Hinduism, and even classical Greek philosophy.

Today, more than a million members of this community live mainly in Syria and Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, in Israel and Jordan. In Israel, the Druze are a tight-knit community active in public life, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center on Israel. They make up around 2% of the country’s population and mostly live in the northern Galilee, Carmel and Golan Heights regions.

Here are five facts about the Druze in Israel:

1Israeli DruzeNine in ten Israeli Druze say they have a strong sense of belonging to the Druze community and about the same number (93%) say they are proud to be Druze. About two-thirds say they have a special responsibility for caring for Druze in need around the world. About seven in ten Druze (72%) say their religious identity is very important to them. But when asked if their Druze identity is primarily a matter of religion, culture or ancestry – or a combination of these – about eight in ten say being Druze is primarily a matter of ancestry or culture. (33%) or a combination of religion and ancestry / culture (47%). Only about one in five people say that being Druze is first and foremost about religion (18%). In comparison, more Christian Israelis (31%) and Muslim Israelis (45%) say that being a Christian / Muslim is primarily a matter of religion for them.

2Israeli Druze rarely marry regardless of religion. In our survey, less than 1% of married Israeli Druze report having a spouse or partner who does not belong to their religion. This reflects other religious groups living in the country; only 1% of married Muslims and Christians and 2% of married Jews report that their spouse is of another religion. For the Druze in particular, this lack of religious intermarriages can also be a reflection of the history of the community. Since just after its founding in the 11th century, the Druze tradition has been officially closed to foreigners and proselytizing has been banned. Since this ban, the Druze population has continued to exist solely on the basis of the continuity of their previous generations.

3The Druze attach great importance to philosophy and spiritual purity. Almost all Druze (99%) believe in God, including 84% who say they are absolutely certain of their belief. But there are no holy days, regular liturgy or pilgrimage obligations, as the Druze are supposed to be connected to God at all times. A quarter of Israeli Druze report attending religious services at least once a week (25%) and a similar proportion report praying daily (26%). The Druze tradition also honors several “mentors” and “prophets”, including Jethro of Midian (the father-in-law of Moses), Moses, Jesus, John the Baptist and the prophet Muhammad. Several philosophers and other influential people are also held in high esteem by the Druze, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great.

4In Israel, the Druze are active in public life and subject to military conscription. In fact, for over four decades the IDF had a predominantly Druze infantry unit called the Herev, or sword battalion. This contrasts with Israeli Arabs, who are exempt from military service. About six in ten Druze men included in our survey say they have served (45%) or are currently serving (15%) in the IDF. Druze women are not required to serve. Among Israeli Jews, 75% of men and 57% of women currently serve in the military or have served in the past (Israeli Jewish men and women are required to serve, with some exceptions).

5The Druze and other Israeli groups share similar assessments of the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While 42% of Druze say it is possible to find a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, 51% of Muslims, 45% of Christians and 43% of Jews also share this view. About a third of Druze (32%) say “it depends” when asked about the prospects for peaceful coexistence. Only 18% of Druze say a two-state solution is not possible – a lower share than Muslims (32%) and Jews (45%) in the country.

The Pew Research Center received helpful advice on the Druze from Alexander Henley, American Druze Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

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