Fahed Mahmoud climbs an old Israeli tank near his land in the Golan Heights to get a view of Hader, a neighboring Druze village in Syria. (Elijah Hurwitz)

Sheikh Monir Hamdan, a lawyer and active religious member of the Druze community, at his family's home in Isfiya. "We must be on the same level as the Jews. Equality. We built this state together. The [Nation-State] law was a big mistake by Netanyahu. We hope after the election this situation will be done," he said. "We need one like [Yitzhak] Rabin ... because with Bibi [Netanyahu] and the right, we cannot continue." (Elijah Hurwitz)

At first glance, the office of Amal Nasser el-Din might belong to that of any proud and patriotic Israeli politician. A closer look around the room reveals photos of elderly men with flowing white beards, dark robes and tall hats. They are sheikhs of the Druze faith to which Nasser el-Din belongs, and steps from his office in Daliyat el-Carmel is a memorial to 427 Druze soldiers who died while serving in the Israeli military; the fallen include Nasser el-Din’s own son and grandson. The sacrifice of these soldiers has become a rallying cry in recent months for Druze politicians, military officers and citizens who have marched in protests after the Israeli Knesset passed the “Jewish Nation-State Law,” which critics say reduces minorities in Israel to second-class citizens.

Druze and Jews have a deep history of partnership, with some Druze even fighting in the Jewish Haganah militias in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. It is a monotheistic religion whose beliefs include reincarnation and influence from Islamic and Greek philosophy. The Druze diaspora historically faced persecution in Arab countries where strict interpretations of Islam considered its believers to be heretics.

Civil engineer Ramiz Hiraldin in the northern Druze village of Hurfeish, Israel, describes the partnership as “the best thing for the Druze in hundreds of years. Like the Jewish people in Europe, the Druze were persecuted in Lebanon and Syria and other countries. We have a brit damim (Hebrew: blood covenant) with the Jewish people. Like blood brothers. We believe it started from Jethro and Moses. All the Druze people in Israel feel the same feeling about this law. It’s a disappointment.”

The majority of Arabic-speaking Druze live in neighboring Syria, where a 2017 suicide attack by al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front militants killed nine and injured dozens in the Druze village of Hader. It prompted the Israeli military to take the unusual step of issuing a warning that it was “prepared and ready to assist the residents of the village and prevent damage to or the capture of the village Hader out of commitment to the Druze population.”

As a diaspora with no designs on forming its own nation-state, the Druze are generally loyal to their host country. But there is anxiety about the Nation-State Law even in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights — where many older Druze still identify with Syria. Kanj Abu Saleh, a farmer from Majdal Shams near the Syria border, says: “I’m connected to Israel. I have many Jewish friends. Many very nice people. The problem now is the right side. Maybe if Netanyahu changes, the [Nation-State] law will change. Maybe. They’re going to a bad place.”

With the approaching Israeli elections on Tuesday, many Druze have placed their hopes in Benny Gantz, a three-star military general whose new Blue and White party hopes to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gantz has promised he will work to “fix” the Nation-State Law if he is elected, and leaders and military officers from the Druze community marched to Gantz’s home outside Tel Aviv on Jan. 19 to hear him make a public statement. The marchers carried flags of Israel alongside the rainbow-colored flag of the Druze people, and there was applause in the crowd assembled in front of his driveway when Gantz said into a microphone, “you’re fighting for your home, keep going.”


A Druze soldier and Jewish soldier share a cigarette at an Israeli military structure on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. Some 85 percent of Druze men serve in the military, primarily in combat units. (Elijah Hurwitz)

A young Druze soldier and civilian wait for a morning bus in Daliyat el-Carmel on Jan. 13, 2019, as a religious Druze elder passes. Within the Druze community men and women known as uqqal (Arabic: "the wise") who have studied the religion's holy texts dress differently than secular Druze, with religious men wearing black robes and white headwear and women donning white veils. (Elijah Hurwitz)

A disused refrigerator sits in an apple orchard near the Syria border in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In 2004, Druze farmers petitioned the Syrian government to export their apples into Syria through the Quneitra border crossing, but the Syrian civil war has often made trade impossible in recent years. Many Druze in the Golan Heights still have family in Syria and identify as Syrian, while others seek Israeli citizenship. (Elijah Hurwitz)

Families from different religions share a public park near Mount Carmel in Daliyat el-Carmel. While the Druze have been the most vocal opponents of the Nation-State Law, other minorities in Israel who take part in IDF military conscription such as Bedouins and Circassians have also expressed discontent. (Elijah Hurwitz)

A family takes traditional Druze coffee flavored with cardamom pods at a cookout in Daliyat el-Carmel. (Elijah Hurwitz)

Civil engineer Ramiz Hiraldin with his son at their home in the Druze village of Hurfeish near Israel's border with Lebanon. Both served in the Israeli military. (Elijah Hurwitz)

Homes dot a hillside in Isfiya, one of the largest Druze villages in Israel. Many of Israel's 150,000 Druze live in mountain areas settled by their ancestors hundreds of years ago because the higher ground was easier to defend in battle. (Elijah Hurwitz)

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