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      Druze, Circassians Protest in North

      Druze and Circassian Israelis protested Thursday against alleged government discrimination. Roads were blocked between Akko and Carmiel.
      By Maayana Miskin
      First Publish: 7/2/2009, 8:30 PM

      (file)

      Druze and Circassian Israelis protested on Thursday against alleged government discrimination. “All we're asking for is equality,” said organizer Salah Fares, head of the Forum of Druze and Circassians in Israel.

      Protestors slowed traffic between the northern cities of Akko and Carmiel with a slow-moving procession of cars. Drivers waved black flags and the green, yellow, red, white and blue Druze flag.

      The Forum held a demonstration earlier in the week as well, blocking traffic on Tuesday and calling on the government to help Druze and Circassian communities. The week before, activists held a rally outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem.

      The Forum is calling on the government to forgive debts owed by local governments in Druze cities, particularly water and electric bills. The national water company cut off water on Wednesday to several Druze towns that had failed to pay bills.

      Activists recently won a minor battle with government officials when the Finance Ministry agreed to increase the credit extended to Druze towns.

      Druze and Circassian activists have also called on the government to provide more affordable housing in their communities, and to cancel controversial land appropriations. In addition, the forum is calling on the government to increase funding to Druze and Circassian communities.

      Current state funding does not take recent price increases into account, Fares said. Druze and Circassians receive less than Arab or hareidi-religious communities, he said, despite “sixty years of loyalty.”

      Approximately 120,000 Druze reside in Israel. Druze teenagers have one of the highest enlistment rates in the country, with the exception of those living in the Golan.

      Several thousand Circassians live in Israel, primarily in the Galilee and the Golan.

      While Druze and Circassian forums have criticized government policy, they have been supportive of Israel's right to self defense and of Israel as a Jewish state. Druze and Circassian townships have issued statements opposing Arab-Israeli rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, and insisting that Israel maintain its Jewish and democratic nature.

      Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently pledged to help the Druze and Circassian communities, which he termed “our brothers.” A Druze soldier once saved his life, Netanyahu said.

      However, he asked the communities for patience, saying that the global financial crisis has reduced the government's ability to extend aid. The response did not satisfy Fares or other activists, who said this week that the prime minister had failed to support his pro-Druze speech with action.