A group of Israeli Druze leaders attended a worldwide religious conference in Lebanon this week with hundreds of their brethren from other nations around the globe, and with the blessing of the State of Israel. The congress, aimed at strengthening the Arab and Muslim identity of the Druze, has drawn more than 800 delegates from around the world. Mainstream media orginally reported  that they had left without permission from Israel's Foreign Ministry.

However, each of the 35 members of the Israeli delegation was furnished with a laissez-passer document before travelling through Jordan and Syria to reach Lebanon. Although Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel, Syria is technically still at war with the Jewish State, and Lebanon is also considered an enemy nation. Neither has diplomatic ties with Jerusalem, and both bar anyone carrying an Israeli passport or any passport with an Israeli stamp from entering their borders.

Approximately 840 delegates from 37 countries, including the United States, Argentina, Sweden, Australia and the Ukraine were expected to attend the Congress, which was hosted by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The Lebanese leader said he worked especially hard to secure permission for the Israeli delegation to attend.

“I worked with the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese authorities so that the delegation would be allowed to travel by land and enter Lebanon for the first such congress being held for the Druze,” Jumblatt told the AFP news service on Wednesday. He said he plans to host a luncheon for all the delegates at his ancestral home in the Shouf Mountains, southeast of Beirut, on Saturday.

Unofficial estimates have placed the population of the Druze community in Israel at approximately 150,000. Its religion, considered to be an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, is a secretive society about which very little is known.

Israel's Druze community plays an integral role in Israeli society, with many of its teenage boys voluntarily enlisting for service in the IDF when they reach adulthood. There are also a number of Druze politicians who are actively involved in serving as members in the higher levels of Israel's government.

In addition, Israel's Ministry of Agriculture arranges annual authorization for Druze farmers in the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee to export their apple harvest to buyers across the northern border in Syria.

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