For centuries, practitioners of the Druze religion took care not to reveal any information about the nature of their beliefs, rituals, and traditions. Under penalty of communal ostracism, or worse, members of Druze communities have refrained from telling any outsider more than basic details about their religion.
But now, the secret is out. Druze MK Ayoub Kara (Likud) says members of the Druze communities believe in many of the same things that Jews do. And that's not surprising, he adds, since the Druze are actually descended from the Jewish people - and he says he can bring genetic evidence to prove it.
According to Kara, who is politically allied with the Jewish nationalist camp, there are many aspects of Druze beliefs that mesh with Judaism: “All our prophets are Jewish ones – Moses, Judah, Jethro, and Zevulun, the son of Jacob.” In fact, he says, the Druze are likely one of the lost tribes of the Jewish people – probably Zevulun, considering his special status among them.
According to Kara, there are no vestigial Jewish practices among the Druze – as there are, surprisingly, among some Arabs in the Land of Israel – but one symbol has stuck with the Druze throughout the centuries. “Only among Druze do you find a red Star of David, in homes, cemeteries, and places of worship,” Kara says. “This is one sign that has been open and visible for centuries, unlike most of the other ones, yet few have noticed.”
If the Druze dropped most, if not all, Jewish ritual, it's because they feared the sword of Islam. “Unlike Jews and Christians, who have the status of “people of the Book” among Muslims, and are therefore are given some basic rights, Druze are simply heretics to Islam, and such heretics must be either converted or eliminated,” Kara explains. In fact, Druze were massacred by Muslims on several occasions, and “it would have been much worse if they had identified themselves as Jews.” As a result, the Druze initially converted to Christianity and subsequently took on a Muslim identity – but through it all, they never forgot their Jewish identity.
Those roots explain, at least in part, the fierce loyalty the Druze in Israel have to the state. “However, Druze here are too fearful to loudly proclaim their sympathies with Israel, or to convert to Judaism, although some do – because of the fear of what might happen to their brethren in Syria and Lebanon,” Kara said. Druze soldiers have given their lives for Israel and have risen high in IDF ranks. However, Druze tradition is to be loyal to whatever country rules the area they live in, so that Druze in Syria are loyal to Syria.
And then there is the genetic study, which shows that Druze display genetic attributes quite similar to those of Jews (see the study for the technical details). “A major genetic test from last year, the first extensive test done of the Druze, proves my contention clearly,” says Kara.
Not all experts are convinced – at least not yet. Tsvi MiSinai, an Israeli author who has conducted extensive investigations into the cultural and genetic background of the Arabs living west of the Jordan River, and who has concluded that the vast majority of them are descended from the Jewish nation, believes that more study is necessary. “According to the study, the genetic cluster of Druze coincides closely with those of the Samaritans, and is very close to the genetic clusters of Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Jews from the Caucasus,” says MiSinai, author of an ambitious study on “Jewish nationhood” called “Brother Shall Not Lift Sword Against Brother.”
While the evidence so far is persuasive, MiSinai wants to see more. “We know from history that there were definitely Jewish villages that became part of the Druze community, mostly to avoid being forced to convert to Islam, such as the residents of the villages of Abu Snein and Yarcha. If the genetic samples were taken from there, it doesn't say much about the rest of the Druze. I would want to see more of an in-depth study,” MiSinai says.
Kara says that his evidence stands on its own merits. “For thousands of years the Druze suffered,” he said, “so it's understandable that they would be a little hesitant to come forward after only 60 years of Israel's existence. But when you check our beliefs – and our veneration of the great Jewish prophets – the matter should become clear.”