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Netanyahu Announces Druze Settlement

Conquest season begins ahead of elections

 

 

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Netanyahu's Odd Timing

On November 14, 2012, Netanyahu requested the Ministry of Finances to allot roughly $250,000 dollars for the planning of a new Druze settlement in the Galilee. This is equal to the formal foundation of the town, which entered the fast-road for its construction, similar to what happens with Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The timing was clear; Israel goes to elections in January and Netanyahu hopes to get votes from the Druze in such a way. Yet, the act itself was odd; Israeli governments facing imminent elections are not expected to change the political status quo or their yearly budget. Netanyahu's decision shows that he is between a rock and a hard place, desperate for every vote he can get. He justified his act on a government decision taken in 1998, which attempted to ease the Druze demand for new lands. Earlier this year, the government approved a plan to develop existing Druze and Circassian towns. The new settlement will include 350 houses in its first stage and will be located in Khirbat Inbal, next to Kibbutz Yehiam. This area belongs to the Palestinian part of the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine.

Yet, some credit must be given to Netanyahu, he is not acting purely on partisan considerations. There is a dimension of demographic war in his decision. Out of the 1.2 million denizens of Galilee, only about 45% are Jews. These are concentrated mainly in the areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee and along the Mediterranean coast. The highlands of the Western Galilee are populated mainly by Druze and Palestinians, though Bedouins and Circassians can also be found. All have Israeli citizenship, but the Druze and Circassians serve in the army while the Palestinians don't; Bedouins are allowed to choose. Sheikh Amin Tarif was the most prominent Druze leader in the 20th century; he sealed the alliance between his people and Israel. Accordingly, he was awarded the Israel Prize for his special contribution to society and the State of Israel; he is one of the few non-Jews who had received this award. Isolated from Druzes in other countries, those living in the Galilee became dependent on the State of Israel's goodwill. Netanyahu knows that he cannot stop the demographic change in the Galilee highlands; he can't allure Jews to settle in that area. Thus, he is calling Israel's ally to conquer the land.

Sheikh Amin Tarif

Sheikh Amin Tarif
Allied with Israel and was awarded the Israel Prize

Yehiam | Northwest Galilee

Yehiam | Western Galilee

 

Conquest Season

The Druze are also eager, but for a different reason. There are slightly over 100,000 Israeli-Druze living in fourteen towns located in the Galilee. The largest one is Daliyat al-Karmel, next to Haifa and home to a popular market. More often than not they live in multigenerational houses, in towns spanning narrow valleys. They practice a monotheistic religion related to Shia Islam; this uniqueness causes them to favor ethnic settlements, in which the vast majority of the denizens are Druze. Most of their towns feature over 95% Druze population. Thus, once all the available space in a town's steep territory is used, they need new lands for a new town. Israel knows that awarding them lands is a safeguard against Palestinian expansion. Thus, the cooperation between Netanyahu and the Druze is expected.

However, it seems that the Israeli government wanted to ensure the cooperation of the Druze. The location offered to them was as astonishing as irresistible. In the map above, I marked Kibbutz Yehiam; the new settlement will be located next to it. Placed between the city of Nahariya on the seacoast and the Palestinian-Israeli town of Ma'alot Tarshiha, the new settlement fits all Druze expectations. Moreover, the place possesses historical assets for them.

The first historical register of the Druze is related to their fight against the Crusaders in the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon, during the Crusader rule in Syria (1099–1291). The site being offered to them, was home to a Crusaders fort, Khirbat Jiddin ("Jiddin Ruins" in Arabic). The fort was destroyed by Sultan Baybars between 1268 and 1271. However, the ruins seen today belong to a reconstruction made in the eighteenth century by Dhaher al-Omar, the Bedouin leader who became Ottoman governor of the Galilee. In other words, the Druze are becoming the symbolic successors of their unwelcomed rulers while gaining terrain against their Bedouin brothers. The latter experienced violence in the last year, when they were attacked by Jewish "Price Tag" extremists.

Khirbat Jiddin

Khirbat Jiddin at modern Yehiam
Site of a Crusaders Fortress

Netanyahu is not being excessively generous in his gift. Israel does not care about Crusaders' symbols; its main target is blocking the Palestinian expansion in the Galilee. On the upper-right side of the map above, one can see the town of Ma'alot-Tarshiha. In fact, it is not a town, but two. It was created in 1963 by merging the Jewish Ma'alot with the Palestinian Tarshiha. In such a way, Israel put an end to the existence of a major Palestinian administrative center in Western Galilee. The same was done in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, with a merger between Jewish Tel Aviv and Palestinian Jaffa. The new Druze town will be located roughly halfway between Ma'alot-Tarshiha and Kafr Yasif, a mainly Christian-Palestinian town, which could not be swallowed as Tarshiha had been. In such a way, Israel is creating a buffer capable of blocking the creation of a contiguous Palestinian area in the Western Galilee. Two months before the elections, Netanyahu recruited footsoldiers and opened the Conquest Season.

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