Shlomo writes in Mishlei that the twists and turns of history are governed from above: The king’s heart is in the hand of Hashem as rivers of water. He turns it wherever He will (Mishlei 21:1). The Arab hostility of our day is no forgone conclusion. Eighty years ago, certain Arab leaders were not adverse to Jewish rule in the Middle East, and there are Arabs who support a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisroel today.
Friendly or partly friendly Arab/Muslim minorities exist in Eretz Yisroel. First, there is the Druze community, which Israel officially recognizes as an independent religious entity with its own religious courts and spiritual leadership. Although Druze culture and language are Arab, their religion is not Islam but a secret religion based on strict monotheism.
The Druze community was founded at the beginning of the 11th century. 150 years later, the Jewish traveler, Binyomin of Tudela, found Druze living in Lebanon and described them as “a people called Darazyan.” “They have no religion and live in the big mountains and the crevices of the rocks,” he wrote. “No king or minister is a judge over them, for of their own they live between the mountains and the rocks, and up to Mount Hermon is their border – a three day walk… They love the Jews, and they are light of foot on the mountains and hills, and no one can battle them.”
Worldwide, the Druze have a population of about one million, mainly in Syria and Lebanon, and about 120,000 Druze live in Israel. There are also sizeable communities worldwide including the United States. But don’t assume that any Druze you meet is pro-Israel.
Although the Druze were once powerful warriors who played a major role in driving the Crusaders from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, and maintained a semi-autonomous enclave in Lebanon, nowadays, their affinities depend on where they live. Syrian Druze are pro-Syrian and have members in the ruling Bath government, Druze in Lebanon sided with Palestinians against the Christian population, and Druze in Israel are pro-Jewish.
When the UN first partitioned Palestine in 1948, some Druze were for the Jewish state and some against. But in the course of the war even hostile Druze elements became neutral or joined the Israeli side. Since then, Druze have served in the Israeli Defense Forces and in 1956 they agreed to compulsory draft. Many of them belong to a special Druze division called Battalion of the Sword. Despite their good rapport with Jews, they are not an assimilatory risk as they gave up all proselytizing in 1043. But lately Druze patriotism is on the wane. As one of their five Knesset representatives, Said Naffa, put it, “(Druze) people are beginning to realize that we are first and foremost Arabs, and we are entitled to equal right by virtue of being Israeli citizens and not only because we serve in the IDF.”
The Bedouins (ancestors of desert dwelling Muslim tribes) of Israel’s Negev who include about 12 percent of Israel’s Arabs include many pro-Jewish Arabs. A number of Bedouin supported the Jews in 1948, and five to ten percent of them presently volunteer for Israeli army service. Their partial pro-Jewish stance goes back to at least 1923 when Bedouin sheikhs of the Beit She’an Valley invited British high commissioner Herbert Samuel to visit their camps, writing in their letter:
“We don’t meddle in politics, don’t attend rallies, and don’t send delegations. We are simple people who live in tents and deal with our own affairs only. We agree with everything the government does… We have seen no evil from the Jews. We have sold the American Jewish Agency some of our lands, and with the help of the money we received we are developing and cultivating the large tracts that still remain ours. We are pleased with these Jews, and we are convinced that we will work together to improve our region and to pursue our common interests.”
In 1946, a Bedouin tribal leader, Sheik Hussein Mohammed Ali Abu Yussef sent sixty men to fight together with Jews and formed the Pal-Heib unit of the Haganah. In 1948, this unit defended Jewish communities in the north.
Indicative of their sentiment, Ismail Khaldi, first Bedouin deputy consul of the State of Israel, said to the San Francisco Chronicle in March 2009, “I am a proud Israeli – along with many other non-Jewish Israelis such as Druze, Bahai, Bedouin, Christians and Muslims, who live in one of the most culturally diversified societies and the only true democracy in the Middle East. Like America, Israeli society is far from perfect, but lets us deal honestly. By any yardstick you choose… Israel’s minorities fare far better than any other country in the Middle East.”
Unfortunately, many Bedouin are now turning to Arab nationalism and Muslim fundamentalism.
A third minority that supports Israel are the Circassians, a moderate Sunni Muslim group of about 3,000 that helped illegal Jewish immigration in the 1930s and fought on Israel’s side in 1948. They regard themselves as Israelis and are drafted into the Israeli army. Expelled from the Caucasus by Czarist Russia during the 19th century, the Ottoman Turks settled thousands of them throughout the Middle East where they still cling to their heritage, culture, and language. Some of them settled in the Galilee and have got on well with the Jews ever since.
Arab Villages and Arabs
Certain Arab villages supported the Jews of Eretz Yisroel in the past. Best known is Abu Ghosh next to Telz-Stone. During the siege of Yerushalayim in 1948, Abu Ghosh was the only one of 36 Arab villages in the Yerushalayim hills that remained neutral and even helped Jews to keep the road open. Individual Arabs helped Jews over the years. Hasan Darwish, the son of one of these “collaborators” explained why he thought his father was no traitor:
“The mufti and his men said that my father was a traitor. But my father tried to prevent the war. He said to the mufti: The war that you are declaring will lead to the loss of Palestine. We need to negotiate. The mufti said idha takalam al-seif, uskut ya kalam—when the sword talks, there is no place for talking. They say that my father sold land and that that made him a traitor. He didn’t sell. But tell me this, if a man who sold 400 dunams to the Jews is a traitor, what would one say of a man whose policies led to the loss of all of Palestine? Isn’t he the biggest of traitors?”
In 1921, Hassan Bey Shukri, president of the Muslim National Associations and mayor of Haifa, sent a telegram of support for the Balfour Declaration:
“We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy whose wish is to crush us,” he wrote. “On the contrary. We consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country. We are certain that without Jewish immigration and financial assistance there will be no future development of our country as may be judged from the fact that the towns inhabited in part by Jews such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, and Tiberias are making steady progress while Nablus, Acre, and Nazareth where no Jews reside are steadily declining.”
It is worth noting that when push comes to shove, a sizeable proportion of Israel’s hostile Arabs seem to know what is good for them. A recent survey publicized in the Washington Post this January found that only 30 percent of the Arabs of east Yerushalayim who officially refuse to accept Israeli citizenship would prefer to be citizens of a Palestinian state, while 35 percent said they would prefer Israeli citizenship. Forty percent did not know or refused to answer.
Looking beyond the borders of Eretz Yisroel, influential Muslim leaders have supported the return of Jews to the Land. In 1873, Shah of Persia Naser al-Din Shah Qajar met with British Jewish leaders, including Sir Moses Montefiore, during his journey to Europe, and suggested that Jews buy land and establish a state for the Jewish people.
After World War I, Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and King of Hejaz supported the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in the Al Qibla daily of Mecca:
“The resources of the country [Palestine] are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants,” he wrote. “… We have seen the Jews from foreign countries streaming to Palestine from Russia, Germany, Austria, Spain, and America. The cause of causes could not escape those who had a gift of deeper insight. They knew that the country was for its original sons, for all their differences, a sacred and beloved homeland. The return of these exiles to their homeland will prove materially and spiritually an experimental school for their brethren who are with them in the fields, factories, trades and all things connected to the land.”
On January 3, 1919, Hussein’s son, King Faisal I of Iraq signed the following agreement of cooperation with Dr. Chaim Weizman: “…Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper… I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of the civilised peoples of the world.”
A small, but voluble number of Muslims remain staunchly friendly to the Jews. One of the best known of these is Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Director of the Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community, who believes the return of the Jews to Eretz Yisroel accords with Islam. According to British based Imam Muhammad Al-Hussaini, eighth and ninth century interpretations of the Koran understand it as saying that Hashem gave Eretz Yisroel to the Jews as a permanent covenant, and he asserts that early Muslims never had religious claims over Yerushalayim. Worldwide, an intelligent, motivated cadre of Muslim scholars and religious/political leaders in Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Egypt, and Pakistan, have expressed support for the Jewish people.
The seeds of Arab rapprochement exist. Whether this trend narrows or broadens depends on our deeds, for when a man’s ways please Hashem, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him (Mishlei 16:7).
(Cohen, Hillel. Army of Shadows, Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917 – 1948, University of California Press, 2008; Wikipedia.)