Rami Zeiden, a 19-year-old Druse resident of Daliat al-Carmel in the Galilee, is angry.
A year away from his compulsory service in the Israeli army, Zeiden says that unless something is done to improve the standard of living in Druse villages, he may refuse to serve when the time comes.
Zeiden was in the capital Sunday, along with 2,000 other Druse demonstrators, protesting in front of the Prime Minister’s Office against what the Druse community considers its second-class status in Israel.
Explaining why he joined the protest, Zeiden said he is upset that the Druse are expected to serve in the army but do not enjoy the same services afforded Jewish Israelis.
Israel’s 80,000 Druse citizens, clustered in 18 villages in the north of the country, say the Israeli government is allotting them only a fraction of the sums given to Jewish development towns. Another 15,000 Druse live in villages on the Golan Heights.
The Druse are ethnic Arabs who split from Islam in the 11th century to form a new religion. The majority of the Druse community in the Middle East, an estimated 200,000 total, live in Lebanon and Syria.
Since the 1948 War of Independence, the Druse in Israel have served in the Israeli army, siding with Israel in its conflicts with its Arab neighbors.
“When it comes to government funding, the Druse receive one shekel for every seven allotted to Jews,” asserted Riad Hassoun, a city clerk from Daliat at- Carmel.
“We need an immediate 250 million shekels (about $83 million) to raise our standard of living to that of the development towns,” he said.
Benny Cohen, the prime minister’s media adviser, declined to give exact figures related to the Druse budget, but he conceded that the community has received a raw deal.
“During the past 47 years, all the governments of Israel have neglected the Druse,” Cohen said, “and this government is determined to equalize their situation to that of the Jewish population. ..TX-“This effort cannot be accomplished in just one year,” he said. “It will take three to five years.”
In an attempt to pressure the government and gain widespread support for their cause among other Israelis, Druse leaders called a strike three weeks ago and began to demonstrate around the country.
The prime minister, eager to keep the goodwill of the country’s most loyal minority, met with village council members on Sunday and offered them an immediate package of about $43 million – 30 percent more than had been promised in the original 1995 budget – plus a loan of about $33 million.
Rabin also promised to investigate the Druse claims of funding inequities and to formulate a long-term funding plan by March 1.
But Druse leaders rejected the offer, saying that the package “offered nothing new” and that the amount still falls short of that given to Israeli communities.
Standing in front of the Prime Minister’s Office following the council members’ meeting with Rabin, Zeiden said the money was too little, too late.
“My grandfather and father served in the army,” he said. “My brother is in the army now, and my father is doing his reserve duty this month. Yet what did they get out of it?”
Citing the dearth of municipal services in his village, which is home to 14,000 residents, Zeiden said, “We do not receive a good education because there are no good schools. The roads are terrible, and there is nothing for (teen-agers) to do in the evenings. The government promised many things, but hasn’t delivered.”
Hadi Mando, a 25-year-old demobilized soldier, agreed.
“I work at a security job in Jerusalem, even though my home is Beit Jann,” village in the north.
“What can I do? There are no factories near the village, and I can’t find work back home. We need the government to provide jobs,” he said.
“In 1987, the government promised us equality, but we haven’t received it,” asserted Mafarij Salalha, 43, a member of the Beit Jann regional council in the Upper Galilee.
“We are citizens, we serve in the army and pay taxes, but we do not enjoy equal rights, equal services,” Salalha maintained.
“We live near Jewish communities, and we know what they receive. We don’t have the same number of school buildings, and the government has done nothing to direct investments into our villages,” he said.
“We have no industrial areas, so unemployment its high – 12 to 15 percent – much higher than the Israeli average. Our young men serve in the army, and they deserve jobs once they have completed their service,” he said.
Salalha would also like to see investment in the Druse sector from Diaspora Jews.
“The Druse community is an integral part of Israel,” he said, adding that “investing in us is an investment in Israel.”