Photo: Matan Turkia
Dr. Sami Awad
Photo: Matan Turkia

Druze doctor threatens hunger strike over Nationality Law

As hundreds of people demonstrate in Tel Aviv as part of the Druze community protest against the law, prominent community doctor asks ‘Have I served for 32 years for my country for nothing?’

A Druze doctor told a crowd of hundreds of demonstrators on Satruday night that the community will march on Jerusalem, launch a hunger strike and block roads if the recently-passed Nationality Law is not nullfied.



Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv's Habima Square as part of the Druze community's protest against the controversial law which has been the subject of significant scrutiny.


Dr. Sami Awad, a 54-year-old Druze father of three and a human resources expert from Daliat al-Carmel, delivered a speech at the protest, telling the crowds: "We will go up to Jerusalem, start a hunger strike, and block roads if the law stands; we demand equality for all minority groups."



Dr. Sami Awad speaking to the public at the demonstration (Photo: Matan Turkia)
Dr. Sami Awad speaking to the public at the demonstration (Photo: Matan Turkia)


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet on Sunday with the heads of the coalition factions in an effort to mend the rift between the Druze community and the government surrounding the law.


At 4pm, a meeting will be held with heads of local authorities from the Druze community, and immediately after that, the various parties will begin formulating the solution  


"I was discharged from the army about four years ago after a 32 years' service, since 1982," Dr. Awad the angered demonstrators.


"I give lectures to many organizations, colleges, and universities, in Israel and abroad. I'm an organizational consultant, but I also prepare young Druze for their IDF service," he explained.



Druze protesting against the Nationality Law (Photo: The Druze Community in Israel Facebook page)
Druze protesting against the Nationality Law (Photo: The Druze Community in Israel Facebook page)


"I want to tell you that the army is the only place where I felt equal, but not completely equal. I served with my Jewish friends, and I would go back home to a house without a construction permit, without legal electricity connections, to a neighborhood without Infrastructure and without basic services," he continued. 


"When I travel to the center of the country, I see new neighborhoods in Yokneam and cities like Harash and Modi'in. And in my town, they are still dealing with water and electricity connection problems, at best. When I travel abroad, my name is marked and I am constantly questioned until I take out my ID card," he added as he listed examples of discrimination he says he has suffered. 


"The education I received and absorbed at home, like the other young Druze in this country, focused on the importance of donating, giving back, and the love of the homeland," Dr. Awad said.


"In the 1950s, my father served as a fighter in the IDF, my grandfather also served. Despite all this, the feelings were difficult today. To constantly witness discrimination, feel discrimination, feel different, and hurt over the injustices … Despite all this, I was filled with pride and I spent many years in the military because I felt that it was mine, that Israel is my country," he added.



Druze combat fighters (Photo: Dan Bronfeld)
Druze combat fighters (Photo: Dan Bronfeld)


The bond between Jews and the Druze community is natural, the doctor told his listeners, drawing parallels between his community's minority status and that of Jews around the world.


"The existence of the state of Israel was never guaranteed despite the Holocaust that accelerated the country's establishment."


"What happens now? Now that the nationality bill passed, emotions are very high. Why? The law permits discrimination, without anyone's discretion. The law simply says: discriminate between a Jew and a non-Jew. The law is terrible not because of what it states, but because of what it lacks," Dr. Awad argued. 


"The law doesn’t mention equality and there is no word about other minorities, only Jews. Article 1c, the most damaging one, states that only Jews have the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel. What does this mean? That means I cannot define myself, I have no definition. I, who served 32 years in the IDF, do not know how to define myself at all," he bemoaned.


"Am I a mercenary? A temporary guest here? Passerby? Have I served for 32 years for my country for nothing?," he asked, describing the feeling that has ensued as a result of the law as "dreadful." 


"How can I persuade young Druze to enlist in the army now, to contribute to this country that this law states is not mine? How will I look at my son, and in eight years time, when it his time to enlist, explain to him that after 32 years in the army I do not want him to enlist because it's not ours anymore? What will happen next? What will happen in 10-20 years?"


The protest against the Nationality Law in Tel Aviv (Photo: Matan Turkia)
The protest against the Nationality Law in Tel Aviv (Photo: Matan Turkia)


Dr. Awad also asked what would be of the soldiers currently serving in the IDF, how they will look upon the flag, "when, according to the definition of this superfluous and divisive law, they are simply mercenaries."


The doctor also shared personal losses which he had suffered while serving in the army.


"I lost soldiers in the battlefield and accompanied bereaved families for years, I felt their pain … What will happen in this new reality, I do not know, the Druze street is outraged today, there is no point in doing anything if I do not have my full rights as an equal citizen," he said.


The speaker further highlighted the Druze contribution to the military and the country. "It's true that we are only 125,000 people, but we have a lot of rights in this country: There are 142,000 Druze in Israel, two generals in the IDF, 18 brigadier generals; one of the developers of the Iron Dome is a senior Druze officer from a village in the north," he explained.


Officers, engineers in various security forces, and ambassador were among the prominent professions to which he said the Druze community had contributed.


Highlighting that 427 Druze people had perished in Israeli wars, Dr. Awad hailed their presence in the medical, academic and scientific fields.



Netanyahu meets with Druze leaders (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Netanyahu meets with Druze leaders (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)


Turning to the prime minister, Dr. Awad said he had one small message, reminding him that he was only alive due to actions carried out by a Druze.


"I want to remind him that 50 years ago, when he was commander of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit on Mount Hermon, he was caught in a snowstorm. If he had stayed there, he and his entire team would not be with us today. The person who came to his aid is one of the north's residents, Salim Shufi, a young Druze who rescued him and his entire crew. How can you not remember Salim while approving this new and appalling law?" he asked. 


"We built this country together with the Jews, we are not against the state, under any circumstances … We are in favor of equality for all residents regardless of religion … The Declaration of Independence is the foundation, and it is our Nationality Law."


'Druze soldiers feel like mercenaries in the IDF'

Last Wednesday Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amal As'ad, former commander of the Coordination and Liaison Administration, also expressed his anger saying, "After we built this home together with Jews, the Nationality Law excludes the Druze community from that home and put it outside the fence.


"We encourage the fact that Israel is a Jewish state even prior to its establishment and we will continue doing so with or without the law," As'ad elaborated.


"But, for some reason the Druze community was left behind. I've served in the IDF for this country for 26 years and I have the right to demand for it to mine exactly as it is yours," he went on to say.


Amal As'ad
Amal As'ad


"We intend to take further measures, without making any reckless moves. We are thinking together about our next steps to amend the law," the former commander of the coordination and liaison administration explained.


"Most people—including ministers, are starting to understand that this law is bad for the state, bad for the Jewish citizens, and bad for other minorities," he stated.


According to As'ad, there are Knesset members, lawyers, heads of local authorities and officers who petitioned the High Court on the matter.


"I am proud to be a member of the Druze community ... The Nationality Law has hurt us, we do not want separate laws ... We are proud of the flag, the national symbols, and the Declaration of Independence. The state should be a state for its entire people—Jewish and non-Jewish citizens living there," he insisted. 



Protest against the Nationality Law in Jerusalem (Photo: The Druze Community in Israel Facebook page)
Protest against the Nationality Law in Jerusalem (Photo: The Druze Community in Israel Facebook page)


Shaher Mahameed, a Haifa-based MDA paramedic, also shared his feelings regarding the controversial law. "I have been working in this field for more than 20 years, treating Jews and Arabs without any difference. I saved the lives of Jews many times. After they recovered, they even gave me certificates of appreciation. Unfortunately, the government approved a racist law that discriminates between Arabs and Jews. Instead of respecting us, Israel continues to disparage us. "


'The law is racist, we lost our faith in the country'

Angered by the law, a Bedouin soldier said he was ashamed of the government which he said had proved it was racist.


"Why should I serve in a country that spits in our faces? I prefer not to remain in the army for another minute if this law stands. The government is shooting itself in the foot," he complained. 


Bedouin soldiers swearing-in ceremony (Photo: EPA)
Bedouin soldiers swearing-in ceremony (Photo: EPA)


No agreements have been made regarding changes to the Nationality Law, according to the Prime Minister's Office. Netanyahu and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who led the legislation process, have stated their opposition to changing the newly passed law.


Instead, Netanyahu and the other officials discussed the possibility of adding to a law passed in May that sets a day in the State of Israel's official national calendar celebrating the Druze community and their contribution to the country.


Alternatively, a complementary law will be added to the Nationality Law to establish the Druze community's status in the country. The secondary law will be formulated by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and a legal advisor from the Druze community.



Netanyahu meets with MKs and ministers to discuss the Druze community  (Photo: Haim Tzah, GPO)
Netanyahu meets with MKs and ministers to discuss the Druze community (Photo: Haim Tzah, GPO)


In addition, the government will consider promoting legislation that gives preference to Druze who serve or served in the IDF.


Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon will work on a solution to a range of issues raised by senior members of the Druze community, with concerns mainly regarding infrastructure in Druze villages, setting a unique program for the employment of Druze women, and more.  


פרסום ראשון: 07.29.18, 12:53
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