Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trouble in Peki'in

A massive 'finjan' (defaced with old elections posters) symbolises Peki'in's renowned hospitality
but now seems to have reached boiling point.

The year before last, the English and Israeli halves of our family met up in Israel over Pessah and spent a wonderful few days in the Upper Gailee village of Peki'in. Peki'in is a mixed village of Druse, Moslem and Christian Arabs and a few religious Jews in 'New Peki'in'. The majority is Druse though. We stayed at a simple but hospitable guesthouse, sampled the great local cooking, wandered the quaint alleyways, played sheshbesh under a canopy of vine leaves and soaked in the serenity. Everyone we met (mainly Druse ) was friendly and helpful. The Druse, only about 120,000 strong, have made a so-called Blood Covenant with Israel and serve in the security forces.

It was therefore a shock to learn that a clash between local youths and police "left 40 people injured, including two seriously, and erupted when a large police force entered the village to make arrests over a vandalized cellular phone antenna."

The Druse and Arab organisations accused the police force of using unnecessary force while the police claimed that they had been attacked with masked youths lobbing hand grenades and building blocks and only used live bullets in a life threatening situation (in which a policewoman was taken hostage). For more on the events and aftermath

All this goes to show that there's a lot more going on in Peki'in than quaint Druse hospitality. According to a an expert I listened to tonight, the Druse suffer from a number of chronic problems that have spilled over into violence: much of their lands which sit on Galilee hilltops, have been effectively confiscated and turned into nature reserves; they live in some of the most isolated spots in the country , their institutions are under funded and they have serious employment problems. His main proposal was to invest in building a railway to Carmiel that would link the wild north to Tel Aviv and open up new possibilities for the Druse (as well as everyone else in the Galil)

The Druse are a tough bunch: fiercely independent, close knit, traditionally agricultural community with their own religion and traditions. They're also fierce warriors (I served with a Druse unit for a few days and was very glad they were on our side). The 'Blood Covenant' seems to be coming apart though and that's a negative example for the much more numerous Moslem Arab population which is now being offered voluntary national service as a way entering the Israeli mainstream. If this level of frustration is what happens to the Druse , who serve in the army, why should other Arabs contemplate cooperating with the system?

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