A Nazareth court canceled the convictions Tuesday of 16 Druze sheikhs who had visited Syria and Lebanon without required documentation, in a move seen as an effort to foster warmer ties with the Arab community.
The Druze leaders — who visited the enemy territory between 2007-2010 — reached an agreement with the state to provide written assurances that they will not enter the countries without Interior Ministry permits, and to publicize the ban to their followers. The group had already been convicted, but following the deal, the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court retracted the verdict.
A statement from the prosecution dubbed the decision an “atypical step,” and explained that the purpose of the trip — to visit religious sites — and the time that had passed since the events were factors in the decision.
The court said the decision to retract the convictions was based on a recommendation by the attorney general.
Israeli Druze spiritual leader Muwafaq Tarif, one of the defendants, said the ruling would mark a new chapter in the Druze relations with the State of Israel.
“The court decision represents a new page in the relationship between the Druze and the state,” he told the Maariv daily. “These relations are based on trust, and the Druze are proud to have the highest rates of enlistment in the state. Many in the community feel, and want to be, part of the state,” but the indictments had threatened that, he said.
However, another Druze notable, Sheikh Ali Moadi, said that “after this year, we will request to leave to visit the holy sites in Syria and Lebanon. If the establishment doesn’t grant it — we’ll leave even without permission, because this is our right, that was given to all religions, and we won’t let the state deprive us [of that right].”