Druze officer killed in 2018 Gaza raid had denounced Nation-State Law

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheir el-Din’s criticism of the controversial 2018 law, weeks before his death, helps reignite government calls for action to amend legislation

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Khir al-Din (right) and his wife Nahed, in an undated photograph published by the military on May 15, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Lt. Col. Mahmoud Khir al-Din (right) and his wife Nahed, in an undated photograph published by the military on May 15, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheir el-Din, the recently identified Israeli special forces officer who was killed in a 2018 Gaza Strip operation, was an active opponent of Israel’s Nation-State Law, according to a report Sunday, as news of his identity pulled the controversial law back to the political attention.

After his identity was published on Sunday, Channel 13 news revealed that it had interviewed Kheir el-Din mere weeks before his death. In that interview, the lieutenant colonel from the northern Druze town of Hurfeish spoke to the network’s correspondent Alon Ben-David about the Nation-State Law.

“‘We have always served with love and with our whole heart in the army of a country we knew was a Jewish state,'” Ben-David said Sunday in his recount of el-Din’s comments in the interview. “‘We were willing to sacrifice even our lives for this country, but when you legislate a law that is nothing but a poke in our eye, which says we have no part in this country — for us it is a personal insult.'”

Kheir el-Din, 41, joined the Israeli military in 1999 and served in the Paratroopers Brigade for three years before joining the Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division, where he served until his death.

In 2009 he established a nonprofit aimed at helping advance the Druze community in Israel and was a vocal advocate of youth leadership in his community. The following year, he joined up with Aharai!, a nonprofit that encourages youth leadership with an eye toward IDF enlistment, and helped it operate in his hometown.

Ben-David said that in his final conversation with Kheir el-Din, weeks before the fatal Gaza operation, the officer decried the law in no uncertain terms.

Activists and members of the Druze community protest against the nation-state law, outside the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“He said to me, ‘I am waiting to see who will be the first [fallen IDF soldier] to be second-rate,'” Ben-David recalled.

“Unfortunately, it was him.”

His death has since reignited the debate, as lawmakers issued calls for the law to be amended.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman called Sunday for both the Knesset opposition and coalition to reevaluate the contested law and “to do what’s necessary rather than settling for words like ‘brothers in arms’ in regard to the Druze community.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and coalition member Blue and White faction chair MK Eitan Ginzburg echoed Liberman’s sentiments.

In the wake of Liberman’s declaration, the Blue and White party planned to bring its equality bill for review by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation as early as next week, although Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked vowed to veto any such efforts.

The Nation-State Law passed in 2018 defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Its present form was opposed by Israel’s Druze and other Arab minorities, who insisted it effectively defined them as “second-class citizens.”

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