With the ruins of Kibbutz Be’eri in the background and wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, Saleh Badriya and his wife Atheel Badriya-Halabi described the aftermath of the Hamas massacre of Israelis to the Arabic-speaking world.
On October 7, some 3,000 terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel and embarked on a gruesome killing spree which left 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians. In Kibbutz Be’eri, more than 130 residents were slaughtered, many of their bodies burned beyond recognition.
The Badriyas were the only Arabic speakers invited to a tour of “influencers” by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on October 26. Their video clips, on Instagram and TikTok, garnered tens of thousands of views.
Some responses were supportive. Others called the couple “liars” and demanded to see photographic proof of the atrocities they described.
“We couldn’t photograph the things we saw, out of respect for the families, and because what happened there was so terrible,” Saleh Badriya told The Times of Israel.
Around 150,000 Druze live in Israel, where they represent 1.5 percent of all Israeli households, according to Central Bureau of Statistics figures for 2022.
Theirs is a close-knit community, which frowns on intermarriage and practices a secretive religion that is closed to non-Druze.
The community stands out from the general Arab population for its loyalty to the Jewish state.
Druze men are the only Arabs, apart from members of the small Circassian community, to be conscripted into the IDF.
הותר לפרסום: בהיתקלות אמש בגבול לבנון נהרגו 2 לוחמים, בנוסף לסמח"ט 300, סא"ל עלים עבדאללה שהובא למנוחות. עלים נהרג בערב הפרידה שלו מתפקידו.
בשעה האחרונה: מחבלים ירו טיל נ"ט על נגמ"ש צה"ל ליד אביבים. הטיל החטיא, מסוק קרב של צה"ל תקף מוצב סמוך של חיזבאללה pic.twitter.com/UY5WYh0stQ
— יואב זיתון (@yoavzitun) October 10, 2023
Many Druze reach senior army positions, and hundreds have died for the state. The current war’s fatalities include Alim Abdallah (above), killed when terrorists crossed the Israel-Lebanon border, and Salman Habaka (below), credited with saving many lives in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, who fell fighting Hamas in northern Gaza.
Both were lieutenant colonels, a rank just five levels below the IDF chief of staff.
Despite its loyalty, and the warm embrace of large swaths of the Israeli public, the community has suffered a series of blows from the political establishment, particularly under right-wing governments of recent years.
In 2017, the Knesset passed an amendment to the planning law (known as the Kamenitz law after a Justice Ministry official) to fast-track action against illegal building, without going through the courts. The amendment is widely understood to target the Arab population, where building permits are almost impossible to secure, and Arab citizens therefore build illegally.
The 2018 Nation-State Law, which declares the country to be the nation-state of the Jewish people, is seen by the country’s minority communities, and many Jewish Israelis, as insultingly exclusionary.
In an opinion piece published Tuesday by the Hebrew-language website Ynet, Koftan Halabi, founder and director of the Druze Veterans Association, wrote, “Thank you for the applause for our sacrifices during the war. Will the Kamenitz and nation-state laws now be canceled so that we can not only die for our country but also live in it with dignity?”
Despite this, all those who spoke to The Times of Israel asked to focus on winning the war and supporting the country’s victims and to leave contentious issues aside until later.
Halabi, who was honored by President Isaac Herzog earlier this year for helping youth and fighting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign, was in Canada earlier this month to help make Israel’s case and explain that Druze and Israelis are inextricably tied.
Likewise, for the Badriyas, helping to represent Israel’s interests, counter rampant fake news in Arabic, and show that the Druze are “much more than pita and labneh” (labneh is a yogurt-based cheese) is a calling.
They are doing what they can to fill what they see as a gap in Israel’s efforts to explain what is happening.
“To my regret, the state invests a lot in foreign media, but not in the Arabic language,” Badriya said.
Badriya-Halabi added that it was critical to prevent the hatred between Jews and Hamas from infecting relations between Jewish and Arab Israelis. “We don’t have any alternative but to continue to live together,” she said.
“Arab Israelis must understand that what happened (on October 7) was not in the name of Islam, or the Quran, and was not aimed at freeing anyone. We’ve worked hard to show Arab Israelis, in particular, that this is a terror organization, that it’s worse than ISIS.”
She went on, “We’ve met with a lot of Arab students in universities, some of whom have opinions that aren’t easy, but they’re starting to say that if that (murderous assault) is Hamas’s way to free Palestinians, they don’t want anything to do with it.”
The couple lives in Daliyat al-Karmel, just south of Haifa in northern Israel — the biggest of 19 Druze communities, all in the north of the country.
Badriya, 38, works as a paramedic with the Magen David Adom emergency service and is studying politics, with an emphasis on international diplomacy, at the University of Haifa.
Badriya-Halabi, 31, is a lawyer, currently studying for a doctorate, who, despite visual impairment, runs an office of five lawyers in the town.
On October 7, Saleh Badriya put his paramedic uniform on and drove to the south, “just to treat, to help,” but was turned back at the city of Sderot.
On October 8, he again donned his uniform (he was on sick leave with a broken hand) and sent a message out to Druze students on WhatsApp groups, suggesting that stations be set up in all the Druze communities to collect food and other items for Israeli soldiers and families that were being evacuated from the Gaza border area under barrages of rockets.
“I bought three posters and a marker pen, and wrote ‘This is a station to collect for soldiers and families,’ and I hoped we’d succeed in getting a carton or two,” Badriya said.
By 8 p.m. that day, Druze of all ages from Daliyat al-Karmel and Isfiya next door had bought and donated enough food and items such as hygiene products for female soldiers to fill an eight-meter-long (26-foot) truck and another eight vehicles with trailers.
Other convoys left from other Druze locations.
Badriya and his trucks reached the southern city of Sderot at 2:30 a.m. and headed for the community center where police and soldiers had set up a command post. The city had been stormed by Hamas terrorists the day before and many residents had been slaughtered.
In a twist of irony, Badriya suddenly felt the muzzle of a gun in the back of his head. “At that moment, I didn’t know whether to speak Arabic, Hebrew, or English,” he laughed.
“I realized it was an Israeli soldier and told him that this was aid and that I wasn’t armed. Everyone calmed down a bit and explained that there were still terrorists in town,” he said.
Druze aid convoys continued to ply the roads to the Gaza border in the south and the Lebanese border in the north throughout the first week of the war.
Druze schoolchildren penned letters to Israeli soldiers.
An Isfiya-based nonprofit organization called Bird of the Soul (Tzipor Hanefesh), which employs artists with special needs, created boxes for soldiers with insulated mugs and neck warmers.
A Druze building contractor who insisted on anonymity ordered 3,000 hot meals and crates of Coca-Cola and rented a truck that he drove south.
In the early days of the war, Druze families opened their homes to some 200 evacuees from the south.
Chef Noura Houssissi, also based in Daliyat al-Karmel, runs the town’s only kosher restaurant.
She said she had been “pushed into” opening a business, initially in her home, in 2003, by celebrity chef Haim Cohen, with whom she worked for several years at the upmarket Carmel Forest spa resort.
One of her two sons served in the IDF’s artillery corps. The other is a retired colonel in the reserves.
Soon after the war broke out, she cooked meals for 600 soldiers.
“I must stand by my country and the army,” she said. “I feel like the soldiers are my children.”
In Beit Jann, on Mount Meron, just over an hour’s drive northeast of Daliyat al-Karmel, some two hundred and fifty Druze women were working 16-hour days at Maquette Textil to keep up with demand from the IDF for bulletproof vests.
Each sews a different part of the vest before all the parts are put together.
They are among around 600 Druze women employed by six or seven factories that sew for the army across northern Israel.
Kanj Kablan, CEO of the factory his parents founded in the 1980s, said employees were working double shifts because it took one to two months to train new seamstresses, a time the war wouldn’t allow.
“They’re sewing vests for their sons and fathers and cousins,” he added. “This is our country and this is a war for our homes.”
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