Israeli police this morning arrested 170 Druze men and religious figures at its border with Jordan, preventing them from trying to enter Syria after a months-long investigation by the Israeli Shin Bet intelligence service.
The Druze, who are all Israeli citizens from the Galilee and Carmel areas in northern Israel, were allegedly on their way to meet Syrian government officials under the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
The convoy had received an immediate warning outlining the potential security implications of their journey once Israeli police became aware of their intent, but still continued to attempt to cross the border.
While Israeli authorities see the attempted crossing as a national security threat, others – such as Palestinian Member of the Knesset (MK) Ahmed Tibi – see it as a limiting of religious freedom and a side-lining of non-Jewish communities overall. “Israel’s decision to prevent the Druze sheikhs from visiting is an escalation against all of us and must be confronted,” Tibi told the Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen news site.
The Druze men and religious figures were also allegedly on their way to Damascus for religious purposes as Syria holds a significant Druze population in its south-western areas.
Israel’s Druze population, one of the country’s many minorities, has had historically good relations with the Jewish state, and is the only Arab minority in the country which is drafted into the Israeli army.
Those relations, however, have become muddied in recent years, particularly after the passing of the controversial Nation-State Law last year, which enhances the status of Jews in the country as more superior by guaranteeing the right of self-determination only to them. Following the passing of the bill, the Israeli-Druze community held large-scale protests against their categorisation as second-class citizens.