Of Turbans and Turbines

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The country was in a frenzy last week due to the protest by Druze in the Golan Heights against the start of the construction of a farm of wind turbines on lands that belong to them. This protest elicited considerable solidarity among the Druze in the Galilee and on the Carmel as well, unleashing the suppressed rage among members of the community going back to the days of the despicable Nation State Law passed in by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2018, a Basic Law, which has quasi-constitutional status, that defines Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” with no reference to equality, democracy or minority rights, as well to the passage in 2017 of the Kaminitz Law imposing harsh punishments on illegal construction, aimed particularly at non-Jewish locales.

 

At the outset, it is necessary to distinguish between the Golan Druze and the Druze in the state of Israel within the Green Line, the 1948 Armistice Line, on several parameters. With few exceptions, the Druze in the Golan Heights, an area Israel annexed in 1981 but which is recognized by the United Nations only as Syrian territory under Israeli military occupation, do not see themselves as citizens of Israel. However, the Druze in Israel proper are citizens who fulfill all the obligations citizenship entails, including military and civilian service. The solidarity of the Druze in Israel with the residents of the Golan Heights is only natural, just as has happened in the past with the Druze in Syria or the Druze in Lebanon or anywhere else in the world. This solidarity is comparable to the Jewish solidarity with Jews  who suffer from persecution in some other place, and all the more so, as in the case of the Druze now, when the injustice is just around the corner.

I have followed the claims raised on the pages of this newspaper and many of them are justified, beginning with the absence of a master plan in Druze locales to shaky infrastructures and ever-increasing population density and overcrowding. The rate of natural increase in a situation in which there are no approved plans for construction of additional housing is impelling young couples to build their homes on lands privately-owned by their families and wherever possible, without permits. Thus, everyone becomes a lawbreaker who, under the Kaminitz Law, must repeatedly pay heavy fines.

The protest by the Druze in the Golan is a completely different story. For years now the Golan Druze have been in conflict with the global renewable energy company Energix, which is supposed to operate the turbines. They are struggling against a small number of landowners in the community who were lured into leasing lands upon which to erect the turbines. At Energix, they claim that they have advanced the project over many years in coordination with the “spiritual” leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif. Sheikh Tarif is now saying that the spiritual leadership of the community “supports the struggle of the Golan Druze, and the claim by the Energix company that the entire project was advanced in coordination with him is incorrect.”

A look at the succession of events indicates that apparently the sheikh’s statements would not pass a polygraph test. It turns out that since 2015 the “spiritual” leader himself was acting to promote the establishment of the wind turbine farm in the Golan Heights, and in an interview to the Hebrew-language news site Ynet he said that the state was discriminating against the Druze in the Golan Heights in that it was not permitting them to establish a wind turbine farm. “Instead of making positive use of the situation at this difficult time and helping the Druze in the Golan Heights, the state is creating more discrimination and more alienation,“ charged the sheikh. He expressed anger at the fact that only Jewish businesses were being allowed to establish wind farms. He apparently wanted to urge Druze entrepreneurs to take up the project as well.

It turns out that Energix not only worked in coordination with the sheikh himself but also employed an associate of his and member of his family. We learn this from a manifesto published in 2019 by Druze inhabitants of the Golan Heights against the plan for the turbine and the people behind it. It was published as a response to a statement published in Arabic and directed at the inhabitants of the Golan on behalf of the Energix company and signed by two people: The one signatory was its CEO Asa Levinger and the other, who boasted the title of president of the company, was none other than Saleh Tarif, the former Knesset member and minister without portfolio, who was forced to resign in the wake of a corruption scandal – a cousin of Sheikh Tarif, who since then has been following the sheikh around in Israel and abroad, like a shadow.

In that statement signed by Saleh Tarif, he tried to indicate the turbines’ great benefits for the inhabitants of the Golan Heights. Among the many lures he enumerated: “Taxes that will be paid to the local councils and scholarships for Druze students.” He was also able to add that the project will lead to “strengthening of the connection to the Druze tradition.”

Spiritual leaders with turbans on their heads are supposed to deal with spiritual matters and saving souls, and not with winning converts on behalf of their close associates and turbine entrepreneurs destined to rake in profits at the expense of destroying the lives and villages of the Druze in the Golan Heights. Corruption is corruption, no matter in which community. We have had enough!

Haaretz, June 29, 2023

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