“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”…The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman Samaria?” – John 4:7-8
The Golan Heights tower above the northern region of the Galilee and of the State of Israel. As one ascends the mountainous region, one can see the powerful and looming appearance of Mt. Hermon as well as ancient Crusader castles that evoke both Biblical and historical memories – both sentimental and painful. The Golan Heights are infamous in recent memory for their capture by Israeli forces in the Six-Day War of 1967. Among the many areas of disputed or “occupied” territory are these heights that originally belonged to the southern area of Syria.
The region has continued to be contentious, even to this day. Although modern technology has no need of “heights” to see the advance of an enemy, and despite the lack of necessity of a mountain to “protect” from what in our day can easily be shot over with modern military technology, the Golan area remains in the territory of Israel. Many of the geo-political lines within this region have been drawn and redrawn countless times throughout its history.
At the top of the heights are Israeli military outposts, as well as places where civilians can climb to the top of the hill and peer across into a great Syrian valley. Members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) patrol these civilian “nests”, many times striking up conversations, perhaps lonely from the hours spent on these windy enclaves, and many times taking a picture with or for tourists.
“When Israel was under threat in 1967 and the following years, I decided I needed to come back here, as a Jew, and to protect those who choose to live here” he continues. “My wife and son now live here in Israel, and I have found meaning in service to my people; I have remembered what it is to be a part of a people.”
On this particular day, one officer, cloaked with military weaponry yet friendly in conversation, speaks of his journey to this hill. “I was not born in Israel, but rather in France. I am a secular man; I have no belief in God.” His conversation is provocative in its vulnerable honesty. “When Israel was under threat in 1967 and the following years, I decided I needed to come back here, as a Jew, and to protect those who choose to live here” he continues. “My wife and son now live here in Israel, and I have found meaning in service to my people; I have remembered what it is to be a part of a people.”
The wind is a deceptive thief in the heights, as any temptation due to laziness or fatigue to remove a hand from one’s head results in yet another hat swept off the mountain and down the reaches of the chasm below. As one looks to the Northwest, and down the deep rock-face spotted with countless items of civilian hat-wear, one sees a dense crowding of houses and buildings; clinging to the hill almost out of pure determination. It is a small area, winding up from the depths of the Golan, yet unusually dense as the houses and populace seem to speak of a purpose beyond simple ‘real estate’ value by their presence.
“They are Druze,” the officer offers. “They use to be on the Syrian side of this mountain, but in ‘67 they found themselves suddenly in Israeli territory. They are peaceful people…More and more are Israeli citizens with full protection of our law,” he continues, as he shifts his large rifle from one side of his body to the other. “The Knesset has had several Druze representatives; even the presidency itself,” he states. “Still…it must be hard for them. By citizenship they are now Israeli, yet by their people-hood, they are Syrian…many of their relatives live only across the border,” he finishes, or so it seems. There is a long wait, as if the silence itself is permeated by this soldier’s desire for company, and for further questions. “They have to walk the line between being good citizens of Israel, all the while seeking to be one with those who reside on enemy territory…Their identity is a conflicted one.”
As I return to my bus, filled with so-called ‘mainline’ American religious visitors… pastors and professors, seminary presidents and our traveling Jewish colleagues – we who seek somehow to solve that which we have not cured in our own homeland – my thoughts are held by this position of the Druze of the Golan. They are so rarely mentioned in narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and yet nonetheless they have been living within this land for centuries.
One rarely hears the story of the Druze articulated – and equally rarely do we ask for their story. And yet there they are, continuing to walk the line of loyalty and safety, of changed nationhood and ancient homeland.
As the Arab Israeli and Palestinian Christians of this area have reached out to hoped-for Western ears to hear their story, one rarely finds the story of the Druze articulated – and equally rarely do we ask for their story. And yet there they are, continuing to walk the line of loyalty and safety, of changed nationhood and ancient homeland. In between the battle of Israelis and Palestinians, of the sharp rhetoric that often pits “Judaism” against “the land where Jesus walked,” in this land of the Holy, they find their place below the discussion; living, working, hoping, and maybe praying, that their older religious cousins may come to peace, and perhaps with it will come their own.
The Druze, although of seeming Muslim lineage, blur the traditional boundary of Islam with different religious articulations; of prophecy and scripture, Biblical ancestry and future hope. An ethno-religious group whose heritage incorporates Islam, Gnosticism, Hinduism, Christianity, and others, the history of the Druze is filled with persecutions, rejections, and misunderstandings – in many cases from the very peoples from whom their tradition emerged. In many ways they are like the Samaritans of the Gospels (a group also found in sparse numbers in this area), who silently lie beneath the surface of many Gospel accounts – and secretly weave their way into some of its theology.
While the heights of the Golan allow one to see “Eretz Ysrael” in startling beauty and depth, one wonders at those who live precariously, Jew and Christian and Muslim, Druze and Bedouin, far below. How does one balance the demands of the environs that we create through our stories of God and humanity? How does one love one’s people in a foreign land? What does a return to one’s home awaken for the future of all? The wind blows mightily in the heights, not giving from its storehouse of wind an answer, but rather challenging, through its howls, our own spirit and breath to vocalize a future.
AUTHOR BIO: The Rev. Dr. Jay Moses is pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Wheaton IL. He has served the Presbytery of Chicago in the areas of Interreligious Relations for over a decade, specifically working with Jewish and Muslim communities in Chicago-land. He has visited the Holy land several times specifically to understand the conflict on the ground.