The Carmel Mountains
On a recent weekend excursion I hiked up the Carmel Mountains to a Druze village named Usafiya. The Druze are a 1000 year old offshoot of Shi’ite Islam and, though considered heretics by mainstream Islam, are granted rights and autonomy in most of the countries they live. Throughout the Levant, Muslim and Christian rulers have alternated between persecution and protection of the Druze; at times, the Druze have been used as an elite force by their hosts. Muslim rulers relied on the Druze to keep the Crusaders out of Southern Lebanon and, in modern times, the Israel Defence Forces rely on elite Druze units to protect the mountainous Northern region of the country. The Druze pledge fidelity to their host nation, and usually play an out sized role in the military and government. For instance, Israel’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who was previously a delegate at the UN, is a Druze man who often defended Israel’s actions against Arab neighbors. While mainstream Arab-Israelis often call for the end of the Jewish State, the Druze support it. This is not unique to Israel, the Druze have a long history of supporting the ruling state power, in part because of their universalist religion.
The Druze are not the only inhabitants of the Carmel range, in fact this East-West range in Northern Israel is a site of spiritual significance for all the Abrahmic religions since it is associated with one of the most prominent prophets: Elijah. Elijah was the most famous prophet of the Israelites, the Northern Kingdom of the Hebrews. At this time, multiple gods vied for prominence among the Canaanites, including Yahweh and Baal. Elijah preached against Baal and once defeated 450 prophets of the false god in a religious showdown on Mount Carmel. This victory for the Abrahamic religions is memorialized by a statue at the Discalced Monastery, an order founded by crusaders in the 1200s. Elijah is heavily associated with the Messiah and Christians see links between Jesus of Nazareth and Elijah the Prophet.