Members of the Druze community have slammed Israel’s plan to build a new town for the minority on the site of two Palestinian villages that have been razed by Israel.
Israel’s National Planning and Building Council approved the plan in January, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that it will be the first town for the Druze community since 1948.
The town will be built on lands formerly farmed by Palestinians in villages of Hittin and Namrin, west of the Sea of Galilee in the north of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, which were destroyed in 1948.
Some leading members of the Druze minority criticized the planned construction of the town after it was revealed that the new community is to be located on the lands of Palestinian refugees.
“There is no Druze who will agree to live on somebody else’s land,” Druze politician Saleh Tarif, a former cabinet minister from the opposition Labor party, said. “We don’t want complaints that we are going to live on the land of people who have nowhere to live or were displaced from there,” he added.
Samer Swaid, a Druze political activist, also slammed the move, saying it could sour their relations with the Palestinians.
“The decision to build a Druze town on these destroyed villages is designed to light a fuse under the relations between the Druze and other members of the Palestinian minority,” he said. “This is all about Israel reinforcing its divide-and-rule policies over us,” he added.
Scholars, farmers and members of the Druze minority say the construction of the town threatens archaeological treasures and natural landscape registered with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for possible inclusion on its list of World Heritage sites.
The choice of location is particularly sensitive because one of the destroyed villages, Hittin, has great historical and symbolic importance to Palestinian Muslims.
The village was established on the orders of Muslim icon Saladin to commemorate his victory in the battle against European Crusaders in 1187. The Crusaders’ defeat, at the Horns of Hittin, led to their exodus from the Holy Land.
Since 1948, the Israel has razed all of Hittin apart from its ancient mosque.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 settlement colonies built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.
The United Nations and most countries regard Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured in a 1967 war and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.