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Will the Death of Tiran Ferro Deepen Ties Between Israel and the Druze Community?

Corey Sokolowski

Back on November 23rd, the recently deceased Tiran Ferro was bodysnatched from a hospital in the West Bank city of Jenin after a car accident left him on life support. Ferro, 18, was an Israeli-Druze citizen on a trip to the West Bank with a group of Arabic speakers who had previously served in Israel's security forces. Apparently confused for a member of the Israeli security forces himself, a number of Palestinian gunmen took his body from the hospital in an attempt to use his remains to barter for the release of bodies of Palestinians held by the Israeli state. This sparked a fierce set of negotiations, as well as threats from the Druze community and Israel’s government that they would enter Jenin and take Tiran Ferro back by force. 

So who are the Druze? Their religion and community are a secret even amongst their own believers and are a bit of a mystery to most outsiders. The religion began when it split off from Islam more than a thousand years ago. The Druze often refer to themselves as the "Muwahideen" (declarers of oneness) even though some Druze people call themselves "Muslim". Typically, the Druze are unitarians and believe in many prophets, including Jesus, John the Baptist, Mohammed, Khidr, Moses, and many others. 

Given the fact that Druze history in the Middle East has been marked by incidents of persecution and violence, the community was quick to take up arms in retaliatory self-defense. This was exemplified by the kidnapping of three Palestinians near Hebron on Thursday night in the Druze town of Yarka in the north of the country, which was suspected retaliation for the body snatching of Ferro. The kidnapped Palestinians were taken at gunpoint and dropped outside of Daliyat El Karmel after being stripped of their belongings and moderately beaten. The men were eventually taken to the hospital after they managed to contact emergency services. 

On the 24th, people from the local Druze community warned the public that if the body wasn't released, it might be difficult to stop young Druze people from attacking Palestinians in retaliation. Druze protestors also blocked highway 6 and only agreed to leave after the-then public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev asked the spiritual leader of the community Sheikh Muafak Tariff to intervene. As the situation escalated, Jenin’s Mayor Akram Rajoub agreed to help facilitate, saying that he was more worried about a rise in tensions between the Palestinians and the Druze than he was about an IDF operation to reclaim the body. After nearly 24 hours of negotiations, the body was given back to the Ferro family, and Tiran was buried in Daliat El Karmel. In a statement that Thursday, Benny Gantz, who left his job as Israel's Defense Minister shortly thereafter, thanked the Palestinian Authority for their assistance in securing the return of Ferro’s remains: 

"I would like to express my appreciation to the Palestinian Authority for its action to return the late Tiran Ferro to his family. This is a basic humanitarian step after a vile and inhuman act. I would like to thank the security forces and all the bodies, leaders and representatives who acted with determination to restore him. My sincere condolences to his family, who showed greatness and leadership in difficult moments," Gantz said

The incident threatened to ratchet up already boiling tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, but the body's return appeared to defuse that for the time being. More than 130 Palestinians were killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem during 2022, making it the deadliest year since 2006. However as Palestinian discontent rises, the Druze find themselves pulled closer to Israel's orbit. 

For years, Druze citizens of Israel have served in the military and other government offices, enjoying a level of protection against persecution that many Druze living outside of Israel do not have access to. The Druze community in Israel is traditionally seen as loyal to the state, and they have become increasingly vocal about their grievances with the Palestinian Authority. The Druze are also heavily invested in Israeli politics, with several Druze members elected to the Knesset

The pro-Israel sentiment was evident in Druze protests against the Palestinian Authority and its handling of the Druze kidnapping case. In the aftermath of the body snatching, the Druze community has voiced its support for Israel and their appreciation for the swift intervention of the state, which will likely only increase the degree that the Druze prioritize their relationship with Israel over the Palestinian Authority in the near future. In the aftermath of the body snatching, the family of Tiran Ferro voiced its support for Israel and their appreciation for the swift intervention of the state, which will likely only further solidify pro-Israel sentiment within the Druze communities inside Israel's borders.

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