Remembering David Horowitz (18): Among Jethro’s People

In January 1965, David Horowitz was elected First Vice President of the Foreign Press Association, a 48-year-old organization of over 300 correspondents representing every region of the world. Mr. Horowitz also moderates the UN Correspondents Round Table bi-weekly radio program heard over station WEVD in New York. Prior to his election to this new post, he served as General Secretary of the association for the past three years.

On March 8, some 3,500 United States Marines arrive in South Vietnam, becoming the first American combat troops in Vietnam.

Also in early March, David Horowitz left New York bound for Sweden and Israel. It would become an extended trip lasting over six weeks. Landing in Stockholm, this was an exciting and much anticipated time for Horowitz. It was his native country and having been born in Malmo, this was his first return since his family left Malmo at the outbreak of World War I in October 1914.

During his stay, “Arbetet,” the leading daily newspaper in Malmo, ran a long article in its March 19th issue with a headline calling Horowitz a “Malmo-born World-Citizen.” The article by noted Swedish writer Nils Anderson featured a three-column photo showing Mr. Horowitz standing by the house at Parkgatan number 21, where he had lived as a young boy.

The Malmö Synagogue where Aaron Horowitz, David's father served as Cantor and David attended as a young boy
The Malmö Synagogue where Aaron Horowitz, David’s father served as Cantor and David attended as a young boy

“Dagens Nyheter,” Stockholm’s leading daily, which is circulated throughout Sweden and whose U.S. and UN correspondent is Sven Ahman, also carried two stories on Horowitz’s visit.

While in South Sweden, Mr. Horowitz also visited Backakra, the farmstead of the late Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold. The mutual friendship between the two and the strange, tragic death of Hammarskjold was recounted in a previous episode titled US and UN: Under New Management.

Following two weeks in Sweden, it was on to Israel where David would spend another four weeks, from March 21 to April 20. This was his seventh visit to the land of Israel. It would be a busy and agenda-driven schedule with his days filled with interviews, meetings, talks and visits in various parts of the State.

One of the scheduled events, however, stood out as special and something David Horowitz had waited a long time to experience.

For many years, David had looked forward to finding some way of coming into closer contact with the heroic Druze communities of Israel who had played such a vital role in aiding the outnumbered Palestinian Jews to win their life and death struggle during the 1948 War of Independence. Druze soldiers also fought side by side with Israeli troops during the Sinai campaign against Egypt.

The Druze are an Arabic speaking religious minority rooted in Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam. Jethro of Midian is considered an ancestor of all Druze and revered as their spiritual founder as well as chief prophet. In the book of Exodus, Jethro is called a priest of Midian and became father-in-law of Moses after he gave his daughter, Zipporah, in marriage to Moses, thus making the Druze related to the Jews through marriage.

This view has been used to represent an element of the special relationship between Israeli Jews and Druze.

The opportunity for Horowitz finally arose thanks to a colleague in the Foreign Press Association of New York, Salman Falah, the son of a Druze Sheikh. Falah agreed to write several letters of introduction for David, among which was one to his father, Sheikh Hammoud Falah of Kfar Samia in Galilee, and another to Sheikh Lavib Abu Rukum of Isfiyah, a former member of the Knesset.

Salman Falah was a correspondent in the U.S. and the UN for the Israeli Arabic daily “Al Yam” while at the same time, a student at Princeton University majoring in Oriental studies. He was the first in Israeli Druze history to go abroad to complete his studies. Salman received his M. A. at Hebrew University.

In addition to the letters of introduction, Salman had also written to his family and friends regarding Horowitz’s visit. One of the letters was sent to his brother Faris, a well-known Druze attorney with headquarters in the historic city of Acre.

Druze Scouts March to Jetho's Tomb Showing Loyalty to Israel
Druze March to Jetho’s Tomb

David Horowitz spent two eventful days with the chieftains of the remarkable Druze communities and left us with the following first-hand account of his meetings in his own words:

Salman had thus opened the door for me to visit those people in Israel’s midst whom I had so long yearned to meet and commune with. The very people whose noble modes of life and mighty exploits I had previously only read and heard about. The people whose prophet of veneration, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was a true partner of the “great legislator” in both deed and word. He had given both succor and haven to the youthful son of Amram and Yocheved (Moses) during his most trying years as a “refugee” from Egypt and who later, after the exodus in the wilderness, also acted as the wise counselor to the over-burdened Hebraic leader.

These were the people of Jethro, whose faithfulness to Moses’ people to this very day had remained steadfast and unshaken, as was evidenced by the pro-Jewish stand they had taken when the children of Esau and Ishmael sought once again to destroy Jacob’s seed.

And now, at last, I was to find myself the honored guest of an entire Druze village, Kfar Samia, situated on the heights of the Western Galilean Mountains.”

Horowitz continued,

Upon my arrival, I was met by Faris in Acre and driven to the village where all the village fathers, headed by Sheikh Falah were congregated at the Falah homestead waiting to greet me. The royal welcome took me by complete surprise. No head of state could have received a warmer reception. The dramatic scene was reminiscent of Bible days. In spirit, in demeanor, even in attire, these Druze had not changed, and this is what fascinated me. Despite this, they all possessed a keen perception of modern life.

Sheikh Falah, the epitome of nobility and kindness, escorted me into the spacious living room as the village fathers followed, taking seats around the room. After having conveyed the greetings of the village’s favorite son, that of my friend Salman, and after reporting on his fine progress in America, Sheikh Falah, in a prayerful mood, said: “when I beheld you as you arrived at the threshold of our home, it was like seeing my own son coming back, praised be Allah.

There was continuous serving of the famous Druze coffee, possibly the best in the world, during the ensuing hour preceding the feast, which had been prepared in my honor.

As I sat here in the presence of these people, all highly intelligent, fiercely righteous appearing, with sharply penetrating glances, proud, yet imbued with a spirit of humility and exuding warmth of love and affection, I had the absolute feeling of kindred affinity.

I expressed my heartfelt gratitude: “I am greatly honored to find myself in your midst as one of you, and I thank the Almighty for having blessed me with this visit and for your acceptance of me as a brother in the Family. I am familiar with your great history, your veneration of Jethro, and the valiant part you played in aiding the descendants of Moses in their most critical moment in modern times. I bless Allah-YHVH for this privilege.”

One of the schoolteachers translated. There were happy nods of approval all around and expressions of thanks to God.

Following this “communion,” Sheikh Falah escorted me into the dining room where a huge table was fabulously set up to a king’s delight. Before seating ourselves, mother Falah came out to greet me heartily along with other members of the family.

The sumptuous meal was followed by a tour through the village. There were signs of prosperous activity all around. A new school was being erected and the road to the village was being widened and paved. All signs pointed to the fact that the emergence of the State of Israel was to the Druze as happy an occasion as it had been to their Jewish brethren, both of whom had suffered a similar bitter fate under the British and the Arabs.

My next meeting with the Druze took place about a week later in the autonomous Druze Religious Court in Haifa where Faris Falah had set a date for me with the three chiefs (Judges), Sheikhs Salman Tarif, Labib Abu Rukun, and Hussian Elayan. Here too, I was received royally. A later visit to the Isfiyah village on the Carmel left me once again, feeling perfectly at home.”

Mr. Horowitz summarized his thoughts about his experience by saying:

“My meeting with the Druze was indeed a highlight of this my seventh visit to the Holy Land. I took leave of these, Jethro’s beloved people with the feeling of profound peace and contentment, a feeling of having been reunited with brothers and sisters long separated from the Family. Surely, Moses and Jethro must be smiling in their places of holy repose in the face of the 20th century reunion of their offspring.”

2015 Meeting of Israeli Prime Minister with Druze Leaders
2015 Meeting of Israeli Prime Minister with Druze Leaders

The number of Druze people today exceeds over one million worldwide. They reside primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Other communities, however, live outside the Middle East, in Australia, Canada, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

In Israel today, the Druze form a religious minority of about 140,000. They are Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel and serve in the Israel Defense Forces just as most citizens do. Members of the community also serve in leadership roles in the military, law enforcement and medicine.

Just last November 2015, a Druze delegation toured the United States to promote Israel, speaking at schools, organizations, and with various media outlets to spread understanding and awareness of their community’s place in Israel’s multicultural society.

Bio PictureRalph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

This post is the eighteenth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.

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