The contribution of the Druze community to the defence of the state of Israel was emotionally highlighted at the annual Zionist Federation dinner on Sunday night in central London.
After an address by Ashraf Halabi, the director of the Druze Veterans Association, the 300-strong audience heard a searing presentation from the father of one of two Druze policemen killed by terrorists at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in July 2017. Hail Stawi was just 31 and the father of a new baby boy when he was murdered.
But his father could not speak about his son before being overwhelmed in tears. Nevertheless, Ashraf Halabi continued on his behalf, and told the ZF supporters that “Druze and Jews are not just blood brothers but life brothers”. Druze loyalty to Israel was “unconditional”, he said, but the organisation is fighting for better conditions for Druze villages and better job opportunities for Druze army veterans.
Guest of honour at the dinner was the former Israel education and interior minister, Gideon Saar. Mr Saar is currently re-engaging himself in politics after taking a break in 2014 to spend more time with his young family and his second wife, TV presenter Geula Even.
But in a wide-ranging conversation with Sky News’ Sandy Rashty, Mr Saar — sometimes said to be a successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — set himself firmly against what he termed “the so-called two-state solution” and denounced “80 years of failure” on the Palestinian side.
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The politician, who refused direct discussion of the corruption allegations against Mr Netanyahu, spoke of future arrangements with the Palestinians in the form of liaisons with Jordan in relation to the West Bank, and with Egypt in relation to Gaza. He spoke enthusiastically of “regional partnerships”, and insisted that a Palestinian state would “create major security problems” for Israel.
Mr Saar also proved himself controversial when he spoke about the vexed question of asylum seekers and their potential deportation from Israel. “We are the only Western country on earth with a common border with the African continent”, he noted, adding that if Israel were “weak” on the issue of asylum seekers and refugee, it would place “a huge problem on our shoulders”.
Mr Saar’s father, an immigrant to Israel from Argentina, was the personal physician to David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister. For a time the family lived on Kibbutz Sde Boker and when Gideon Saar was a small boy Ben-Gurion asked him what was the capital of Burma. “I was five,| he told his amused audience. “I had no idea.” But his father bought him an atlas and the young Gideon assiduously learned the names and capitals of every world country, ready for a second appearance in front of Ben-Gurion. “This time I was ready: I knew every country and every capital”. The veteran politician was impressed — the lesson being, Mr Saar suggested, that it was important to be on top of the statistics.