The Druze are an Arab minority group who live peacefully in Israel and are renowned for their hospitality, as well as their outstanding dedication to the Israeli Defense Forces. While they speak Arabic, their mysterious religion and unique culture set them apart from other Israeli Arabs, and they even have their own separate court of law recognized by the state. Their villages mainly lay in the Carmel and Golan regions, and offer not only an insight into their interesting religion, but great food as well. Here we’ve highlighted two villages that are open to visitors and offer a unique look at this traditional culture.
Isfiya and Daliyat El Carmel are two such villages, located in the Carmel region, just north of Zichron Yaakov and south of Haifa, and just over a one hour drive from Tel Aviv.
The Druze village of Isfiya is located on the top of the Carmel Mountain commanding a panoramic view of the surrounding green hills. The village has a rich tradition of openness, hospitality, and warmth that is characteristic of the Druze community. Its special location and rich ethnic tradition and culture have proved especially attractive for travelers and tourists.
Isfiya was first established during the 17th and 18th century by Druze from the mountains of Lebanon. They were later joined by several Egyptian families, and in 2003 the village was merged with the neighboring Druze village of Daliat El Carmel. The two unified villages are known today as Ir Carmel, though they retain their own unique auras.
The village has opened itself to tourists, while at the same time preserving its traditional Druze life style. The Druze are well-known for their warm hospitality and receive guests with smiling enthusiasm. The Isfiya residents are no exception, and welcome visitors into their homes, where they can get a close glimpse of Druze religious customs and traditions.
Visitors can walk through the narrow streets of the village and wander through the picturesque alleyways on their own, but it is recommended to go with a guide, who will add to your visit by showing you around and telling you interesting stories about the community. In the center of the village are several old buildings built in the style characteristic of northern Israel and southern Lebanon. There is also an olive press in the impressive ancient quarter where visitors can learn about the process of making olive oil and make oil candles.
The main street of the village has a lively bazaar filled with a variety of colorful shops. Nearby restaurants serve guests spicy ethnic foods. The colorful market is filled with visitors on Shabbat and is a noisy, festive place filled with exotic aromas and colors.
Visitors who wish to learn about the Druze culture from close up can lodge in an authentic Druze home or in guesthouses run by the local residents. Guests can enjoy traditional foods, listen to stories, and watch special performances of traditional music, song and dance. Those who would like to have a religious experience can visit the Druze house of prayer, the mosque, or in the Catholic-Maronite Church.
The western entrance to Isfiya has a beautiful promenade overlooking the view. Isfiya is a good departure point for nature walks in the Carmel Mountains nearby.
Daliyat el-Carmel is a colorful village that offers wonderful hospitality with a smile and is also very interesting. Daliyat el-Carmel was founded in the 17th century by Druze from Mt. Lebanon.
Daliyat el-Carmel’s colorful market, open on Saturdays, is only an excuse to come to this special place. On the main street dozens of stores offer their varied wares and one can get lost in the abundance and variety. Between the stores are many restaurants serving genuine Druze ethnic foods, bakeries that fill the air with the sweet smell of baklava pastries. Other food stands sell high quality olive oil, olives, pita bread and locally produced labaneh cheese. The flurry of activity, the colors, the new beside the old, and the village bustling with people are a multi-sensational experience not to be missed. The market also has a few galleries where cultural evenings can be held, alongside the Druze hospitality.
Apart from Daliyat el-Carmel’s main street, with its tourist center, on 22nd Street there is the house of Sir Laurence Oliphant, an Englishman who loved the Holy Land and moved here in 1880 to help the Jews during the period of the First Aliya wave of immigration. Today his house serves as a military memorial to village residents who served in the Israel Defense Forces and gave their lives for their country. The front courtyard of the house is a plaza that overlooks the slopes of the Carmel hills.
The Druze heritage house is on 8th Street and houses an exhibit about the Druze lifestyle. One can also just wander around the village to no specific place; walk through the narrow passageways that wind their way between old houses, prayer halls and holy sites, beside olive oil presses, textile workshops and art galleries.
In recent years the villagers have begun hosting groups in their homes, and such a visit offers a glimpse of their houses, culture and tradition. The local residents offer tourists and genuine ethnic foods, wear their traditional clothes, tell stories about the Druze heritage and there are even guest houses designed with an authentic Druze decor.
If you get the chance, the Druze villages of Israel are a fascinating place to stop off and visit. Here we’ve focused on two villages, although other examples include Majdal Shams, Buq’ata and Ein Qinya.
Maps: Isfiya & Daliyat el Karmel, Majdal Shams, Buq’ata, Ein Qinya