As my time abroad came to an end, I decided to seek out one last place to visit before my departure: one of my people’s ancestral homes.

Up in the heights of Mount Carmel, there reside two small villages, Isfiya and Daliyat al-Karmel. In these villages reside two of the only remaining Druze populations in the territory of Israel. I’ve been told through my family’s oral history that there used to be more of us further to the East, but people living there were driven out during the establishment of the State of Israel.

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Isfiya. I don’t think I had many expectations, really. I found online that there was a Druze heritage center in the village, so I decided to go and check it out, because I figured if I was going to learn about my heritage from anywhere in the country, that might be my best shot.

I learned a lot from my visit that day. Hundreds of years of history about my people. Details regarding our closed religious practices that I had never known before. I saw my family tree going back over nine generations. But while I am deeply grateful for all of those intimate personal experiences, I wanted to talk about something else I learned during this visit. Something that matters much more on a broad scale.

Before heading to the village, I perused the Google reviews for the heritage center. One of the biggest things that stood out to me was people – Americans specifically – talking over and over again about how they were disappointed by how small the heritage center was, and were disgusted by how much trash they saw in the area. Driving through the village, I did, indeed, notice a very large amount of trash. But I was not particularly concerned about it, nor was I going to ask about it at all. But one of the people I met at the heritage center brought it up on his own. He had taken me on a stroll through the village, and was lamenting about how few people ever visit the center, and how those who do often judge the people of the village very harshly. Walking down a street, he gestured on each side to a couple piles of trash sitting outside of nearby houses, and said “A lot of people, they come and they complain about how dirty our village is. But this is not our fault. It is not our choice. The government, they give us this land to live on by ourselves, but in exchange for being left alone, they do not help us with these things. Nobody comes to take our trash, and we are not allowed to use the dumps. We have nowhere we are allowed to put it. What are we supposed to do?”

After this revelation, much of the rest of the day was spent with me seeing and learning from my people, first hand, about just how differently they are treated in comparison to non-Arab citizens of Israel. To protect the people I spoke with, I will not be providing any more identifying information or details about who said what. But I am going to share what I learned.

I learned that the Druze are conscripted into the Israeli military, just like Jewish citizens are, but that the Druze are conscripted at higher rates and made to serve for longer periods of time. I learned that while serving, the IDF will take advantage of the fact that it is against our religion for us to fight on behalf of a national government, and deliberately place Druze individuals in positions and on assignments where they need more bodies as cannon fodder. I learned that this is how two of my grandmother’s cousins died. I learned that several members of the village had been killed in recent years by Israeli police in acts of brutality, but that the Israeli government refuses to investigate, let alone prosecute, acts of violence against Druze individuals because our villages are not considered protected by law. I learned that over a dozen ancestral homes, on land we have lived on in a village we have continuously inhabited since at least the Middle Ages, have been bulldozed since 2016 to make way for the expansion of the territory of Mt. Carmel National Park. I learned that many homes abruptly get orders to be destroyed because they were built without proper building permits – because they have been standing longer than the State of Israel has existed. I learned that in the Golan Heights, some of our people are currently up in arms because IDF forces are attempting to raze entire villages to build wind turbines – after already having signed treaties awarding that land to the Druze. I learned that most of us have no way to ever leave the country, because we are denied recognition as Israeli or Palestinian, and can’t get a passport. I learned that contrary to what much of the Western sources say, our villages did not willingly join to fight against other Palestinians – because again, our religion forbids us from fighting for a country. Instead, we were given the options of signing treaties or being killed wholesale. And these are the same treaties now being broken. I learned that after the establishment of Israel, it took decades for us to be given any protections at all under the law, and that in 2018 these protections were stripped when the Nation State Law excluded the Druze from the definition of a person belonging to and protected by the country. I learned that we were never considered distinct from other Palestinians until Israel passed a law marking us as our own nationality in 1962. I learned that starting in the 1960’s, the Israeli government instituted a law mandating that Druze schools be taught by conscripted Druze members of the IDF, who had to teach in uniform, to promote the “appeal” of being drafted. I learned that men drafted into the IDF are taught that Druze practices are “backwards” because they limit the social opportunities of women – even though the differences in military service mandates between Druze men and women is one of the only and one of the largest discriminations by gender that the community encounters, and that in almost every other sense men and women are entirely equal. I learned that because they were able to integrate these Druze villages in Mt. Carmel by force, the Israeli government thought it could do the same with the Druze villages in the Golan Heights and has been shocked by their unwillingness to simply acquiesce to the Israeli government’s demands.

The list of what I learned could go on for ages. But central to it all is the fact that I learned about the way that my people are suffering, in a way I had only tangentially been aware of. As a member of the diaspora, I know on a certain factual level that my people, like all Palestinians, have been and continue to be mistreated and driven out of the land. But when you try to seek more information about my people online, as I had dozens of times before, most of the information that comes up is about how my people are not Muslim, and not Palestinian. How we are much closer to the more “desirable” Jewish Israeli citizens (this is coming from the descendant of a Druze man who married a Sephardic woman, mind you). How we, unlike other Arabs, were happy with the Israeli presence, and even saved by them because we were discriminated against by other indigenous communities. And it is one thing reading this information online and taking it with a strongly distrustful grain of salt, and another thing entirely to visit some of my people and see just how pervasive the discrimination is. To stand at the edge of a demolished house, knowing that just a few years before it had been inhabited by a single family for the last 800 years and counting.

As I left the village, one of the last pieces of advice I got was to be extremely careful going through the airport to return home, because I would be seen as a threat. When I got back to my AirBnB, I googled this more, and found that a top Druze politician and his daughters had been harassed by Israeli airport security because they were profiled as terrorists, and that when he spoke out denouncing this, he was publicly bashed by most members of the government and wide swathe of the community for being selfish and not caring about people’s safety.

It is fitting, albeit extremely saddening, that I was able to spend my last bit of time in Israel learning just how much I had been lied to about the treatment of my people, and just how much harm and discrimination the Druze continue to face on a daily basis. I was honored and grateful, beyond all measure, to learn as much as I did about my heritage. But I am deeply horrified by the attempted erasure of it as well. During part of my walk through town talking with people, I was taken to the summit of our village, where there is a lookout that our people have used as a defensive position for almost a millennia, at least, to help keep our people safe. And I can’t stop thinking about the way one of the people there with me pondered, “How many more years will our people continue to have this view?”

As I lie here in bed, knowing how privileged I am to have the safety of going to a different country, I am left wondering what there is that I can do to help, beyond sharing this knowledge. And I am left thinking, over and over and over again, about how many of these actions are directly funded by the billions of dollars that our country, America, sends to the Israeli military. And I am left asking, once again, how any of this could be considered worth it.