Circassians in Israel

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Circassians in Israel
Адыгэхэу Исраэл исыхэр
הצ'רקסים בישראל
Circassians in Israel.Jpg
Total population
c. 4,000[1][2]–5,000[3]
Regions with significant populations
Kfar Kama, Rehaniya
Hebrew, Circassian, English, Arabic
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Other Circassians

Circassians in Israel (Adyghe: Адыгэхэу Исраэл исыхэр; Hebrew: הצ'רקסים בישראל‎) refers to the Circassian people who live in Israel.

Circassians in Israel are Sunni Muslims, and number about 4,000 and live primarily in two towns: Kfar Kama (Adyghe: Кфар Кама) and Rehaniya (Adyghe: Рихьаные). They send each of their young men to the Israeli army,[4] and are one of three minority groups in Israel drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).


Circassian-language street sign in Israel
Kfar Kama, Israel
Rehaniya, Israel

Circassians were originally Christian for 1,000 years, but from the 16th century to the 19th century they were Islamized under the influence of Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks.[5] The Circassians arrived in the Middle East after they were expelled from their homeland in the northwestern Caucasus. The Circassians, who fought during the Russo-Circassian War in the mid-to-late 19th century against the Russians captured the northern Caucasus, were massacred (1.5 million killed) and expelled (1 million deported) by Czarist Russia from the Caucasus.[6] The Ottoman Empire, which saw the Circassians as experienced fighters, absorbed them in their territory and settled them in sparsely populated areas, including the Galilee.[7]

Traditional Circassian dishes

The Circassian exiles established Rehaniya (nine miles north of Safed) in 1873, and Kfar Kama (13 miles southwest of Tiberias) in 1876.[8][9]

They speak both Adyghe and Hebrew, and many also speak Arabic and English, while cultivating their unique heritage and culture.[10]

Israeli Circassians have had good relations with the Ottoman-era Jewish community and later Jewish community in Israel, in part due to the language shared with many of the First Aliyah immigrants from Russia who settled in the Galilee.[citation needed] The Circassian community in Israel helped the illegal migration of Jews from Lebanon into Mandate Palestine.[citation needed] When conflict between Jews and Arabs began during the British Mandate, the Circassians most often took either neutral or pro-Jewish stances.[11] Circassians fought on the Israeli side of the War of Independence. At their community leaders' request, since 1958 all male Circassians must complete the mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces upon reaching the age of majority, while females do not.[12] In this, they are equal to the Israeli Jews and the Israeli Druze populations living in the State of Israel proper (this excludes most of the Druze population living on the Golan Heights). The percentage of the army recruits among the Circassian community in Israel is particularly high. Many Circassians also serve in the Israel National Police, Israel Border Police, and the Israel Prison Service.

Site of Circassian village established in 1860, abandoned due to malaria

In 1976, the Circassian community won the right to maintain its own educational system separate from the Israeli government's Department of Arab Affairs. As a result, the community manages its own separate educational system, which ensures that its culture is passed down to the younger generations.[13]

Circassian youth in traditional dress in Israel

The Circassian community of Israel is concentrated almost entirely in the villages of Kfar Kama (population c. 3,000) and Rehaniya (population c. 1,000). In contrast to Circassian communities in other Middle Eastern countries, which have lost much of their traditions, Israeli Circassians have carefully preserved their culture. More than 90% of Circassians return to their villages after completing their military service and studies. Despite the difficulty of finding marriage partners within a community of 4,000, Israeli Circassians mostly shun intermarriage. Although some Arabs moved to Kfar Kama, they quickly integrated into local society and left no lasting cultural impression. Intermarriage is widely regarded as a taboo there. Rehaniya absorbed larger numbers of internally displaced Arab refugees during the 1948 war, and as a result, intermarriage with non-Circassians, while still avoided for the most part, became more acceptable there.[14][15]

According to one commentator: "while the Israeli Circassians are treated quite differently from the Palestinians, they are still denied full citizenship and are often victims of discrimination".[16] Shlomo Hasson writes that on the one hand, there are elements of equality, while on the other hand there is exclusion, inequality, and prolonged discrimination[17]". On the one hand, Circassians in Israel exercise their civil rights. "They are entitled to vote and be elected to the representative bodies of the state". However, on the other hand, he says, "there is inequality between Jews and the minorities. This inequality is expressed in discrimination in the allocation of resources for education, for local government, in unemployment and getting jobs, and especially in the civil service[18]". During a protest, Circassian activists have called on the government "to cancel controversial land appropriations. In addition, the forum is calling on the government to increase funding to Circassian community[19]". According to these activists, "Circassians receive less than Arab or hareidi-religious communities, despite “sixty years of loyalty.”[20] ".


Israeli Circassians have adopted the Western practice of smaller families,[15] with an average of two children per family,[15] compared to the national rate of 3.73 children per family.[15]

Circassian families in Israel[edit]

  • Abrag (Adyghe: Абрэгь)
  • Ashmuz or Achmuzh (Adyghe: Ачъумыжъ)
  • Bat (Adyghe: Бат)
  • Batwash (Adyghe: БэтIыуашъ)
  • Bghana (Adyghe: Бгъанэ)
  • Blanghaps (Adyghe: БлэнгъэпсI)
  • Choshha or Shoshha (Adyghe: Чъушъхьэ)
  • Gorkozh (Adyghe: ГъоркIожъ)
  • Hadish (Adyghe: Хьэдищ)
  • Hako or Hakho (Adyghe: Хьэхъу)
  • Hazal (Adyghe: Хъэзэл)
  • Kobla (Adyghe: Коблэ)
  • Lauz (Adyghe: ЛъыIужъ)
  • Libai or Labai (Adyghe: ЛIыпый)
  • Nago (Adyghe: Наго)
  • Napso (Adyghe: Нэпсэу)
  • Nash (Adyghe: Наш)
  • Natkho or Natcho (Adyghe: Натхъо)
  • Qal (Adyghe: Къалыкъу)
  • Qatizh (Adyghe: Къэтыжъ)
  • Sagas or Shagash (Adyghe: Шъэгьашъ)
  • Shamsi (Adyghe: Чъуэмшъо)
  • Showgan (Adyghe: Шэугьэн)
  • Shaga (Adyghe: Шъуагьэ)
  • Thawcho (Adyghe: Тхьэухъо)
  • Zazi (Adyghe: Зази)

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Besleney, Zeynel Abidin (2014). The Circassian Diaspora in Turkey: A Political History. Routledge. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-317-91004-6. 
  2. ^ Torstrick, Rebecca L. (2004). Culture and Customs of Israel. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-313-32091-0. 
  3. ^ Louër, Laurence (2007). To be an Arab in Israel. New York City, NY: Columbia University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-231-14068-3. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ The Circassians in Israel Archived 2013-04-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Circassians (in Rehaniya and Kfar Kama)
  9. ^ [4]
  10. ^ Circassians in Israel
  11. ^ [5]
  12. ^
  13. ^ Circassians, Descendants of Russian Muslims, Fight for Identity in Israel
  14. ^ Gilad, Moshe (5 July 2012). "A Slightly Rarefied Circassian Day Trip". Haaretz. Tel Aviv, Israel. Archived from the original on 4 April 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016. I assume it must be a complex and heavy costume, not exactly the latest wrinkle for the blistering Israeli summer. But a moment later, tracing a slender hourglass shape in the air, he explains that even his slim frame would not fit into a Circassian belt without some heavy dieting. 'Our traditional costume is made for a man with a hip measurement of 50 centimeters [about 20 inches],' he said. 'I couldn't wear it today. Circassian men is supposed to look different.' 
  15. ^ a b c d Sedan, Gil; Westheimer, Ruth K. (2015). The Unknown Face of Islam: The Circassians in Israel. Brooklyn, NY: Lantern Books. ISBN 978-1-59056-502-5. 
  16. ^ Eleonore Merza, « The Israeli Circassians: non-Arab Arabs », Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem [En ligne], 23 | 2012, mis en ligne le 20 février 2013, Consulté le 12 juin 2017. URL : All non-Jewish people are discriminated, says Eleonore Merza, and Circassians too, even if they have Israeli citizenship, p. 28,
  17. ^ Shlomo Hasson, Relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel Future Scenarios, 2012, University of Maryland, Institute for Israel Studies,
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^