Arab Druze of occupied Golan reject Israeli citizenship

Residents divided over loyalty to Assad

The fertile hillsides of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights are inhabited by some 25,000 Druze, an Arab minority. (Photo: Mohammad Al-Kassim/Jordan News)
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Four decades ago, Israel annexed two-thirds of the Golan Heights that it captured from Syria in the 1967 war, leaving both sides officially in a state of war. The move to annex is considered illegal under international law.اضافة اعلان

“December 14, 1981, is another black day in the history of the Golan,” said Sheikh Qasem Mahmoud Al-Safadi, a resident of Majdal Shams, one of three Druze villages in the occupied Golan Heights. 

In the 1973 war, Syria tried unsuccessfully to retake the area. 
Ever since, Druze residents have held yearly demonstrations and strikes to protest the Israeli decision. 

The fertile hillsides of the Israeli-occupied Golan are inhabited by some 25,000 Druze, an Arab minority. Most have relatives on the Syrian side of the fortified frontier.

Dressed in traditional black garb and white hats, Majdal Shams resident Sheikh Safadi, with his thick white mustache and wrinkled face, spoke passionately about the Golan Heights and his motherland Syria. He told Jordan News that neither Israeli occupation of the Heights, nor its annexation would change who the area belongs to. 

“We tell them the Golan is an inseparable part of the Syrian Arab Republic, and the annexation law was born dead, and its value is not worth the ink on which it was written. We are Syrian Arabs; we belong to the Syrian Arab people,” he said.

Former teacher Hassan Fakhruddin told Jordan News he was fired from his job as a schoolteacher by Israel for teaching students that they are Arab Syrians and that they should not accept Israeli citizenship.

“We accepted Israeli identity cards to facilitate our movement, but we refuse Israeli citizenship,” Fakhruddin said and insisted that despite “Israel’s attempts to Judaize the Golan and put pressure on the population and annex it, the residents of the Golan are steadfast.”

The picturesque plateau is inhabited by Druze villagers, a large majority of whom are pro-Syrian government. 

It is not unusual to find framed pictures of former Syrian president Hafez Assad, and his son, the current President Bashar Assad, hanging on the walls of many residential homes, alongside Syrian flags atop houses, especially in the four remaining Druze villages in the occupied Golan Heights: Majdal Shams, Buqata, Masade, and Ein Qiniyye.Even 40 years after Israel officially annexed the Golan Heights, and two years after former US president Donald Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic plateau, most Arab residents say they still identify as Syrians, but allegiance to the Syrian government isn’t what it used to be. 

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed Israel’s sovereignty over the area this year. 

“The Golan was and will remain part of Israel,” he said, “with an agreement, without an agreement, we are not coming down from the Golan. It will remain a sovereign part of the state of Israel.”

Ayman Safadi, a 31-year-old, who works at his family’s little market, said all the laws in the world won’t change who is the rightful owner of this area. 
“This land is the land of our ancestors. No one has the right to it other than the Syrians.”

The international community criticized Trump’s controversial decision, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied territory.

Israel, in a show of gratitude of the one-term president who recognized the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel, named a settlement “Trump Heights.”

“We do not have a problem with the American people, but we tell the American leaders to fear God and make the right decision and not succumb to Zionism. Trump’s words are completely rejected. If Trump is so generous, he should give Washington or New York to the Zionist entity, not the Golan. This is not his private property,” said Sheikh Safadi. 

Israeli Population and Immigration Authority claimed that application for citizenship has increased in recent years, an assertion that is disputed by residents of the Golan. 

In its attempt to integrate them, Israel has given Druze residents the option of citizenship, but most say they refused the offer.

“Those who got the Israeli ID cards aren’t talking about it because they are embarrassed and disgraced,” said Sheikh Safadi. 

Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, Quneitra crossing has been closed. Residents have accused the Israeli government of preventing them from communicating with their relatives in Syria despite what they say is the “restoration of Syrian control over the crossing.”

“We can no longer send our children to study in Syrian universities, and clerics cannot travel, and we can no longer marry with our people in Syria, and we cannot export our apples and cherries as we used to,” said Sheikh Safadi.  

Different views

Majdal Shams resident Salman Fakhruddin’s political views don’t coincide with most of the Druze residents of the Golan who support Assad rule. “I have a deep enmity with him and those who preceded him. This is an individual regime and a system of thieves based on blatant repression,” he said.Salman argued that the civil war in Syria “complicated” matters in the Golan Heights.

He accused the Syrian government and its policies of making the residents of the rocky plateau think of alternatives to their Syrian citizenship.

“Israel occupies the Golan. However, the reality we are living in, with the Syrian crisis, and the economic difficulties faced by the residents of the area, has caused a change in the anti-Israel stance in the Golan,” he said and added, “the occupation provides better human conditions than our national state, and this is a shame for the ruling regime. This is a big shame.”

There are more than 30 illegal Israeli settlements in the Golan, which are home to about 20,000 settlers, many working in farming and tourism.  

The Golan Heights is roughly 1,, it is strategically located with its numerous high elevation points, and its fertile lands. It is also home to important water resources, including Lake Tiberias and the beginning of the Jordan River. 

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