Their neighbors boycott them, the Syrians monitor them, and Israelis just ignore them. Now, with Assad fixing his sights on the Golan Heights, they’ve founded a new protest movement, the Druze Zionists’ Committee
N., a resident of the Druze village of Majdal Shams, says that “if Israel leaves the Golan Heights I’ll become a refugee.”
“If I move to Syria my life will be in danger, and in Israel I have nowhere to go. The state must find us a solution, our own communal settlement in Israeli territory,” he stated.
Like the other 1,500 Golan Heights Druze who call themselves “Zionist Druze,” N. holds Israeli citizenship. They fear the day when Israel reaches a peace settlement with Syria that involves handing the Golan Heights over to Syria. On that day, they say, their lives will be in danger. They’re already making preparations, including establishing a public committee for Golan Heights Druze who hold Israeli citizenship.
“These people have done things for the country that are better left unsaid,” says Moshe Ben-Atar, director general of the Zionist council and the man behind the committee. “If the villages where they live are transferred to Syria, they’re likely to face the death penalty. The (Israeli) government must prepare a contingency plan for the day after. This country has already proven that it abandons those who help it, like the soldiers of the South Lebanese Army. We mustn’t abandon the Druze of the Golan Heights,” he said.
In connection with the public committee, the Druze intend to establish a Knesset lobby. “Uprooting us from here is more difficult than uprooting a Jewish settlement,” says N. “A Jew moves to Haifa, to Tel Aviv. Where will we move? We’re more connected than you to our roots and to the land. My grandfather’s grandfather didn’t leave the village, and suddenly I’m going to have to leave. We don’t want to go live in a Druze or Jewish town within the territory of the country. I don’t want to be viewed as a refugee. In our conversations with government officials and security officials we’ve explained to them that we want a Druze communal settlement and monetary compensation for the withdrawal.”
In the 1990s, when Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak were in the midst of peace talks with Syria, N. and other Druze hired a lawyer and found possible locations for resettlement. Two sites were considered, one within the Merom Hagalil regional council’s territory, and the other near the village of Hitim near the Sea of Galilee. When the peace talks were frozen, the plan was frozen as well. Now, with the talk about a window of opportunity vis-à-vis Syria, the Druze realize that they need to start moving again, and this time, more intensively. “Our greatest fear,” says N., “is that Israel will abandon us the way it abandoned the South Lebanese Army soldiers.”
Twenty thousand Druze live in four villages on the Golan Heights: Ein Kinya, Buka’ata, Majdal Shams, and Mas’ada. Fewer than 10% hold Israeli citizenship, and most have chosen to forgo it. They hold blue identity cards, but are considered residents whose citizenship is unclear, and they hold a laissez-passer.
Since the large-scale strike in 1981 when the Golan Heights were annexed to Israel, Golan Heights Druze who hold Israeli citizenship have suffered social, religious, and economic ostracism by the pro-Syrian Druze. At first they also suffered violent harassment. Over the years the harassment has stopped, but the boycott has continued. Druze who are Israeli citizens are not permitted to attend their neighbors’ family celebrations.
This is also why everyone interviewed for this article refused to be identified by name: they’re afraid. “For dozens of years our property was burned and people wouldn't speak to us,” says S. from Majdal Shams. “Now, when the neighbors agree to come to our homes for coffee, we don’t want to reopen the whole thing.”
The fear among holders of Israeli citizenship is palpable. While we were sitting in M’s living room in Buka’ata, a neighbor who doesn’t have Israeli citizenship suddenly entered. M. immediately changed the subject. “At one time the neighbor would not enter my house even for coffee,” he says. “Several months ago he married his daughter and didn’t invite us. He won’t come to my funeral either.”
“We live in terror our whole lives,” says L., N’s wife. “We would already have been released from prison for murder. The pro-Syrians will continue to abuse us forever. How will my kids grow up here? My daughter has a school friend whose father won’t agree to her coming to our house just because we have Israeli citizenship.”
Because of this situation, some holders of Israeli citizenship have asked to relinquish it in recent years. “People contacted the courts and the Interior Ministry, but the government does not allow them to relinquish their citizenship,” say the Druze. “Who needs this citizenship? It only causes us problems.”
Now the question of their future worries them more than their citizenship: Will they receive compensation like the Jews, and how will the country see to their needs in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights? “The Druze want to stay in Israel,” says M. “They fear Syria. Here it’s a democracy, you can say what you want. The Syrians can settle accounts with us. All in all, the percentage of people who are pro-Syrian and want the Golan Heights to be Syrian is small, but unfortunately they influence the majority.”
When Jewish residents of the Golan Heights started an anti-withdrawal campaign, there were also Druze who worked with them secretly. In the last elections Avigdor Lieberman’s party Israel Our Home received a third of the votes of the Golan Heights Druze who have voting rights.
The Syrians, they say, are monitoring their moves. In N’s identity card it says that he lives in Rehovot so that the Syrians will not see his name in the voting lists. “A lot of people changed their address to Tel Aviv or Kiryat Shmona,” he says. “That way we don’t appear in the Golan Heights voting lists. Those who are pro-Syrian monitor the lists, and pass it all on to Syria. They know exactly what’s going on here, a lot more than the Israelis.”