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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Golan Druze, caught between two worlds

Die Welt (German) has a very interesting article about the Druze of the Golan Heights:

Israel has controlled the Golan Heights since the Six Day War in 1967 when it captured the area from Syria; in 1981 Israel annexed the area - a move that neither Syria nor the international community have ever acknowledged. Even the residents of Majdal Shams to describe themselves as Syrians today. "We are Syrians, our ancestors were Syrians and as Druze our loyalty is to our country - and that is Syria," says Hamdani Tahrir, an apple farmer who supplements his income by renting two small cabins as vacation homes to Israeli tourists.

His Syrian self-identity has not prevented him from learning Hebrew well. "I have nothing against the Israelis," he tried to explain. "They are a democracy, and this is the best form of government," says Tahrir.

This is a strange answer because no one really wanted to know from him what he thought the best form of government is. When asked how he stands as to the brutal actions of the Syrian government against its own people, he turns away. "There are not many Druze in the world," he said then. "We need to take care of ourselves."

...While their co-religionists in the Israeli heartland have always participated in army service and by and large maintain good relations with the Jewish majority, the Druze in the Golan Heights sits between two stools.

On the one hand, in an anonymous survey, 75 percent of students said they wanted to remain in Israel if the Golan should one day be part of Syria as part of a peace agreement. On the other hand, fewer than 1,000 Druze have accepted the offer of Israeli citizenship. The majority are defined as "undefined nationality." It is the same in their travel documents.

There is one reason why they themselves often mention the principle of the Druze loyalty towards their home country - in this case, Syria. Tangible threats do the rest. Thus some religious leaders have called for a boycott of any Druze with an Israeli passport. One should not marry this man nor do business with them. Also many would rather not know what the Syrian regime has in mind for alleged collaborators under a return of the Golan.

Nihad is as a collaborator. The young man with the wrinkled face of his surprisingly blue eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses has accepted Israeli citizenship and is not afraid to be called by his real first name.

"Before the Syrian army sets foot on this territory, I'm going to escape with my family," he says, determined. He had already put out feelers in the Druze in the Galilee. There, one is quite prepared to admit him in an emergency. "I was born in 1979," said Nihad. "I've never lived in Syria, but only in Israel. And here I have it actually quite good." Unfortunately, many Druze are caught in the tradition, he says. Caution had become second nature to them. This is hardly surprising, because life is a religious minority in the Middle East is always difficult.

The entire article is good, including a history of Druze and the fact that there are more female experts on the religion than men.

(h/t Missing Peace)