With Syria’s Civil War Within Earshot, Golan Heights Druse Loyalty to Assad Begins to Fray
The raging civil war just across the cease-fire line in Syria is posing an uncomfortable political choice for the Druse people in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.
Do they maintain their traditional loyalty to the government of Bashar Assad, whose family has vowed to take back the territory? Or should they support the burgeoning Arab revolt against Assad’s harsh rule?
In the shifting sands of the Middle East, the Druse again find themselves a people caught in the middle.
In Druse villages close enough to hear the fighting, families and friends are divided between backers of the revolt and supporters of the regime. A Druse doctor predicted his people would demand Assad’s downfall, while a butcher in a nearby town denounced the Syrian uprising as a foreign conspiracy.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. In 1981 it annexed the strategic plateau, 65 kilometers (40 miles) long and 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide, because militarily, it commands Israel’s north. The international community has not recognized the Israeli annexation. In negotiations, Israel has offered to exchange the territory for full peace, but talks broke down a decade ago over exact borders and other issues.
The Druse residents of the Golan Heights were offered Israeli citizenship, but only a few accepted. Many assumed that someday the territory would revert to Syria, by peace or by war, and those who identified with Israel might be treated as traitors. Most Druse identified as Syrians and the older generation in particular found the offer of Israeli citizenship an affront.
The Druse — there are 20,000 in the Golan Heights — follow a secretive offshoot of Islam whose adherents live primarily in Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. Over the centuries, they have tried to keep to themselves, offering allegiance to whoever was in control of their territory.