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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Special Report From The Golan Heights: The Syria Druze In Majdal Shams Who Is Voting For Benjamin Netanyahu

Druze community of Golan Heights 
Source: Winnipeg Jewish review
By Rhonda Spivak

Gvat Hazeakot, on the border with Syria. Golan Heights Druze and Syrians come here to scream across the fence to eachother

Muadded, restauarant owner in Majdal Shams, who does not want Al-Queda 

Bassam, a pro-Assad Druze in Majdal Shams
phtoo by Rhonda Spivak

Two Druze men-the one with the white apron is pro-Assad. The other is the "opposition"
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Majdal Shams in Golan Heights

In Majdal Shams, a Druze village of about 10,000 people in the Golan Heights , I met a middle aged man, Rabah, standing on the corner of the street at the centre of the village who quietly told me that he will be voting for "Bibi" in the current Israeli elections.

When the Golan Heights, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 war from Syria, was officially annexed to Israel in 1981, the Druze of the Majdal Shams village could take out Israeli citizenship. The vast majority haven't done so, remaining loyal to Syria , but with Syria ablaze in fighting, there have been reports that dozens more young Druze have been taking out Israeli citizenship.

I asked Rabah, how many Druze there are like him, and he answers that he doesn't no. "But whoever has taken Israeli citizenship will be voting for Bibi."

Why I ask? "Because we want quiet ("sheket"). It's been good for us here, and we want to stay in Israel. We don't want to be go back to Syria." Rabah, not surprisingly, declines to be photographed.  There are no Israeli election signs in Majdal Shams, which sits at the foot of Mount Hermon.

Rabah tells me his family in Syria is supporting Assad. "As Druze, they are afraid of what will be if the Moslems take over Syria. They are allied with Assad."

A shopkeeper standing near Rabah, with light blue eyes tells me "I am a Syrian. I do not want to be Israeli. Ninety percent of the village here doesn't want Israeli citizenship. If I took out Israeli citizenship I could end up having to fight against my brothers, my family in Syria." He says he sees his family in Syria when they meet in Jordan. "I can't go from Jordan to Syria," he says.

Across the street at a restaurant, a 30 something year old Druze man who is waiting on the tables says that he thinks there are only 50 Druze in the whole village of Majdal Shams that have taken out Israeli citizenship. But a customer Bassam, says that Muadded is wrong. "There are more.  About 150."

Muadded says he wants Majdal Shams to be in Syria but he also wants peace with Israel. "I want peace. I don't want hatred between people."

His family is pro-Assad. "Assad will not fall," he says with confidence. "He will stay one more term until there can be democratic reform and then the people can choose a new leader."

At times from Majdal Shams, we can hear the war goignn on there. But usually it's quiet."

Muadded adds that his family is pro-Assad because "They are defending the state. They don't want extremists taking over. They don't want Al Queda taking over. "

Bassam, who is drinking coffee, defines himself as "A Syrian under [Israeli] occupation," and will never take out Israeli citizenship. "I don't feel I belong in Israel," he says.

Bassam is a staunch defender of Assad. "Here in the village there are 30 people who protest against Assad every Friday. They will be in Kunneitra at 4:30 today; you can go and see them. Aside from those 30 people, everyone else here supports Assad. And I think those people are paid to protest."

"Only 30 people in the whole village oppose Assad?," I say, wondering about the veracity of Bassam's description. "Yes, and I won't speak to any of them," he replies.

When I suggest that Assad's forces have been killing people, Bassam is quick to deny it. "The terrorists are killing people and saying that Assad did it. Maybe Assad has killed by mistake (be"taoot) but not otherwise."

I ask about Assad's chemical weapons. "I don't think that Assad would use any chemical weapons," he says matter of factly.

Bassam then turns to my Israeli driver Eyal," You Israelis are on one side weakening Assad and then on the other hand, you also want him to rise up against the terrorists."

Down the street from we are there is a spot called "Givat Hazaakot" [The Hill of Screams] where there are two fences separating the border between Israel controlled Golan Heights and Syria. The fences are so close to each other that the Druze of the Golan Heights can shout and have conversations with their family or friends in Syria.

My driver Eyal asks for directions to get to Givat Hazaakot from an elderly Druze man sitting out on the street. "Is it safe to drive there?," Eyal asks him? The elderly man, thinking that we are married, says, "Of course, you can drive there. And if you [Eyal] get shot at by the Syrians, it's ok, the insurance [of the State of Israel] will pay out to your wife," he points at me and chuckles.

When we drive down the street to Givat Hazeakot", it is quiet, but the house nearest to the fence on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights has been nicely renovated with a porch overlooking the Syrian side. "I wouldn't be surprised if they have a business , where people can stay over and can rent the porch and shout out to their friends and family on the other [Syrian side], "Eyal says.

On the way back driving down the street, we meet three Druze men-sitting in front of a shop. "We are Syrians under occupation," the first one wearing a white apron says.
We ask if they are pro-or anti Assad.

The man with the apron laughs and says, "I support Assad," and then he points to the man sitting next to him, "And he is the opposition". They both laugh. And then they say that they are serious--they have very different views. And I am thinking that if they were in Syria now, as opposed to Israel, they could be killing each other. The third man sitting next to them doesn't declare his loyalties.

Eyal asks the Druze with the apron if he has internet and facebook. He answers. "I don't have facebook but I have a "feast-tuk" (which means pistachio in Hebrew), and he chuckles.

Eyal explains as we leave that "Pistuk " has sexual connotations. He told us that "he doesn’t have facebook but he has a small dick, the size of a pistachio."


As we leave Majdal Shams, driving through Neve Ativ and other parts of the Golan, I can see election signs for Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, (The Jewish Home) party, the party to the right of Likud, headed by Naftali Bennett , that is set to get some 15 seats. The party is clearly going to get votes in the Golan and Kiryat Shmona on the border with Lebanon where I visited.  Samaria in October of this year,  just after Netanyahu announced the elections Yediyot Achronot created waves when it reported that the onset of the rebellion against Bashar Assad in January 2011 interrupted intense American led negotiations between the Syrian president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which the latter agreed to a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement.

Syria agree to abandon its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, the report claimed. The talks were abandoned by Israel in March 2011 after the extent of the rebellion against the Assad regime became clear, according to Ha'aretz and the New York Times. 

Netanyahu's office told Yediyot that this "this initiative was one of many proposed to Israel over the past few years. At no point did Israel accept this American initiative."

Daniel Pipes has written that " As the author of the exposé of Netanyahu's 1998 agreement to hand over the Golan Heights, "The Road to Damascus: What Netanyahu Almost Gave Away," he believes that the Yediyot report about Netanyahu being willing to withdraw from the Golan "entirely plausible."

In retrospect it seems incredible now is that this initiative took place at all, given the full fledged revolution that had already occurred in Egypt. It could only be naiveté that would have led the US State Department to believe that Assad would have remained a stable regime after what occurred in Egypt.

As Pipes concluded in October 2012, "Let's hope that the upheavals of the past two years close down these misguided ideas of reaching Arab-Israeli treaties before real reform has come to the Arabic-speaking countries. (October 14, 2012)."

It seems to me very plausible that the reports that Netanyahu was in negotiations with Assad over the Golan, could cost him some votes in the north and Golan--which have moved over to The Jewish home party.

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