Quneitra, GOLAN HEIGHTS — In the sweltering August heat, Majid (not his real name) was sweating while studying for an upcoming exam. The difficulty was not in the complexity of the material, but rather in the fact that the examination hall was going to be in an active war zone, in Damascus. While thousands of Syrians are trying to flee the atrocities in their homeland — which have so far claimed over 110,000 lives — Majid is one of 35 students who returned from their peaceful villages in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the country ravaged by a civil war that has been raging for more than 2½ years. More than 30 more students are set to travel back to Syria later this month.
Druze and Alawite youths from the Golan Heights have been coming to Syria for decades to study at the University of Damascus. The reasons for this are both ideological and practical. Many of the students’ parents and grandparents were born in Syria, but found themselves under Israeli rule after the Israelis captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it. The Damascus government has encouraged the students by waiving university fees and providing a small monthly stipend, which continues to be distributed even today. In Israel, entry requirements for competitive courses such as medicine are considerably higher.