After 45 years of rejecting [Israeli citizenship] — the war in Syria has caused a change
In the wake of the ongoing battles and atrocities on the other side of the border, recent months have seen an increase of hundreds of percent in the number of [Golan Heights Druze] applications submitted to the Interior Ministry for Israel citizenship
A Bukata resident says, “The residents are internalizing the fact that they have no longer a reason to return to Syria.”
Is the drawn-out war in Syria beginning to crack the 45-year-long loyalty of the Golan Heights Druze, to their [Syrian] homeland across the border? The data of the Population and Immigration Authority show that, in recent months, there has been a sharp increase of hundreds of percents in the numbers of applications to the Ministry of the Interior for Israeli citizenship — among Druze living in four villages in the Northern Golan Heights.
This is an especially sensitive and loaded issue. In fact, all the Druze residents of the Golan Heights that were interviewed for this article, refused to reveal their names and even expressed concern over a “social upheaval” in their villages.
“These are mainly the young folks,” a Majdal Shams resident said angrily. This interviewee had been a security prisoner in an Israeli prison, after he had been convicted of terrorist activity against the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. “People are reaching the conclusion that Israeli citizenship is better than Syrian citizenship, since Syria kills its own citizens. They blame Assad for the situation, but Syria is our homeland. It is the country we belonged to in the past, present and future. In any event, they are not the ones who will decide on the political situation in the Golan. The ones who will decide are us, the Golan Heights residents. The Syrian nation will decide the future of the occupied Golan, in peace or in war.”
Ever since the conquest of the Golan [Heights] in the Six Day War [in 1967], the Druze residents of the four conquered villages have demonstrated their loyalty to their Syrian homeland. This loyalty intensified in 1982 after the Golan Heights Law, when the rule of the military government over the Golan Heights came to an end. Government representatives went to the four villages in the Northern part of the Heights and attempted to distribute blue [Israeli] identification cards. Most of the residents responded by burning the ID cards they had received and by conducting protest strikes lasting half a year. In addition, the local Sheikhs announced that anyone who would agree to receive Israeli citizenship and cooperate with the “Zionist enemy” would pay the price of religious and social ostracism, meaning exclusion from communal events, funerals and celebrations. Out of the 20 thousand residents living in Majdal Shams, Masada, Bukata, and Ein Kenya, only several hundred asked for and received Israeli citizenship in the last 30 years.
“The trickle will turn into a river”
Now a change has occurred: the Population and Immigration Authority explains that scores of applications for Israeli citizenship have recently been received, as opposed to the single-digit numbers of applications that were the norm until a year ago.
“I believe that the numbers will only increase,” says a resident of the Masada village who holds Israeli citizenship. “More and more people are internalizing the fact that here is an enlightened country where you can live and bring up children. That is preferable over becoming refugees in another country. There is mass murder in Syria and if they lived under Syrian sovereignty, they could become victims of these atrocities. People see children who are murdered and penniless refugees escaping to Jordan and Turkey, and ask themselves: Where do I want to bring up my children? The answer is clear — in Israel and not Syria.”
Other residents of the Golan villages think that the reason for the sharp increase in applications for Israeli citizenship, is the understanding that Assad will not stay in power for long. “I am an Israeli citizen, but I also support Assad,” says a resident of Bukata. “Even though an Assad opposition-group also rose in the Golan Heights, most of the residents know that Assad is good to the Druze who constitute a minority in Syria. The Druze denomination is second in importance in Syria, after the Alawite denomination to which Assad belongs, and the Alawites are also a minority in Syria. Before his [Bashar’s] father Hafez al-Assad rose to power, the Druze suffered greatly under a ruler who abused them. Assad the father caused a changeover in the Syrian government’s treatment of the Druze denomination. Now the residents are internalizing the fact that Assad’s regime will not be long-lived, and already understand that they have no reason to return to Syria.”
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