Wael Tarabeih, an activist for the rights of the 25,000 Syrian Druze who have been under Israeli occupation since 1967, wants to go beyond statements of condemnation and take action to enforce international law. For the past four days, together with the Al-Marsad NGO, he has been mobilizing his community and urging journalists to cover the Golan Heights issue—and not merely on account of its connections with the conflict in Syria.
“The rejection of Trump’s announcement on the part of the international community is something important,” he said. “But here, on the occupied Golan Heights, we are concerned with the future, with the projects already approved and which Israel will implement in the coming years.”
As Taraibeh answered our questions, hundreds of residents of the four Druze villages in the Golan Heights were holding a sit-in protest, close to the armistice lines between Israel and Syria. In October, thousands of Druze marched against the organization of Israeli municipal elections for the Golan Heights, blocking the polling station at Majdal Shams, the largest of the Druze villages, and waving Syrian flags.
The protest actions will intensify throughout this week, spurred by the signing of the document with which Trump’s White House, in the presence of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will officially recognize the Golan Heights as being part of Israeli territory. On Saturday, local media announced the deployment of reinforcements for the Israeli police and army in the region, aimed at containing the demonstrations and gatherings of the Druze.
“The media are ignoring the profound changes that the state of Israel has wrought on this territory,” says Tawaibeh. Their plan, he says, “is to bring in 100,000 more Israeli into the Golan Heights, which will be added to the 23,000 settlers already living in 34 illegal settlements, including some kibbutzim.”
The activist says large projects are being planned by the Israelis in the fields of tourism, energy production and agriculture, which are “all to the benefit of Israeli settlers, certainly not that of the Druze, who reject the occupation and are saying they are Syrian citizens. These plans will have a devastating impact on the unique character of the territory and on our culture. These are the priorities for us—Trump’s words are secondary compared to the situation we are facing in our daily lives.”
On Saturday, the Al-Marsad NGO, in a tweet, stressed the fact that the demining works which Israel started in the Golan region in 2011 have been concentrated exclusively in the areas surrounding the Israeli settlements, and little has been done near the Druze villages, thus limiting the Druze people’s possibilities to expand and develop their agricultural lands.
In Majdal Shams, the oldest locals still remember the time when the region was part of Syria, before Israel conquered most of the Heights in the Six Day War of 1967. The Golan Heights were later annexed by the Jewish state by a Knesset vote in 1981, which was never recognized by the rest of the world. In the days following the start of the occupation, 95% of the Arab population fled to Syria, or was forced to flee under coercion by the Israeli army. Only some of the Druze suffered the same fate. The Israeli authorities thought they would adapt to the condition of the Druze in Galilee, those “model” Arabs who are integrated into the Jewish state. However, things have turned out differently. Even now, 52 years later, the Druze of the Golan Heights insist they are Syrian and refuse Israeli citizenship.
The step taken by Trump ran roughshod over the international position on the Heights, without, however, triggering—at least for now—the domino effect of acceptance that Washington and Israel were counting on. The UN, the EU, Turkey, Iran, Russia and the Arab world, including the Gulf Cooperation Council, have uniformly condemned the move, one specially designed to help Netanyahu in his election campaign, and which is likely to trigger other conflicts in the region. For its part, Syria is insisting that it will never give up its intentions to recover the Golan Heights, even at the cost of a new war. The Druze are not all supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but all are supporting Syria and its territorial integrity. Many among them have close relatives on the other side of the armistice lines. “Trump can make his statements, but we know that Golan will always be part of Syria. We have Syrian blood,” Amal Safadi, a local librarian, told us.
In the Israeli colonies and kibbutzes, people’s views are quite different—however, Trump’s announcement wasn’t met with a great amount of enthusiasm. The settlers are certain that Golan will never be returned to Syria, and have been feeling safe here for a long time. “The recognition by the United States does make us happy,” Haim Rokah, the head of Israel’s regional council in the Golan, told us, “but our daily routine is not influenced by the recognition or non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty.”
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