Syria: 'We still feel Syrian,' say Druze of Golan Heights

But factions clash in Majdal Shams, village annexed by Israel

28 November, 13:54

(by Elisa Pinna).

(ANSAmed) - MAJDAL SHAMS, NOVEMBER 28 - Some still root for Assad. Others support the rebels. The silent majority looks on, but whatever the future of Syria may hold, the great majority still dreams of a return to the homeland. They are the Druze of Majdal Shams, a village in Israeli-annexed territory in the north-eastern Golan Heights.

Syria lies just a few meters away, beyond an unpaved road and two metal barriers marking the ceasefire line Israel laid down in the 1967 Six-Day War and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

For decades, the inhabitants of Majdal Shams have observed their grain fields, which remained on the other side of the border. Using megaphones and loudspeakers, they have communicated with friends and relatives on the other side of what the people call the 'vale of screams' or the 'vale of tears'. But today, the Syrian civil war has come dangerously close, and the ceasefire line is no longer as silent as it was during the first year of the anti-Assad uprising.

''For two months now, we've been hearing constant gunfire, explosions. The landscape up ahead looks just like it always does, bucolic and peaceful. But behind those hills, it's hell on earth,'' activist Salman Fakr Deen, who fights for the human rights of the Golan Heights Druze, explains to ANSAmed. ''The other night there was an explosion so big it shattered some of the windows in the village.'' Numbering a few thousand, the Druze of Majdal Shams have proudly held on to their Syrian passports: when Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, 95% of them refused Israeli citizenship, and they are still firmly of that opinion, in spite of the civil war raging at home.

''It is not a question of personal opinion, but one of international rights and of justice,'' said Deen. ''These territories belong to Syria. We are Syrian. We feel we are under occupation here. The Israelis seized our land, our water, and they make life impossible for us.'' In Ali Yussef Arii's ground-floor home, the TV is tuned to the national Syrian channel. Arii, many of whose relatives serve in the Syrian government army, says he is for peace. ''I am not with Assad and not with the opposition,'' he said. ''But I'm afraid that by now Assad only thinks about defending his own sect, the Alawites. I don't think he cares about us, or about the Christians.'' An offshoot of Islam, the Druze religion has absorbed elements of Christianity, Judaism, and the far Eastern religions. Its believers do not hold nationalist ideas, and generally are loyal to whatever country they happen to live in.

The Druze of Galilee, for example, consider themselves blood brothers to the Jews, and serve in the Israeli armed forces.

In Majdal Shams, the civil war raging nearby is a daily reality, along with the stray fire that sometimes hits this side of the border. In the village square, pro-Assad and pro-rebel graffiti share the same walls, and in the cafe, political discussions sometimes degenerate into brawls.

Just a few meters away, Syria is being torn apart, but in the center of Majdal Shams a statue is still standing. It represents Sultan Al Atrash, the Druze leader of the 1925 Syrian uprising against the occupying French: a reminder that ''this is Syrian land,'' as Deen repeated. (ANSAmed).

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