After More Than Half a Century of Reluctance, the Druze of the Golan Are Embracing Israel

March 16 2021

For decades, the Druze who live in the Golan Heights have overwhelmingly remained loyal to Syria—which held the territory until 1967—and declined to obtain Israeli citizenship. But when the Syrian civil war broke out ten years ago, their economic ties with their brethren across the border were severed, the possibility of Jerusalem relinquishing the Golan became ever more distant, and Syrian rule seemed to offer little defense against Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and Hizballah and exposure to the depredations of Bashar al-Assad. Attitudes towards the Jewish state are experiencing a sea-change as a result, writes Jonathan Shamir:

[W]hile Druze in the Galilee region to the south have been a loyal minority who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and are part-and-parcel of Israeli society, the Druze on the Golan historically looked eastward. In the past, free tuition and monthly stipends from the Syrian government lured thousands of Druze to study in Syria. However, after the war began, enrolment ground to a halt. Hundreds or even thousands of Golan Druze had graduated from Syrian universities, but those who were studying at Damascus University when the war broke out transferred to universities in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

In the immediate years following the start of the war, the numbers of students from the Golan Heights studying in Israeli universities spiked and many then opted to work in Israel. . . . The government, meanwhile, increased investment in the area, with a multimillion-shekel plan between 2014 and 2017 for the development of Druze regional councils, which [Roaa Khater, the director of education in a Druze village], believes pulled the community toward Israel.

The local community used to know everyone who took Israeli citizenship, and these people would be ostracized, [another Druze] recounts. When they [met people at] weddings, funerals, or in the streets, they would be shunned.

The situation is different today, however; . . . 20.6 percent of the Syrian [Druze] in the Golan Heights held an Israeli passport in March 2018, [and] the rate of applications for citizenship has spiked since the onset of the war. The younger generation, in particular, knows Syria only from stories but Israel from experience. Given all of this, the social stigma is slowly dissipating.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Druze, Golan Heights, Israeli society, Syrian civil war


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy