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

March 16, 2021 | Jonathan Shamir
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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.

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