Several dozen Druze have met in the Golan Heights and openly declared their support for the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime in Syria.
Fausi Abu Jabal, who spoke at the meeting in Majdal Shams, the Golan's largest Druze village, told Haaretz that both pro- and anti-government movements agree the Golan is part of Syria; the only difference is their view on the violence next door.
"We believe in the revolution of the Syrian people against the dictatorship and therefore decided to set up a movement that would unite all who believe in this principle," he said.
Abu Jabal notes, however, that this movement is not actively involved in the Syrian revolution.
"We're very limited and we don't identify with any specific part of the Syrian opposition," he said. "But we must present a clear stance in support of a free and democratic country that safeguards human rights and liberties."
In the Golan, the Syria debate often splits families.
"There are families where one brother supports Assad because of his anti-Western and anti-American positions, and another brother believes that Assad's departure is necessary for the sake of freedom and democracy," said A., a Majdal Shams resident who says he doesn't belong to either side. "I'm with the bleeding homeland, not with the regime and not with the Western-supported opposition."
According to Salman Fahr al-Din, a human rights activist in the Golan who took part in the anti-Assad meeting, "Nobody knows how the situation will be resolved, but as things stand now there's no justification for Assad staying in power. And we know that any government that replaces him must make the Golan a top priority. Our desire to return to the Syrian homeland is our ultimate goal."
Although no serious violence has taken place, confrontations have occurred between the sides in recent months, including egg-throwing at demonstrations. Recently, both sides have kept a lower profile.
The last demonstration supporting the regime took place two months ago with the release of security prisoner Sedki al-Maket, who spent 27 years in an Israeli prison. Thousands greeted him at Majdal Shams' central square; the reception turned into a show of force in support of Assad, including Syrian flags and portraits of the president.
N., one of the regime's more enthusiastic supporters in the Golan, says the anti-Assad movement contains no more than a handful of people who have no influence in the Golan.
"The true picture is that most Golan residents support their country and the legitimate leadership and aren't influenced by the Western propaganda backed by the Arab Gulf states," he said.
"You can't accuse the government of murder while the so-called rebels and Free Syrian Army commit crimes. Syria is the victim of an international conspiracy. The Syrian people will have the final say, not the U.S. and its allies."
The Syria dispute has split Israel's Arab parties; some commentators say it will be the main topic in the campaign for the January 22 election. Most of the parties prefer not to address the Syria issue because many activists disagree on the matter.
The Islamic Movement, especially the northern branch led by Shiek Ra'ad Salah, leads the anti-Assad line, while Hadash holds the opposite position, carefully avoiding support of Assad personally and stressing its opposition to foreign intervention. Balad too is split, even though officially it supports the Syrian people's uprising.
The United Arab List-Ta'al has also declared its opposition to the regime. Still, most of the activity for or against Assad is carried out by individuals not representing a party, with the discussion taking place on social networks and in the local press.
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