Worried Israeli Druze Look on as Syrian Golan Battle Rages

IDF to declare northern Golan a closed military area, out of concern that Israeli Druze would try to cross over and help their families

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Members of the Druze community watch fighting in the Druze village of Khader in Syria as they stand on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, near Majdal Shams. June 16, 2015.
Members of the Druze community watch fighting in the Druze village of Khader in Syria as they stand on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, near Majdal Shams. June 16, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

There was good visibility Wednesday from S’cheita, an observation post in the north-eastern corner of the Golan Heights near the Syrian border. The observation post lies amid orchards belonging to residents of the Druze villages Majdal Shams and Masadeh. A month and a half ago, air force planes attacked four terrorists at this location, as they were trying to lay explosive devices near the border fence. Two of the dead men were born in Majdal Shams.

People were gathering at the post, including Druze residents from several nearby villages. They were looking on at the village of Khader, on the other side of the border. Every few minutes an explosion could be heard from that direction, with smoke clouds billowing into the air.

The last few days have been tense here, and visitors to the post, some of whom have relatives across the border, are worried. “On Facebook we have a Khader group and a Golan Heights group, we’re all together” says Salim Safdi, former head of the Masadeh local council, referring to one of the ways they communicate with family on the other side, in addition to phone conversations they hold almost every hour.

He tells of the attack that occurred near Khader on Tuesday morning, while trying to keep thing in perspective, not becoming too anxious. “There was more stray shelling than directed fire,” he says. The attack he describes was directed at a mound (tel) located two kilometers from Khader. Throughout the day there were reports of an alleged massacre in the village. By the afternoon, this caused the IDF to declare the northern Golan a closed military area, out of concern that Israeli Druze residents would try to cross over and help their families.

“It’s a matter of mutual responsibility,” says Nabil Sa’ad from Beit Jann, who has a Facebook page called “The Druze in Israel.” He says that just as Jews in Israel help their brethren overseas, so do the Druze. “It’s a bad feeling – we have lots of family there, many of them originally from Israel. We’re a close-knit community. Many people say that Syrian Druze aren’t loyal to Israel – Druze people are loyal to a government that’s loyal to them and their land.”

Sa’ad says that he respects what Syrian Druze are doing, while remaining loyal to Israel. Like others in his community, he is critical of Israel for treating wounded Syrian fighters. “The hospital in Safed is chock-full of terrorists, with lineups in the emergency department. That’s wrong, it shouldn’t be that way,” he says.

He notes that all these years the area has remained quiet: “A new government could bring new risks,” he says, adding that the Golan should be annexed to Israel and the terrorists last month were brainwashed by Hezbollah.

Ramzi Deksi came to the observation post from Daliat al-Carmel, along with his wife. “All Druze people come here to observe from close up what is happening there,” he says. He has no relatives on the other side, but believes that the government should “think of our brothers on the Golan and even annex the area.”

Opinions are divided with regard to Israeli intervention. “Israel has nothing more to conquer – it’s not on its agenda,” says Safdi. “It faces no military threats, with Egypt, Syria and Libya all gone – it’s in an ideal situation and it shouldn’t intervene.”

He says there were contacts with Druze residents of Khader on Tuesday, but they didn’t want assistance. “We understood them – loving them means respecting their wishes,” he says, referring again to loyalty to one’s government.

A resident of Buk’ata says that Israel must intervene “because of human rights. The most painful thing is not being able to do anything.”

There are also some Jewish Israelis there, who have come to observe events on the other side. In addition to picking cherries, this is also somewhat of a tourist attraction, following on the morning’s sirens. Some visitors say that they understand the pain suffered by the Druze but that Israel should not intervene. “We don’t need additional problems,” they say.

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