On Nakba Day, described by the Palestinians as the “day of catastrophe” and known by the rest of the world as the day Israel achieved its independence in 1948, riots broke out along several of Israel’s borders. Notably, one of those places was Majdal Shams, a Druze village high on a hill in the Golan. While some residents of the village expressed shock at the incursion, others were angry that Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers reacted so strongly. Still others praised the restraint shown by the IDF soldiers.
To understand the differences of opinion, one needs to understand the psyche of the Druze population, especially in a border town that could, as some believe, revert to Syrian control. In every Middle Eastern country where they reside, the Druze people consider themselves a separate ethnic group with a secret set of beliefs but make themselves useful to the country. They blend with their surroundings and they cope with the uncertainty of being under the rule of various countries.
In Israel – apart from the Golan – there are more than 100,000 Druze people who serve in the IDF and the Israel Border Police. They have villages, mostly in the northern part of the country, and tend to stay away from Arab nationalists. Villages like Daliat El Carmel are lively places, teeming with open-air bazaars, friendly merchants and tourists. The village of Osafia is a center of Bedouin hospitality. The welcome mat is out. While the Druze may not talk about their religion, they are eager to offer sumptuous food and sell beautiful textiles to Israelis, Americans and others.
According to the Jerusalem Post, “Druze are a minority in Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and well practiced in being good citizens in their homelands. Those on the Golan are in the difficult position of not knowing if Israel might someday return their village to Syria. Most have not taken Israeli citizenship, and unlike their relatives in the Galilee who have been Israeli citizens since 1948 with their sons drafted into the army, those on the Golan who are not citizens and not subject to conscription.”
Under Israeli law and de facto, the Golan Heights are part of Israel. International law and the United Nations still recognize the Golan Heights as part of Syria. The 8,800 residents of Majdal Shams and other Druze villages in the Golan wonder whether the border crossing on May 15 was a signal of things to come. Things had been quiet along those borders for many years.
If the idea of being a small territory on the border of two countries that could go to war at any moment is frightening, the implications of the border incidents to Israelis is downright scary. The Nakba incidents on many of Israel’s borders made it increasingly apparent that the country is in the middle of some very hostile neighbors who may be “feeling their oats” in the coming months.
According to Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset on Monday, May 16, “made one thing clear: He is preparing for a confrontation with the Palestinians. On the eve of his trip to the United States, Netanyahu sought to muster public opinion and create internal unity. The purpose of his trip to Washington is to maintain U.S. support for Israel ahead of the third intifada. Netanyahu’s situation assessment is chilling. The Middle East is in the throes of instability. Iran and its allies, Hezbollah and Hamas – ‘the new oppressor,’ as Netanyahu called them, using a word reserved for some of the greatest villains in Jewish history – seek to destroy Israel and the Jewish people. Israel has no Palestinian partner for negotiations and a peace agreement, and there will be no such partner in the years ahead.”
As we go to press, we are on the eve of talks between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. We hope the U.S. remains true to its historic connection to Israel. That kind of partnership is critical, now more than ever.