MAJDAL SHAMS, GOLAN HEIGHTS — HALF of the Druze in the Golan Heights have a brother or sister, mother or father, living on the Syrian side of the border. They have been separated for over a quarter of a century.
Only in the past three years has Israel allowed a chosen few to visit their relatives in Syria. For most of the Druze, the closest they can get to their loved ones is a shouted conversation through a bullhorn, across a 300-yard minefield along the frontier.
Salim Maray, a 73-year-old apple farmer, feels the pain of that separation as strongly as anyone. Wearing the traditional hallmarks of his religion - black harem pants, bushy walrus moustache, and a woolen hat covering his shaven head - his weatherbeaten face creases into tears as he tells his story.
In 1967, when Israel occupied his village, two of his seven children were away - one son, Hayel, was an officer in the Syrian Army, and another, Nadim, had a business in Damascus. He had no way of seeing them except by slipping across the border illegally. Three times he did so, and three times he was jailed on his return, twice for six months, and the last time for eight months, before border controls were tightened in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
He lost another son in that war, though not to the fighting. Seventeen-year-old Fuad, wanted by the Israeli authorities for his political activities, hooked up with the retreating Syrian soldiers as they left the Golan under Israeli counterattack and found his way to the Syrian side of the border.
That was the last time Salim saw any of his three eldest sons. Their mother, Zaheer, had not seen them since 1967, and three years ago, when the Israeli government began allowing family visits to Syria, she applied to go.
She was turned down, and turned down again on several occasions when she renewed her application. Only last spring, when she had fallen seriously ill, did the authorities relent, and allow her a brief chance to see her sons before she died a month ago.
While Syrian and Israeli negotiators argue over the nature of the peace treaty they are seeking, Salim Maray knows what peace would mean to him: reuniting his family for the first time in 25 years.