In the Golan Heights, a Druze Family Is as Divided As the Land They Call Home
MASADA, GOLAN HEIGHTS — AFTER the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, many Druze families found themselves on opposite sides of the cease-fire line between the Israeli and Syrian armies.Twenty-four years later, they continue to be divided on the prospect of returning to autocratic Syrian rule or continuing life as second-class citizens in democratic Israel. Yusif al-Masry knows where he belongs, or at least where he doesn't feel welcome. "I am a Syrian Druze, not an Israeli Druze," he says firmly, at his family's home in this farming village of 2,500 people. Born and raised under Israeli rule, he knows Syria only as the serene hills to the east rising just above Masada's apple orchards. "Here I have no rights," he says, explaining why he longs to live in a land he doesn't know. "Because I am an Arab, they don't hear what I say in Israel. Someday, we will be free in our homeland. Syria is our homeland." Sitting across from Yusif, his older brother Ahmad disagrees. "My brother doesn't know anything about Syria - he was born in Israel. I think he's wrong." Ahmad, who admits to having fond but limited childhood memories of life in Syria, says he opts for life in the Jewish state in spite of discrimination against Arabs. He estimates that about half the villagers feel the same, largely because of bread-and-butter issues like jobs and politics. "There is more money here," he says. "And there is no democracy in Syria. This is not good." The Druze are a secretive sect, concentrated in mountainous enclaves in Lebanon, Syria, and northern Israel, which split off from mainstream Islam in the 13th century. Masada is one of three large Druze villages in the heights, where the Druze number about 15,000, several thousand more than the Jewish population. Before 1967, about 100,000 Syrian Druze lived in the mountains stretching from Mt. Hermon in the north to the Sea of Galilee in the south, but were driven off by the fighting. The Golan's largest Druze village, Majdal Shams, is also a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. Demonstrations marking Syrian independence day, or public burnings of Israeli identity cards, o ften pit many of its 9,000 residents against the police. Majdal Shams, a mere 36 miles from Damascus, sits adjacent to the United Nations-patrolled no man's land separating Israeli and Syrian forces. Many of its residents have not seen relatives on the Syrian side for a generation. They communicate with megaphones at the "shouting fence" where the UN zone narrows. It is this proximity and family ties that keep dreams of reunification with Syria alive, residents say. "You see this tree? It belongs to me," says Abu Jabel Hayl Hussein, standing at the shouting fence and pointing into the UN zone. "I have about six acres of land there." The apple farmer also has two brothers in Syria he hasn't seen since 1967. "It's very sad, speaking to relatives through loudspeakers. Many people begin to cry." Mr. Hussein says he has been jailed by the Israelis "seven or eight times" for political reasons he won't discuss. He still speaks fondly of the riots following Israel's annexation of the Heights in 1981, and makes no secret of his wish to return to Syrian rule. "You see this?" he says, opening his Israeli identity card. "It says, 'Nationality: Unknown.' But I know where I belong. We belong to a country called Syria. We admit that Syria is poorer than Israel. But if your father is a poor man, you still love him."