Golan talks pose identity crisis for the Druze: The Arabs of the Heights are divided over a return to Syrian rule, writes Sarah Helm

IN THE northern Golan Heights there is a town with an acute identity crisis. It is called Majdal Shams.

The flat-roofed houses, scattered untidily under the slopes of Mount Hermon, indicate this is an Arab community. The newer pitched- roofed Jewish settlements, nearby are much more tidily arranged.

In the town square sit elderly Druze Arabs in white headdresses and billowing leggings. On closer inspection, however, the Arab identity of Majdal Shams is not so clear. Leaning against a wall are four teenagers, wearing Tel Aviv-style close-cropped hair, jeans and T- shirts. In the Shalom Restaurant Israeli soldiers help themselves to hummus while young women listen to American rock and read a Hebrew newspaper questionnaire: would you say yes or no to giving back the Golan to Syria?

Today in Washington, Syria and Israel re-launch negotiations over the future of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Most of the 13,000 Jewish settlers living on the Golan would answer 'no' to the questionnaire, knowing that 'yes' means they must move back to Israel. For the Golan's 15,000 Druze Arabs, however, the question is harder. Fawzi abu Jabal, 40, says 'yes' - he wants to be out from under the yoke of Israeli occupation, to resume his Syrian nationality again.

Mr abu Jabal has spent 10 years in jail, accused by Israel of spying for Syria. Like all Golan Druze he is forced to carry an Israeli identity card, and has looked on powerless as Israel confiscated his lands.

Taiseen Maray, 33, also wants to be Syrian. A human rights activist, he mans an office called the Arab Association for Development. He accepts that activities such as his would probably be closed down under Syria's autocratic rule. But he says: 'It is Israel that is trying to convince us here that Syria is all bad. It is their policy of divide and rule. They try to brainwash the Druze, telling us we are not really Arabs. We are better than Arabs. Israel has democracy, they say.

'But the democracy in Israel is only for the Jewish. If the situation in Syria is bad I will have a responsibility to make it better. I would fight any attempt to close this office. But I am Syrian. I want my national rights.'

Mr Maray says the majority of the Golan Druze long to be Syrian again. On Saturday they turned out in strength to mourn the death of President Hafez al-Assad's son. Every day, at the famous 'shouting fence', Golan Druze shout through megaphones across the disengagement line to their Druze friends and relatives living in Syria on the other side. And each April the town celebrates Syrian independence, for which many here fought and died.

But Mr Maray also knows that Israel's 'propaganda' has worked on many of the Golan Druze - particularly the young, who have known nothing but Israeli occupation. The Druze have been an easy target for Israeli 'infiltration'. Pro- Syrian underground groups are quickly suppressed.

In 1981 Israeli law was extended to the Golan Heights and the Druze villages were de facto annexed. The Israeli curriculum is taught in Druze schools. The economy has become almost wholly dependent on Israel and the majority of Druze work in Israel. Ghassan Ibrahim, a 21-year-old construction worker, shows no eagerness to resume a Syrian identity. He earns 'good money' in Israel, he says. He would like to be Syrian, he says, but he likes the Israeli discos and bars.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project