Staying Put in the Golan

October 31, 2007
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This summer, I spoke with members of three different communities living on the Golan: Jewish, Druze, and Alawite. Despite the differences in their religious and ethnic backgrounds, each person I talked with said generally the same thing: they simply wish to live in peace, and if another war comes, they are staying in their homes on the Golan.

The Jewish People

There’s some dispute as to exactly where the Alawites of Raghar fall: in the realm of Syria, Lebanon, or Israel. Balal Hatib, a spokesman for the mayor of Raghar, insists that the town was once part of Syria, even claiming that there are pre-1967 tax records of money paid to Syria on the homes in the town at the time. He and several residents have circulated numerous petitions and statements insisting that Raghar was once part of Syria. Therefore, Hatib says, their fate is tied to the Golan, and the town has “no connection to Lebanon whatsoever.”

However, when the United Nations demarcated the international border between Israel and Lebanon in 2000, the townspeople were horrified to find Raghar split in two. Unlike the Druze of the Golan, the 2,100 Alawites living in Raghar are all Israeli citizens, even those like Hatib now living on the Lebanese side of the town. They are renowned for being loyal citizens who pay their taxes just like everyone else, but they don’t receive the same services that other towns do in Israel. In fact, the entire town is considered a closed military zone and entry is forbidden to all but residents.

Despite their hardships—including drug smuggling and infiltration by Hizbulah agents—Hatib said that Raghar is their home and that they will stay there. He said, “This town has been here a long time. There were the Ottomans, then the French, then the Syrians, now the Israelis.” Hatib said that no matter who comes next, the townspeople would stay in their homes because that’s all they have. He said that they just want to live in peace, whether under Israeli rule or under someone else.

The Alawites are a sub-sect of Shiite Islam, but they are very tolerant of other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. Hatib said that it’s not unusual for Alawites to wear a Star of David or a cross or even to have pictures of Jesus, Moses, or other biblical figures in their homes. Syrian President Bashar Assad is of Alawite descent, which could explain why the Alawites of Raghar are treated differently in Syrian eyes from the Druze in the Golan. Hatib said that many of the town’s youth are going to school in Syria, and that Syria has told them that when the town is returned to Syrian rule, their Israeli papers can simply be torn up.

Come what may, war or no war, it appears that the majority of the Jewish, Druze, and Alawite populations will all remain in their homes on the Golan Heights. Unlike in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) or Gaza, where tensions between groups run high, the residents of the Golan Heights live in peace with each other and only wish to go on living in peace in the future.

By Will King, Correspondent, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

Photo Credit: www.israelimages.com/Itski Marom

Photo Credit: www.israelimages.com/Duby Tal/Albatros

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