UPI: “The Golan Heights: The Camp David Fear in the Occupied Golan Heights”

November 10, 1980

November 10, 1980

Katzrin, Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (UPI) — The thing the Israeli Jews and Syrian Druze of these eery mountains share is fear.

Their reasons are as different as the two peoples themselves but they emanate from the same political fact: Israeli gave the Sinai back to Egypt for the sake of peace.

If Israel could give up that strategic military buffer, the reasoning goes, these majestic summits from which Syria thrice invaded Israel and for years wreaked shellfire havoc on the Galilee settlements below, could be returned to Syria for the same end.

True, an Israeli-Syrian peace is a possibility as remote as the peak of Mt. Hermon viewed from the Sea of Galilee 7,000 feet below.

But so was peace with Egypt only days before President Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem.

The 6,500 Jews who live in the Golan came as a pioneering vanguard against Syrian assault, as impressive tillers of its rich volcanic soil, as immigrants in want of a frontier lifestyle.

Now, they are lobbying feverishly for passage of two bills before the Knesset (Parliament) to annex the Golan to Israel. The vision of Israeli settlers in Yamit in northern Sinai relinquishing their Mediterranean paradise for money is the most immediately motivating nightmare.

The 11,000 Druze Arabs, whose four sleepy villages fell into Israeli hands when captured from Syria in the 1967 war, want as little trouble as possible. Annexation means trouble.

The majority of these members of a secret Islamic sect walk a tightrope in continual Syrian-Israeli political crossfire, afraid of being branded Israeli collaborators, afraid of a heavy-handed Israeli reaction to a too pro-Syrian stance.

In the meantime, they draw Israeli wages and go twice monthly to a stark meeting house for brief reunions, with their relatives on the other side of the hostile border.

“Certainly it’s a bad time now to annex the Golan,” said Shimon Shevess, head of the Golan Regional Council in the development town of Katzrin. “But all the timing is bad timing and it’s going to get worse. We should have done this 12 years ago.”

Shevess is a prime mover in pushing the bills through parliament. They are expected to come to the floor before the end of the year.

Virtually no Israeli question the Golan’s value as a security asset and 750,000 adults signed a petition supporting the annexation.

But even the settlers admit the practical benefits would be marginal and there are political considerations that weigh heavily against the bills.

Israel has come under an international barrage for its settlement policy in the occupied West Bank and passage of law declaring all of Jerusalem, even the disputed Arab eastern sector, its eternal capital. All 13 Jerusalem embassies packed up and moved to Tel Aviv in protest.

Syria already has started the wheels of international protest moving with complaints against the annexation moves lodged at the moving with complaints against the annexation moves lodged at the United Nations and in other international forums.

“So it’s not politically expedient,” said Risa Zohar, 31, who lives in the religious farming settlement of Ramat Magshimim with her husband and two children. �So the next politically expedient step is to forget about us. And the next is to make peace with Syria and give this land back.”

In Majel Chams, the largest Druze village set in a mountainside at the northern tip of the Golan, the villagers less willingly speak their minds.

“We pay too much to answer a political question,” a high school teacher said. “There are more intelligence agents in this village than rocks.”

The more outspoken are high school students, who say without hesitation they are Syrians and want to be under Syrian rule, or men who have been jailed for anti-Israeli activity.

“Ninety percent of us are against annexation,” said Haila Hussein Abu Jabar, 38. “We are Syrians and we want to return to our own country.”

Many cite the ties of language, culture, family and history that bind them to Syria though they readily admit their economic lot has improved substantially under Israeli and they have nothing particular against the Jews.

“Only the Druze who work for the government will take out Israeli citizenship,” said Heil Said Ahmed, 23, a student counselor. The right was recently extended to the Golan Druze.

“I am a Syrian,” he said. “What the Syrian government decides to do about me I can do nothing about. But I am not an Israeli.”

Nir Zalmonov, 27, a kibbutznik for eight years in lush Ein Zivan, is among the few Golan settlers against annexation.

“What is needed is for the subject to be in the headlines but not the law itself,” he said. “It would harm the Golan and Israel internationally.

“But we never think about giving the Golan up. Or how could be build something as beautiful as this?”