The Times of Israel has published a report describing the “quiet shift” of the people of the occupied Syrian Golan towards “the offer of obtaining Israeli citizenship.”
“After years of avoiding offers, a record number of Druze in the Golan are quietly moving towards becoming Israelis,” said the report, published on Saturday. “They are motivated not by neo-Zionism, but out of comfort and growing distance from Damascus.”
In the four decades since Israel occupied the Syrian Golan Heights, Druze residents of the volcanic plateau have enthusiastically preserved their Syrian identities and lifestyles. These ties have remained strong in light of the improvement of the Druze community’s living standards and the failure of Israel’s successive temptations to break these ties.
However, the newspaper adds: “There has been a quiet shift in recent years. After years of near-total rejection of offers of Israeli citizenship, the number of Druze in the Golan applying to become Israeli citizens has begun to rise.”
Official figures published by the newspaper show that over the past five years, the number of citizenship applications submitted by Druze Golan Heights residents has gradually jumped from 75 in 2017 to 239 in 2021.
The 2022 figure is likely to be even higher, with the first half of the year alone seeing 206 applications submitted.
What’s behind the change?
Israel captured the Syrian Golan Heights in the 1967 war.
After this, Israel transferred settlers to the area before formally announcing the area’s annexation in 1981. This step did not receive international recognition.
On the reasons for the “quiet shift” towards Israeli citizenship, The Times of Israel considered that it appeared to be “linked to the Syrian civil war, which made ties with Damascus more strained and changed local attitudes towards the regime in Damascus.”
Generational shifts may also play a role, as many Golan Druze have reached adulthood today. These younger generations are “tied to Syria only through stories,” according to the Israeli newspaper.
Israel has allowed the Druze to apply for citizenship since the early 1980s, shortly after the occupation of the Golan Heights. Until recently, however, only a few people accepted the offer.
According to data from the Population and Immigration Authority, only four Druze obtained Israeli citizenship during 2010.
Over the next three years, the naturalization rate ranged from 14 to 18 per year.
But as the events that followed the Syrian revolution continued in 2011 — and Assad began to lose control of large swathes of Syria — the numbers began to rise slowly, reaching a record 139 requests in 2019.
The newspaper quoted Yousri Hazran, a historian and lecturer at Shalem College in Jerusalem, saying that “within 20 years, half of the Druze population of the Golan Heights will receive Israeli citizenship.”
“The Syrian civil war has shattered the idea of the Syrian nation, cutting many links between the Golan Druze and Damascus, including cross-border trade and university attendance,” he added.
“There are almost no Druze students traveling to Syria to study, despite their considerable incentives, such as automatic admission to some majors without taking an entrance exam and exemption from tuition fees,” Herzan noted.
“The collapse of the Syrian state and the destruction there forced the Golan Druze to choose the rational option: integration into Israeli society. It is a practical integration. I can summarize this in four words: recognition “of reality, not Zionism.”
Late last year, Israeli media reported that a “huge plan” aimed at doubling the number of settlers in the occupied Syrian Golan had been approved, with a view to turning the area into a “technology hub.”
The plan, according to the Israel Hayom newspaper, was led at the time by former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
It aims to transform the Golan into a “capital of renewable energy technology,” through investments worth billions of Israeli shekels.
All ministries of the Israeli Government — foremost among them the Ministries of Construction, Housing, Interior, Transport, Tourism, Economy and Agriculture, as well as the Israel Land Directorate — will participate in the plan’s implementation.
According to reported information, Israel will allocate 576 million shekels for education and housing issues, including an additional 3,000 settlement housing units in the coming five years.
This step will come on top of building 4,000 houses in the existing Golan settlements, with the aim of boosting the number of settlers in the Golan by 23,000 people in the existing settlements. The plan also contemplates the construction of two additional new settlements, Asif and Matar, each with 2,000 housing units.
The plan also aims to transform the occupied Syrian Golan Heights into a hub for climate technology and renewable energy, by expanding the investments of Impact and linking the border settlement of Qiryat Shemona with the rest of the Golan settlements.
The plan will also develop sectors such as energy, agriculture, hospitality, agro-industries, and commercial factories. The initiative will be funded through hundreds of millions of shekels in private sector investment. The project will develop farms for energy production and storage by allocating 6,000 dunams of land.
The Fourth Committee of the United Nations recently adopted the resolution on the occupied Syrian Golan. A total of 144 States voted in favour of the resolution, while two states — Israel and the United States — objected to it. A further 22 states abstained from voting.
In the resolution, the United Nations requested that Israel comply with the resolutions on the Golan, in particular Security Council resolution 497 (1981). The resolution states that Israel’s imposition of Israeli laws, jurisdiction, and administration on the Syrian Golan is null and void and has no international legal effect.
The resolution also demanded that Israel cease changing the urban character, demographic composition, institutional structure, and legal status of the Golan. In particular, the resolution required that Israel desist from establishing settlements in the area.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.