In order to prevent “Israelisation” of the Golan Heights, thousands of Syrians are set to boycott the first municipal elections held by Israel.
Israel’s supreme court passed a ruling to hold the first local elections in the area since 1967 when Israel annexed the territory from Syria.
The West Asian territory of Israel has a past of religious and territorial contentious dating back to Biblical times. Romans ruling over the land suppressed a large number of Jews or Hebrews whose ancestry in the region claims to be traced to the Exodus led by Moses. Jews and Muslims alike were persecuted during the Crusades before a relatively stable existence under Ottoman Empire. At the end of the 19th century, their rule began to disintegrate and the “Holy Land” for Jews, Christians and Muslims entered murky waters over religion-backed territorial rights.
At the end of World War 2, Jews escaping Nazi persecution received support from the Zionist Movement which pressured the British, French and US administration to allow the creation of the state of Israel. The bombing go the King David Hotel by the Jewish Resistance is recorded as the first case of terrorism in the modern era. The primarily Arab Palestinians did not support the UN Partition which would leave many Arabs in Israeli territory and vice-versa. Moreover, the UN partition has been criticised of favouring Israel over control of water resources.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 by David Ben Gurion prompted a series of wars fought by Arab states against Israel. The Arabs were initially on the offensive, but their military resources dried up when the UN declared an arms embargo on the region. In 1949, Israel signed a series of armistice agreements with the Arab nations involved. No peace treaties were signed and in 1967, Israel fought the decisive “Six Day War” against Egypt, Jordan and Syria during which they occupied the Golan Heights from Syria.
As a consequence of the war, a large number of Palestinians either flee or were forced to move out of Israel and settle in refugee camps near Israel’s border. In 1981, Israel passed a contentious Golan Heights Law to assert their sovereignty over the territory, but it was immediately determined ″null and void and without international legal effect″ by United Nations Security Council Resolution 497. Illegal Israeli settlements are increasing. Of the existing land, Jews can cultivate 70% of the land while the remaining is left to the Syrians who have either been displaced or live in dilapidated structures.
Since the onset of the Syrian Civil War the Eastern Golan Heights have become a scene of continuous battles between the Syrian Arab Army and rebel factions of the Syrian opposition, Islamist factions and Jihadist al-Nusra Front and ISIL-affiliated militants.
Occupied Golan's 26,000 Syrian residents, local religious leaders and village elders are calling for a full rejection of the elections scheduled for October, calling it a "red line.”
"The Israelis are using the Arab Spring and what is happening in Syria to re-launch some projects that were put aside for a long time," Wael Tarabieh, a civil society activist and artist from Majdal Shams said. "We call what they are doing the 'Israelization of the Golan Heights', and today it is a process that is moving forward," he said.
According to Tarabieh, "Israelization" of the area involves encouraging the younger generation to reject their Syrian identity, focus on their economic future and accept Israeli citizenship, removing certain Golan-specific taxes, playing up their sectarian identity to encourage assimilation into Israeli society as Israeli Druze. The Golan Heights includes four Druze towns namely Buq’ata, Masadeh, Majdal Shams and Ein Kinya and includes approximately 25,000 Arab citizens.
It is important to note that the ethnoreligious Druze community are a minority in every country where they live. Druze are theologically distinct from Muslims due to their eclectic system of doctrines, revering Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, and considering Moses, Jesus and Mohammed to be their prophets. They have been persecuted in Syria by ISIS in order to “cleanse” the region of non-islamic influence. Although they are permanent residents of Israel, holding laissez-passers issued by the Israeli government and access to the country's social welfare benefits, the Druze are conflicted as joining the Jewish state through government mandated military training has led to ostracism by pro-Syrian Druze.
Statistics show that since 1967 until March 2018, only 6.5% of those in the occupied Golan have applied for Israeli citizenship. Furthermore, 69 percent of those who receive citizenship do so as a result of birth, marriage or because of a change of residence. However, younger generations see greater economic security and opportunity by accepting Israeli citizenship.
Fakr al Din, a local, stressed that a majority of the political forces will boycott the elections, saying, “A democratic right cannot be used to justify the occupation’s policies and validate its existence. However, this will not prevent us from demanding good local services. The area is occupied under international law, and it is the duty of the occupying state to provide basic services to citizens,”
Following the official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the subsequent embassy move, some US officials are now actively working to get Washington to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Moreover, Israel seeks to begin drilling for oil in the region with Afek, an Israeli company and subsidiary of Genie Energy Limited, a New Jersey-based company for which former US Vice President Dick Cheney is an adviser.
The desolate Golan faces a future of broken promises and political division as Syria’s war rages on and US-Israeli ties strengthen. The lives of thousands of Druze who took the courageous step to stay in occupied Golan when a million other Christian, Muslim and Druze were expelled in 1967 are facing greater political duress.
Municipal Elections are expected to provide greater local authority and provision of welfare schemes like education or healthcare.
Our assessment is that the local residents of occupied Golan Heights may be successful in preventing the scheduled elections through mass boycott. We believe that the government of Israel has negated their international obligation to provide residents with the minimum material standard of living which cannot be substituted by the promise of local authority.