In the shadow of the raging Syrian civil war, the 20,000 Druze who live in the Golan Heights are finally admitting publicly that they prefer life under Israeli sovereignty.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, and annexed the strategic plateau in 1981. All during that time, the Golan Druze leaned more anti-Israel for fear they would one day find themselves again under Syrian sovereignty.
At numerous points, the West tried to broker peace talks that would see Israel surrender the Golan to Syria in return for peace. The precedent was set with Egypt and the Sinai, and the Druze feared their fate would be similar. Had they dared to openly align with Israel during those years, they knew the Assad regime would respond harshly if it ever regained the Golan.
Now, after 32 years under Israeli rule, the Druze are taking a more pro-Israel stance, even on camera.
Harel Locker, a senior Israeli government official, was recently invited by prominent Druze leaders to visit the main Golan Druze town of Majdal Shams. Among those welcoming the Israeli was local spiritual leader Sheikh Taher Abu Salah.
The Druze asked Israel to allow entry to those of their family members who had, for various reasons, moved back to Syria over the past few decades. They realize now that Israel is the only place they and their families can be truly safe and free to live their lives without persecution.
"The last visit of an Israeli politician to a Druze village in the Golan was in the mid-80s," an Druze leader told Israeli radio. "The politician was Shimon Peres, and he was driven out of town by people hurling eggs. Locker's visit marks a dramatic turnaround."
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