The Israel-Hamas Conflict: A Contrarian Syrian Druze Perspective
Most readers of this newsletter will probably at this stage be keeping a close eye on the latest round of conflict between Israel and Hamas, precipitated by Hamas’ unprecedented attack on localities in southern Israel that killed more than 1300 people, including many civilians. In response, Israel has carried out intense airstrikes on Gaza and is almost certainly going to launch a ground incursion, which either aims to punish Hamas in such a way that it cannot launch attacks on Israel for a very long time (and certainly not ever again at the scale witnessed recently) or aims to dismantle the organisation in its entirety within Gaza. It is not wholly clear which aim will be pursued, or what plan Israel has for the aftermath.
In any event, Israel’s response to Hamas has triggered widespread pourings of outrage in the Arab world, whether in the form of social media posts or demonstrations on the ground. These expressions of sentiments against Israel should be taken as reflecting the wider ‘Arab street’ opinion on the conflict, and should serve as a reminder that the Palestinian cause retains a deep popular resonance in the Arab world. It is not only inaccurate, but also unhelpful to suppose that wider Arab sympathy with the Palestinians and opposition to Israel are merely a creation of Iran and Iranian-backed armed groups.
Yet support for the Palestinians is not necessarily universal in the Arab world. In the following interview, an individual called Mazen (his first name, though I have omitted his full name for his own security), who resides in the primarily Druze province of al-Suwayda’ in southern Syria and is a member of a local faction there opposed to the Syrian government, expresses an opinion going against popular Arab consensus. The Druze minority, it will be recalled, is primarily spread across Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. While Druze in Israel have generally been known to be loyal to the Israeli state, Druze in Syria follow the general wider Arab consensus in opposition to Israel, even as they maintain ties with their brethren in Israel.
To be clear, I do not highlight this perspective because I believe it represents a secret Druze majority in Syria (let alone a secret Arab majority in general) who wish for normalisation with Israel, or because I believe it is a perspective that necessarily presents a policy suggestion. I rather simply highlight it because I found it intriguing, especially for someone inside Syria (where I otherwise find very strong support for the Palestinians spanning political divides), and thus I feel obliged to report it. Also, Mazen himself made clear to me his desire that I should convey his words. As he put it: “I have no problem with the words I have spoken. I speak my words with a high voice. I have no fear of anything: it is the voice of truth.”
Below is the interview conducted today. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
In the ongoing protests in al-Suwayda’ against the government, some protestors have raised placards denouncing Israel, as can be seen in this photo from a recent demonstration in the al-Suwayda’ town of Salkhad.
Q: Do you consider what Hamas did to be legitimate resistance or criminal acts?
A: An Iranian plan, with support from Hezbollah.
Q: So in your view what Hamas did does not serve the Palestinian cause?
A: No brother. Hamas is a movement that has distorted the so-called Palestinian cause. It should also be noted that the land [of Israel] belongs to Solomon the son of David.
Q: Yes, so in your view Israel is a state that has the right to exist?
Q: What is the best solution for the people of Gaza?
A: The solution is for them to recognise the state of Israel and accept Israeli identity, because they have no choice. Iran won’t benefit for them, and nothing will remain of Gaza except ashes. I personally am against the Palestinians because they transgressed upon our land and honour in the Da‘esh [Islamic State] attacks on al-Suwayda’ province [in 2018]. All of those people were from the Palestinian al-Yarmouk camp [in Damascus] and they killed 250 martyrs from among us, and they carried out purely Da‘eshi terrorist operations by blowing themselves up inside the city [of al-Suwayda’]. They [the Palestinians] represent terrorism.
Q: Yes. Can it be said that these stances represent the stances of most of the Monotheists [Druze] in al-Suwayda’? Because I have seen that some compare the regime with Israel in the demonstrations.
A: Our position is one by the help of God Almighty, but some stand with Palestine, and they themselves are mercenaries for Iran and Hezbollah in southern Syria, and they are working to complete the Shi‘i plan that aims to destroy the noble Ka‘ba [the centre of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca].
Q: In short the solution is for the Palestinians to accept Israel and for them to join the state of Israel as citizens?
A: Yes, this is the solution.
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