The Syrian Druze Response to Protests in the Golan: Interview
Recently, the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights witnessed protests by Druze locals- the main remaining original inhabitants of the area following Israel’s seizure of the Golan Heights in 1967 CE. The protests focused on opposition to Israeli plans to build more wind turbines in the Golan. In response to the protests and perceived Israeli transgression against their co-religionists, Druze communities in Syria engaged in demonstrations of solidarity and apparent shows of force.
Among those participating in the demonstrations was Harakat Rijal al-Karama (“Men of Dignity Movement”), a third-way faction based in the primarily Druze province of al-Suwayda’. It is worth highlighting Harakat Rijal al-Karama in this context because the Israeli analyst Ehud Yaari recently wrote an article in which he talked about Israel’s supposed failures in Syria, including alleged Israeli outreach to the Druze in Syria. Specifically he writes:
"After intensive discussions with Druze dignitaries, including “The Men of Dignity,” an anti-Assad group, the Israelis concluded that the Druze were not prepared to completely sever ties with the Assad regime. They were hoping to acquire arms and financial aid from Israel but not to start a full insurgency.
One reason for this conclusion was the traditional tension between the Druze and the Hauranis of Dara’a, southern Syrian Sunnis who formed the backbone of the rebel movement. A Druze request to secure a safe path to Jordan through the Hauran was a high-risk adventure with slim chance of sustained success."
This portrayal of Israeli outreach to Harakat Rijal al-Karama does not concord with my understanding of the movement. To begin with, it is not strictly accurate to characterise the group as “anti-Assad” but rather third-way in accordance with the position of its original founder (Abu Fahd Wahid al-Bal‘ous): neither loyalist nor oppositionist, but patriotic and humanitarian Arab nationalists. It is because of this adherence to the third-way that since the assassination of Abu Fahd in 2015 Suwayda’ has seen the rise of other factions more clearly opposed to the Syrian government, such as Quwat Shaykh al-Karama.
Second, Harakat Rijal al-Karama has made clear from the outset that it considers Israel to be an enemy, though it has been open to receiving aid from Druze based within Israeli-controlled lands (whether Israel proper- known as Palestine of 1948- or the occupied Golan Heights). There is nothing unusual about ties between Druze spanning the borders, but that is very different from the supposed Israeli state outreach to Harakat Rijal al-Karama and the latter’s alleged demand of money and weapons from Israel.
If Israeli officials and/or analysts thought they could somehow use the Druze in Syria to realise Israeli interests in Syria, this was nothing short of delusional. The anti-Israel sentiment among many if not most Druze in Syria- because of grievances surrounding the occupation of the Golan and opposition to the state’s original creation etc.- is very real.
Below is an interview conducted on 22 June 2023 with Abu Mansur, a member of Bayraq Sayf al-Tawhid, one of the constituents of Harakat Rijal al-Karama, regarding the recent Golan demonstrations and the group’s position on them and Israel.