Damascus slams Israel’s ‘Judaization plans & illegal elections’ in occupied Golan Heights
Members of the Druze community residing under Israeli occupation for over half a century took to the streets on Tuesday in an effort to interfere in the municipal elections that Tel Aviv had introduced for the first time in the Golan Heights as part of the nationwide election process.
Carrying Syrian and Druze rainbow flags, hundreds of members of the Muslim minority sect assembled outside the gates of polling stations, trying to prevent other Druze community members from voting. “The Golan’s identity is Arab and Syrian,” they chanted. Amid sporadic clashes with police, religious elders wearing their distinctive white and red caps, symbolizing religious piety, urged the youth not to confront the security forces, who in some instances used tear gas against protesters.
The Israeli decision to introduce elections to the local councils in the territory, which it has held since 1967, divided the Druze community ahead of Tuesday's vote. A large number of the Druze population see themselves as Syrian. The majority of some 22,000 Druze in the occupied Golan heights never opted to become Israeli nationals, despite being offered citizenship.
While the Israeli decision to allow the Arabic-speaking minority to vote came after Druze lawyers petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court for the right to hold elections, many in the community called on others to boycott it. Druze leaders even warned the candidates that they will be excluded from the community if they take part in the election.
“Candidates and those who come to vote will have a religious and social prohibition put upon them,”said Sheikh Khamis Khanjar. “What bigger punishment is there than this?”
The threat of disgrace seemed to work as at least nine candidates pulled out ahead of the vote. The result of the boycott campaign was evident on Tuesday after elections were only held in two instead of four Druze villages. Two villages simply did not have any candidates to vote for. Only a few hundred voted in the other two.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria following the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1981, Israel annexed the fertile water-rich strategic land in a move not recognized by the international community. Damascus, which still claims sovereignty over the territory, slammed the “illegal elections,” noting that Syria “fully supports” the Druze resistance to Israeli occupation. The Syrian Foreign Ministry accused Tel Aviv of trying to legitimize their grab of the Golan, calling Tuesday's vote a "Judaization" attempt on the Druze by Israel.
“Syria reiterates that the occupied Golan Heights is an integral part of its soil, and it will work to return the terrain to the motherland sooner or later by all possible means,” the Ministry said in two letters, addressed to the UN chief and the UN Security Council president.
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