Druse rally in Majdal Shams for Assad 370.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Syrian President Bashar Assad may be a pariah in most parts of the world, but in
parts of Israel the autocrat still has a diehard following, at least at first
Around 200 people, chanting “the army and the people are with
Assad,” marched around the central square of the Druse village of Majdal Shams
on Monday, in a rally held to mark Syrian Independence Day and to show support
for the Assad regime, whose forces have murdered thousands in a 13- month
Demonstrators of all ages held up posters of Assad, and
at least two of former Egyptian president Gamel Abdul Nasser, and women threw
rice at the crowd and ululated as fiery speeches screamed out of a stack of
speakers on the stage.
Majdal Shams resident Rafik Kalami, 46, said most
people still support Assad because the Golan Heights is an inseparable part of
When asked about the thousands of civilians killed in Syria since
the uprising began, he said that he supports Assad, and is opposed to “all those
from the Gulf States, Turkey and elsewhere who are against Syria and we will
fight them with all of our might.”
Kalami offered an explanation heard
repeatedly at protests and in conversation with the village’s residents since
the uprising began: The Syrian army is not massacring civilians. Rather, gunmen
sent from the Gulf states and elsewhere in the Arab world are murdering
civilians and soldiers in order to frame the Assad regime in the eyes of the
world. Kalami also accused Arabic satellite networks Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya
of twisting the reality, an accusation not leveled at Syrian state TV.
added that the Arab world is colluding with Israel and the US to attack Syria as
a means of harming Iran and further cementing Israel’s standing as the region’s
preeminent power, through supporting “terrorists” streaming into Syria from
Libya and elsewhere.
The show of support for Assad, like many things in
the Syrian Druse villages of the Golan Heights, should be taken with a grain of
salt. Most of the residents of Majdal Shams have relatives in Syria who could
pay the price if they spoke out against the regime, and many err on the side of
supporting Assad on the off chance that the land they live on will eventually return to Syria. Furthermore, in a town of over 10,000, a
protest that drew barely 200 people on a morning when nearly all businesses in
town were closed is arguably not a massive show of support for the Assad
Since the uprising began in Syria, there has been, on occasion,
violence directed at people in town who voiced opposition to Assad. According to
one local resident, who asked not to be named, a group of teenagers in Majdal
Shams beat and hospitalized a 60- year-old father of four in the town Sunday
night, because he was believed to support the Syrian opposition. The teenagers
reportedly waited for him outside of his medical practice.
is the largest Druse village in the Golan Heights, followed by Bukata, Ein
Kuniya and Mas’ada. The Golan Heights Druse refused to take Israeli citizenship
when the country annexed the territory in 1981 and consequently, most are
considered Syrian citizens.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said
“I look at what’s happening in Syria and it’s very difficult, it’s a
genocide. To see innocent people being murdered, it’s very
He added that the Druse of the Golan work and live in Israel,
“which protects our rights and doesn’t kill us like the Syrian regime kills its
When asked what percentage of residents support Assad privately
as well as publicly, he said that the silent majority don’t speak about the
issue and those who are most vocal are those who support Assad.
part of their reason for supporting him is also because he is from the minority
Alawite sect, and the Druse worry that if Assad falls, Alawites and other
minorities in Syria like the Druse will be targeted.
In addition, he said
many fear the rise of Islamists, who he said could single out Druse as being not
He added that “they also worry that Israel will return the
Golan Heights like they did Sinai or Gush Katif and they want to protect
themselves and their families in Syria.”