Majdal Shams: Unease in the limelight, contempt for Assad

"They have the right to do what they want, but they didn’t do it the right way," says one resident of those who breached Israeli-Syrian border.

Syrian protesters returned over border 311 (R) (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Syrian protesters returned over border 311 (R)
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
The narrow streets of this picturesque mountain community were quiet Sunday night, offering no hint of the dramatic events that rocked the generally sleepy village just hours before.
One Syrian was killed and dozens wounded when IDF troops opened fire after several dozen demonstrators broke through the security fence dividing the Golan Heights and Syria. Those who made it through unscathed proceeded to one of the village’s main squares, chanting nationalist slogans and waving Syrian and Palestinian flags.
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By nightfall, little remained of the celebration other than a Palestinian flag lodged in the cast-iron hand of the square’s Druse warrior statue, and an image of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the arms of one of the warrior’s companions.
The crowd too had thinned, with all of the infiltrators reportedly returned to Syria. A few Israeli and foreign journalists milled about, hoping to catch a final photo or a local’s sound bite before darkness set in.
At the plush Narkiss Cafe at the entrance to the village, a handful of locals drank Goldstar and Heineken while Channel 1 News, largely unwatched, flickered on a large projector screen. The clientele here is educated and successful, and a bit ill at ease at Majdal’s sudden visibility.
“I’m in favor of both Palestinian rights and the defense of Israel,” said a man describing himself as a simple farmer, but whose appearance and bearing suggested greater means.
“They have the right to do what they want, but they didn’t do it the right way. They’re distracting from what’s happening in Deraa and Baniyas,” he said, referring to two flashpoint cities in the two-month-long Syrian uprising.
To his mind, the bloodshed has convinced Syrians they have nothing to lose.
“People come to the conclusion that life and death are the same,” said the man on condition of anonymity for concern over his own safety.
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A female engineer in her 30s took a more positive view of the infiltration.
“The people are now awake; they’re breaking borders,” she said, hinting at the region-wide wave of anti-government protests.
She too had little praise for Assad.
“Ninety percent of the people here are against him,” she said. Asked why residents had held a number of rallies in support of the embattled president since the start of the Syrian unrest, she responded with one word: “Fear.”
“The Assads have been in power too long,” she said, before issuing a caveat. “But the people aren’t ready. Our culture is used to dictators. Muslim culture is a bit anti-democratic. Still, we need new blood.”
The polished farmer said he doesn’t care whether Assad stays or goes, as long as his compatriots – the Golan’s Druse unanimously describe themselves as Syrian – enjoy freedom and dignity.
“I wish Assad a long life. But only if he gives us freedom and democracy. I don’t want to live on my land and be humiliated.”