In Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Druze struggle over first ever vote

Druze residents in the Golan Heights set ablaze makeshift ballot papers during a recent protest against the elections in the occupied region. (AFP)
Updated 27 October 2018

In Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Druze struggle over first ever vote

  • Residents of mountainous region to cast their ballots on Tuesday for local councils

MAJDAL SHAMS: An election poster at the entrance to Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights offers a rare reminder that the Druze community is about to vote for the first time in more than 50 years.
As across Israel, the residents of this mountainous region will have the chance to cast their ballots on Tuesday for their local councils.
But for the Druze of the Golan plateau these elections are different — and far more controversial.
Israel seized the strategic region from Syria in 1967, and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Now many fear the push for a vote — the first since Israeli tanks rolled in — represents just another bid by the Jewish state to try to legitimize its control.
Such is the discontent that there has been a campaign to boycott the poll and a string of candidates have pulled out.
Dolan Abu Saleh, 40, is still in the race.
But he is not holding any public meetings or events and has to content himself with meeting a few voters in his offices.
“It is very sensitive,” he said.
Saleh, who is close to the Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recognizes that calls for a boycott will likely keep most people from casting their ballots.
But he insists that for the Druze living in occupied Golan this vote is a good opportunity to make their voices heard.
Before now Saleh served two terms as mayor of Majdal Shams, elected both times by local council members who were themselves appointed by Israel’s Interior Ministry.
“Between being appointed and being elected, there is no doubt that an election is more democratic,” he said.
The majority of the 23,000 Druze in the occupied Golan have never opted to become Israeli citizens, according to Saleh.
But most are “permanent residents” of the Jewish state who are allowed to vote in the election, while only those who got citizenship can run for office.
This vote is taking place after a group of Druze lawyers petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court for the right to hold it so they can elect a mayor who will improve services for their community.
But the influential religious leadership has campaigned against them and, although there is little sign of enthusiasm, the community usually abides by their decisions.
In the village of Buqata, residents shut their front doors or shrug their shoulders when questions are asked about the election.
“We are not taking part,” says an elderly woman dressed traditionally in black with a white veil.
Amal Abu Shahin, 47, points at a Syrian flag painted on the wall behind him as he makes his point.
“We are Syrian,” he says. “This vote is not for us.”
But the war in Syria has changed the relationship between many in the community and their one-time homeland.
Where once Druze from the region dreamt of going to study or work in Syria, now the seven-year conflict has seen more and more youths turn their hopes toward Israel out of pragmatism.
“I’m for the elections, we’re with Israel now, Syria is over!,” says a 24-year-old man, who refuses to give his name.
But despite that he will not cast a ballot.
“There are people who will check who will vote or not,” he explains.
Political activist Sameh Samara says he can’t understand the calls to boycott the vote.
Sitting in his house he insists it could help bring better services and rejects the claim it will bolster Israeli claims of sovereignty.
It is better “to choose the right person, a child of this earth, rather than have someone imposed on us who is not suitable and not from here,” he says.
But from his balcony overlooking Majdal Shams and the disputed frontier 500 meters away, rights activist Wael Tarabieh holds a different opinion.
Across the divide that snakes through the mountains lies Syria, where almost everyone here has relatives still living.
And for him the election is just an attempt to further cement decades of unlawful occupation.
“It is a way to get recognition for the fundamentally illegal presence of Israel,” he says.

‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019

‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 


Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.

'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.