About a forgotten occupation

By occupying the former Syrian Golan Heights in the six day war in 1967,

Israel made around 130.000 Syrians become refugees, forcing

them to leave towards Damascus.

Only the five Druze villages out of around a hundred

existing in that time villages were allowed to stay.

The Druze, being a minority following a secret religion based on Muslim roots are dealing with an identity conflict. The majority still identifies themselves as Syrians,

even though living under Israeli occupation for over 50 years.

In light of recent major political developments: the ninth year of war in Syria, the inauguration of a nation states law in Israel and Donald Trumps recents recognition of the Israeli annexation in 1982, the Druze society’s conflict intensifies, as the vicious cycle between nationalism, religion and war becomes even more prominent.

An insight into a forgotten occupation.

An abandoned Israeli trench at the “Valley of Tears” monument on the immediate border with the UNDOF and Syria protection zone. The monument is meant to commemorate the decisive battle of October 1973 and is one of many to find on the occupied Golan Heights. Syria and Lebanon launched a surprise attack, repulsed by Israel with great success, securing Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.

Portrait of Salman Fakher Al-Deen, identifies himself as Syrian is a human rights activist photographed direct at Syrian border. Prior to his activity he was an activist, Fakher Al Deen had to be imprisoned for almost 5 years under Israeli law sentenced for

espionage against the state of Israel


Overview of Majdal Shams, the largest of the five Druze villages on the Golan Heights. The village is located directly on the border with Syria. The occupation was so rapid, that many relatives had to flee to Damascus and the families were divided by force.

Moneer Awidat, a young Druse, sleeps at the living room at his parents place in Majdal Shams. Moneer was recently a manager of one of the largest clubs in Tel Aviv and he dreams of opening his own club in Majdal Shams. The past has shown that the Tel Aviv lifestyle adopted by the younger generation of Majdal Shams is not very welcome to some of the other. In his last attempt of opening a pub shots have been fired towards his bar, he reports.

The symbol of the Druze is a five-coloured star. Each color symbolizes a principle of faith: green for the universal mind, red for the universal soul, yellow for the true word, blue for the principle of cause, and white for the principle of the effect. The Druze, who officially call themselves the religion of the “Din al-Tawhid” (religion of divine unity), are a 1010 AD. founded religious community that lives mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Israel. The Druze, even though rooted in Islam, consider themselves as non-Muslims as they reject Prophet Muhammad and do not regard the Holy Qur’an as an absolute revelation.

Portrait of Ismael Fahad in Buqata. He is a chemistry teacher in an Israeli kibbutz near Kiriat Shmona. He studied at an Israeli university in Jerusalem, parts of his family are still in Syria and communication is only possible through social media. During his time in Israel, he refuses the identity card and retains his “laissez-passer” like many older Druze. “After many years and many wars, Israel will return the Golan Heights to Syria, and then I will be Syrian again!”

A living room of a private family in Majdal Shams. The poster says “

Mister president Bashar Alasad – President of Arab republic of Syria“.

Former Syrian document

The border between Syria and Israel. The now firmly established border with the security zone has been closed to passenger traffic since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011. Many of the students who belong to the Druze community and studied in Damascus could no longer officially travel between the two countries and had to orientate themselves to the West.

A European tourist climbs on a former Israeli tank left over from one of the remnants of the 1967 Six Day War on the Golan Heights. They are easy to see from the Syrian side of the fence and convey an impression of imminent threat.

A restricted area near an IDF Army base on the Golan Heights. According to the Arab Al-Marsad Human Rights Center in Golan Heights, 2000 landmine fields are still active in the occupied Syrian Golan. Mine fields are located mainly in pasture land, agricultural land, along the ceasefire line and in nature reserves.

Portrait of Saleh Barar in a building under construction in Majdal Shams. Saleh lost the right side of his body because of a landmine when he was 12 years old. Minefields are also threateningly located in the immediate vicinity of the local villages, posing a significant threat to the population.

Fahd Farid helps his mother on the family estate plantation. Fahd is a young artist who has become an outsider in his Druze hometown of Buq’ata ever since he accepted Israeli citizenship. For his family he has betrayed the Druze resistance of the five Syrian villages, which were occupied by Israel in 1967.

Fahd and his friends are having dinner with wine in one of the surrounding plantations. Alcohol is not allowed in the Druze religion, but in Majdal Shams and now also in Buqata liquor stores have been opened by secular Druze.

Sameera Rada-Emran, a municipal candidate at the local elections, in her olive grove at her newly built house. For the first time Israel organized elections in late 2018, which were boycotted by 4 of the 5 villages. Only a few dared to compete as a local Druse from the Golan. Although her election in Ein Qiniyye was also boycotted, her appearance was a sign for her to look ahead and surrender to the truth. “There would be no return to Syria”, she says.

A Druze sideway diner, offering local traditional food, advertises in Hebrew close to Majdal Shams. Even though the main language of the Druze is Arabic, a large number of businesses rely on the ever increasing tourism industry mainly by Israeli visitors on the Golan Heights.

On the banks of the Senir river, which geographically separates the Golan Heights from Israel is not only of political and economic importance. Rather, it has become the meeting place and the lifeline of the inhabitants of Israel, of all backgrounds and faiths.

Almost all the apples in Israel – about 95% – are grown in the hills of Galilee and the Golan. Druze are famous for their traditional apple cultivation. Local Druze farmers suffered dramatically after the export has seized as a consequence of the war in Syria. Soon they began to sell their products on the Israeli market for a very lower price.

Mount Hermon is a tri-border region in the borders of Israel, Syria and Lebanon. In winter, Mount Hermon is open for ski tourism on the Israeli side for up to 50 days and attracts about 300,000 visitors annually.

A family have a picnic in the ruined village mosque in Hushniya, a former Syrian village that got destroyed to the 1967 war. According to the Al-Marsad Center, a research center for human rights based in Majdal Shams, it is presumed that since 1967 a total of 300 Syrian villages have been destroyed.

Especially for cattle breeding, the cowboys of the Golan are an important part. Nofal Mahmod and Shadi Abusaleh here as a new generation of Druze cattle breeders.

Israeli Jews pray during their holiday in the north in the evening at a rest area on the river Senir.

The scars of war are slowly vanishing in the vegetation of the Golan Heights. It is not uncommon to find sources in the former villages that are used as swimming domiciles by tourist from of all over the country.

The scars of war are slowly vanishing in the vegetation of the Golan Heights. It is not uncommon to find sources in the former villages that are used as swimming domiciles by tourist from of all over the country.

The scars of war are slowly vanishing in the vegetation of the Golan Heights. It is not uncommon to find sources in the former villages that are used as swimming domiciles by tourist from of all over the country.