Sara Hussein, AFP
Last updated: 30 August, 2017

In Golan, mixed feelings on armistice line protests

In Majdal Shams, a quiet hilltown in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, residents voiced mixed feelings as demonstrators from Syria charged towards the ceasefire line on Sunday.

Some found it inspiring to see hundreds of protesters braving Israeli gunfire to try and breach the armistice fence.

But others, wary of the economic downturn the Druze town has experienced since a similar protest last month, worried that new demonstrations would only drive away more visitors and end in bloodshed without achieving anything.

Majdal Shams resident Selim Ibrahim said he had watched with pride as the demonstrators scrambled down a hill on the Syrian side and raced towards a razor wire barrier to begin cutting through it.

“These people are full of Arab nationalism, they’re proud and they feel they have no rights,” he told AFP, as he sat atop an unfinished building watching for any sign of renewed protests on the Syrian side.

There was little to see on Monday afternoon and almost no evidence of the chaos a day earlier, when Israeli troops opened fire on the demonstrators as they tore through no-man’s land towards the border fence.

Syrian state media said 23 people were killed, but the figure was disputed by the Israeli military which said it was aware of only 10 dead — all of them killed by landmines accidentally detonated by protesters near Quneitra, several kilometres (a few miles) further south.

The protests, organised to coincide with the 44th anniversary of the Six Day War in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, were intended as a repeat of the events of May 15.

Those demonstrations, in which thousands massed on Israel’s northern borders to mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation, known in Arabic as the “Nakba” or “catastrophe,” saw hundreds break through from Syria into Majdal Shams, where they received a warm welcome from many residents.

Ibrahim was among them, and was delighted to see protesters try the same tactic again on Sunday, despite the bloody toll.

“It might not change anything now but it does affect public opinion abroad and it also makes the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza know that they are with them, they are suffering too,” he told AFP.

But other residents disagreed, although many expressed reluctance to do so publicly.

Siham, who declined to give her family name, shook her head as she talked about the protests as she served up food from a roadside stall on the outskirts of Majdal Shams.

“The truth is that the economic situation here is bad,” she said, rolling out pancake dough and keeping an eye out for customers.

“There are no tourists, and that’s why the place is so quiet, so many shops are closed. It’s not just a problem for me, it’s a problem for the whole area.”

At the Narjis Hotel, which has sweeping views across to Syria, the management said most of their bookings this month had been cancelled with customers citing “the security situation.”

Siham said she was devastated to see young people shot and injured, and questioned what the protests could achieve.

“If there was some result that the protests produced, war or peace — something — then I could support it, but this doesn’t do anything,” she said.

“This isn’t the way to do it, it doesn’t help anything. It’s not the solution.”

Salma Jamal, a 47-year-old housewife, said she was horrified by the sight of demonstrators being shot, but that she felt a duty to welcome them if they arrived in Majdal Shams.

“What can I say, it’s their right, it’s their land, it’s their pride. I’m with them, I’m from them,” she said.

“I know it’s dangerous, but I won’t stop them, I welcome them.”

Israel has warned it will not allow protesters to breach the ceasefire line as they did on May 15, pledging to take any action necessary to deter them.

But Ibrahim said he was convinced that demonstrators would stage new protests and keep on trying to reach the Golan Heights.

“What happened yesterday was small compared to what happened on May 15. But this definitely isn’t the end,” he said. “They will keep coming.”