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UNHRC Invents Some Human Rights Abuses, Ignores Real Ones

druze village unhrc middle east politics united nations syria human rights israelThe United Nations Human Rights Council addressed the subject of the dire state of the human rights of Syrian citizens this week. The discussion did not, however, relate to the Syrians being shot at , murdered or imprisoned by their own regime in the town of Dara’a in southern Syria even whilst the council session took place. The resolution – proposed by Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela – related solely to the human rights of “Syrian citizens” of the Golan Heights.

Whilst we are by now regrettably familiar with the UNHRC’s practice of sidestepping the issue of the human rights of millions of people who live under some of the oppressive regimes which also hold seats in that institution,  here we have an instance in which what should be an internationally respected body is fabricating supposed abuses for purely political ends. Sadly, some nations on the council which should know better – including the UK, France and Belgium - chose to abstain from the vote rather than opposing it. Only the US voted against the resolution.  

In the wording of the resolution the Human Rights Council declared itself to be:

“Deeply concerned at the suffering of the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan due to the systematic and continuous violation of their fundamental and human rights by Israel since the Israeli military occupation of 1967.”

This statement of course refers to the 20,000 or so Druze citizens of the four villages in the north of the Golan; Ein Kinya, Majdel Shams, Bukata and Massade, as well as around 2,000 Alawite citizens of Ghajar.  In December 1981, with Israel’s enactment of the Golan Heights Law, all these people were offered Israeli citizenship. The residents of Ghajar took up the offer en masse whilst in the Druze villages, some 10% of the residents opted to take Israeli citizenship. 

Those who chose not to accept Israeli citizenship have the status of residents, and whilst having rejected the offer of an Israeli passport (they travel on a Laissez Passer document) or the right to vote in national Israeli elections, they otherwise have rights equal to those of other Israeli citizens including education, healthcare and social services. They also elect and run their own local councils and enjoy freedom of expression and assembly.

 In recent years Israel has helped the Druze of the Golan to export some of their agricultural produce to Syria: the only trade which exists between the two countries which are technically at war. Druze elders are also allowed to visit their religious sites in Syria on holy days: they are the only residents of Israel who can travel between the two countries.  Whilst the Druze of the Golan are entitled to study in Israeli universities just like all other residents, and often do, they also received financial aid from Syria for many years and a high proportion studied abroad, making them one of the better educated groups within Israel.   

The question of why the majority of the Druze in the north of the Golan decline to adopt Israeli citizenship is not difficult to understand. They are acutely aware of the fact that one day they may find themselves once more under Syrian rule should a peace agreement be signed between the two countries and a territorial exchange take place. To put it quite simply, whilst they can be sure that they will not suffer any reprisals on the part Israel and have very little to lose by not taking up Israeli citizenship, they have much to fear from the Syrian regime if they should suddenly find themselves Israeli citizens in Syria.

 “The Druze want to stay in Israel,” says M. “They fear Syria. Here it’s a democracy, you can say what you want. The Syrians can settle accounts with us. All in all, the percentage of people who are pro-Syrian and want the Golan Heights to be Syrian is small, but unfortunately they influence the majority.”

Discussions with the Golan Druze on this subject can be perplexing. Strangers will often hear the ‘official’ line according to which they are Syrian citizens who wish to return to Syrian rule, and indeed there are some who do. The more intimate kind of conversation which is a result of years of familiarity and even friendship reveals a different reality. Like several of the Alawites in Ghajar, some of the many successful Golan Druze businessmen will quietly reveal that they have already bought property in Israel, or are considering doing so, in preparation for the possibility that the Golan may be transferred to Syrian rule.

These people know very well under which country’s rule their human rights are better guaranteed. Faced with the prospect of the northern half their village being transferred to Lebanon due to the demands of UN map-makers who, according to the residents, did not even visit the village, the people of Ghajar have conducted a decade-long campaign to remain Israeli citizens and yet the UN refuses to hear their voice.

 Interestingly, some of the same Western nations which recently sought to protect Libyan citizens from their own despotic ruler by taking military action are remarkably low key about the Syrian hereditary dictator resorting to similar tactics. Not that the events in Dara’a and other cities should have come as much of a surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with the human rights record of the Syrian regime.

 The decision by countries such as France and the UK to abstain on this latest UNHRC travesty of a resolution puts them shamefully in the category of those who would condone putting a group of people in the position of having their human rights diminished by transferring them to a regime well known for its oppression and cruelty.

Even more shamefully, their collaboration with the proposers of this resolution – many of them  human rights abusing regimes in their own right – in fabricating non-sense reports of human rights abuses in order to pursue political ends cheapens the language of human rights upon which they rely for justification of their own actions in other parts of the world.

The UNHRC also stated in this resolution that it “[d]ecides to continue the consideration of the human rights violations in the occupied Syrian Golan at its next main session”. Bearing in mind that despite current events, Syria is one of the countries which has been proposed as a candidate for the seat on the Human Rights Council previously held by Libya, closer observation of this farce will no doubt be imperative in the near future.   

Hadar Sela is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist living in the Middle East

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