The fifth year of Syria’s brutal civil war has marked a sharp increase in the number of Druze residents on the Golan Heights seeking Israeli citizenship.
In contrast to the only two requests filed in 2010, the number of Golan Druze seeking citizenship rose to 80 so far in 2015, Channel 1 reported on Thursday.
Citing government statistics, the television report said that some 151 Druze have become naturalized Israeli citizens since the bloody war broke out in Syria in 2011.
According to the report, the majority of the applications have been filed by Druze youths, whose connection to Syria has likely been marred by the violence there.
The Druze have openly sworn allegiance to Syria ever since Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War. Many have maintained strong economic, familial and emotional ties with Syria and have remained outwardly loyal to its embattled president, Bashar Assad.
Of the 20,000 Druze residing in the Golan, only a few hundred have accepted Israeli citizenship since it was first offered in 1981.
At the time, Druze leaders declared that anyone who accepted an Israeli passport and cooperated with the “Zionist enemy” would pay the price of religious and social ostracism by exclusion from community life.
Yet, the Druze, members of a mystic sect that broke away from Shiite Islam in the 11th century, are ideologically loyal to the countries in which they reside. Israel’s Druze speak Hebrew and many of the community’s members in the Galilee region serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
The marked increase in applications could be an indication that the community’s 45-year-long loyalty to its Syrian homeland has become fractured by the raging war across the border.
In addition to disillusioned youth, some Golan Heights Druze are embracing Israeli citizenship out of a fear of widespread persecution in Syria if Assad’s regime — a government that protected the minority group — falls, or is forced out of power.
Druze are considered heretical to Sunni Islam, and have been targeted by the radical al-Nusra Front and Islamic State terrorist groups in recent years in Syria and Turkey.
Members of the Druze community confirmed to the television station the phenomenon was on the rise. But, fearing retaliation in their villages, nobody interviewed for the segment would speak on-camera.