Israeli police violently crack down on Syrian Druze protesting Golan Heights wind farm

Lubna Masarwa & Rayhan Uddin

Middle East Eye  /  June 21, 2023

Authorities fire tear gas and water cannons, as Druze community announce general strike over ‘criminal’ project built on their agricultural land.

Israeli police have violently confronted members of the Syrian Druze community in the occupied Golan Heights, wounding people during a second day of demonstrations against a wind farm being built on their agricultural land. 

Israel’s Energix Renewable Energies plans to build $190m worth of wind turbines in orchards near the Syrian Druze towns of Majdal Shams and Masada in the northern Golan Heights.

On Tuesday, Druze demonstrators blocked roads and burned mattresses and tyres near the project, waving the Druze flag. The Israeli police responded by firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. 

Demonstrations and the police crackdown continued on Wednesday, with several protesters sustaining injuries. That included a young man who was hit in the eye by a rubber-coated metal bullet, local activists told Middle East Eye.

“Today we had two rounds of violent confrontations with the occupation forces who carried out full scale raids with all its equipment,” Sedqi Almaqt, an activist and former prisoner from the Golan, told MEE on Wednesday from protests outside a police station in Masada.

“We in the Golan, the whole community, completely oppose this project and we don’t accept these wind turbines being built on our land.”

According to Ziv Medical Centre in the Israeli city of Safed, three people from Masada were treated there. One of them, in his twenties, suffered bullet wounds, while another sustained head injuries. 

Police used tear gas, which was dropped on demonstrators from a drone, the activists said. They added that authorities closed the area and prevented ambulances from reaching the injured.

A committee representing Syrian Druze communities in the occupied Golan Heights said that it would go on general strike on Wednesday over “arbitrary and criminal actions against us and the right to our land”.

They added that they would gather on Wednesday at the tomb of Al-Ya’afuri, a Druze prophet, before marching towards their threatened lands.

Druze Palestinian citizens of Israel held solidarity actions in the Carmel and Galilee regions on Tuesday, blocking Route 85 and Route 6, two major highways in Israel. 

The 41-turbine project would lead to the confiscation of around 1,000 acres of agricultural land that Syrian Druze families rely on for apple, grape and cherry cultivation. 

Almaqt said that authorities blocked off large areas of the agricultural land, including some owned personally by him.

There are several Israeli and international companies involved in developing wind turbines in the Golan Heights, including Energix, Enlight Renewable Energy and US conglomerate General Electric (GE). 

Illegally occupied land

“They built the first part of the wind turbines… on the lands that have been abandoned in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights,” said Almaqt.

“Now they have moved on to the second part. Building the wind turbines on the lands that are owned and lived on by Syrians under the occupation.”

The Druze activist added that the community “would not go silent or stop” protesting until the project was abandoned. 

Four Syrian villages – Majdal Shams, Buqata, Masada and Ein Qiniyye – were illegally occupied in the 1967 War and later annexed by Israel in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally. 

The Golan Heights is recognized as part of Syria by the United Nations. UN Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from the Golan and other territories it occupied in 1967, including Gaza and the West Bank.

Around 22,000 Syrian Druze live in the four villages, while a similar number of Israelis live in illegal settlements and agricultural outposts in the area. Israel attempted to impose Israeli citizenship on the Syrian Druze community in 1982, but the majority refused to accept it. 

Since the outbreak of war in Syria in 2011, some Syrian Druze have begun to take up Israeli citizenship, but the vast majority still reject it. 

Most of the Druze community have been given “permanent residency” status by the Israeli government, but are not able to participate in elections or travel on an Israeli passport.

In March 2019, the administration of US President Donald Trump unilaterally recognized Israel’s hold on the occupied territory, in a move that received widespread international condemnation. 

As a result, Israel officially named a small settlement of 20 mobile houses after Trump in the Golan Heights, as a gesture of appreciation.

President Joe Biden’s administration told MEE two years ago that it had no plans to reverse Trump’s recognition of the territory. 

MEE has reached out to the State Department for comment on the building of the wind turbines on occupied territory. 

Lubna Masarwa is a journalist and Middle East Eye’s Palestine and Israel bureau chief, based in Jerusalem

Rayhan Uddin is a Middle East Eye journalist based in London