The Status of residents of the Golan Heights
Sarah: After reading this opinion piece and as many of the comments as I could tolerate, I realized that I don’t have all the facts about how Israel governs. For example, I learned on our last trip to Israel that people in the Golan do not have citizenship so that Syria won’t kill them if the land is dealt back to Syria in a peace agreement. I don’t know, however, if the people in the Golan have equal voting rights and government benefits as non-citizens. If so, how does that work without citizenship papers?
Rabbi Emanuel: Well, Sarah, as you have mentioned in your email, “It’s Complicated” …
Background: Israel took control over Ramat HaGolan (the Heights of Golan) in June 1967, during the “Six Day War” that threatened the mere existence of Israel. Substantiating this statement seems to be out of scope of this conversation. In 1973, the Syrians succeeded recapturing major portions of the Golan during the Yom Kippur War. That war ended the with The Agreement on Disengagement Between Israel and Syria (May 1974). Israel regaining its hold over basically the same territory. On December 1981, the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) legislated a law, stating that “The Law, jurisdiction and administration of the State will take effect in Ramat HaGolan”
Demography: According to the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel, in 2017 there were 37 towns of varying sizes in the Golan. 32 of them Are Jewish, and 5 are non-Jewish, dominantly Druze. However, in terms of population the situation is the opposite. About 22,500 of the residents in the Golan are Jews, and 25,600 are non-Jews.
Legal Status: After the legislation of the said law, all residents of the Golan Heights were offered full Israeli citizenship. For reasons I’ll explain, most of the Druze elected not to have Israeli citizenship, and are Permanent Residents of Israel. A permanent Resident is eligible to all the rights that a citizen has, except:
- Instead of a Passport, the States provides an official Travel Document.
- Cannot vote to the Knesset, not be elected to become a Member of the Knesset.
- Cannot be elected to a Municipal Council. However, one can vote in the elections for the Municipal Council.
- There are certain official positions (e.g., ministers, judges…) that the law limits to citizens only.
These limitations are very similar to those in effect on Green Card Holders here in the US. Without going into deep research, I would guess that every sovereign county have their own laws on the subject matter.
Opposing currents regarding Accepting full Israeli citizenship by the Druze. The Druze are very different from the western culture. They adhere to a different religion, not Muslim, nor Christian or Jewish. The rituals and tenets of the Druze religion are quite secretive. They consider themselves as as tribe, religion, family and are very loyal to the regime of the land they reside in. In that sense, the Druze that are living within the State of Israel are extremely loyal to the State, serve in the army, and so on. They are also very loyal to their family and tribe, that may reside in Lebanon or Syria. This conflict of loyalties can create quite a tension, to say the least.
The Druze residents of the Golan Heights, were – and still consider themselves – Syrians. They were loyal to the Syrian regime. That is the primary reason why they are reluctant to accept the Israeli ID. They fear to risk to their lives, as Israeli Citizens (of their own choice) under Syrian sovereignty. That fear was amplified during times in which Israel was negotiating with Syria about peace agreements (late 1990 and on around 2010) increased that concern.
On the other hand, the civil war in Syria, shook some of that loyalty. The cruelty of the Assad Regime – also against the Druze residing in Syria, increased drastically the number of applications to Israeli citizenship among the Golan Druze residents.
There is also the tension between the elders and sages and the youth. The elders keep to tradition and to “old time loyalties”, while the youth want to enjoy the self-government of their municipal life, vote and be elected.
I am almost certain, though, that none of the Druze in the Golan Heights is feeling deprived and discriminated on a personal basis, for not being a citizen.
Complicated, isn’t it?
More Questions about Residency versus Citizenship.
Sarah: Hi Emanuel,
This is really great! The Green Card comparison was a very helpful analogy. With every answer comes more questions, though. I guess that is a good sign that I’m learning enough to know more about what I don’t know. Might I ask a few follow up questions to make sure I understand what permanent residence means? I think part of my questions here are in response to the anti-Israel argument that Palestinians are “second class citizens” and do not have the same rights as Israeli Jews and cannot vote to Israeli governing institutes.
I still don’t quite understand voting for citizens with permanent residence. Do permanent residents have the same status as citizens in other governmental realms, like health care, social services, etc.?
I know that Israel offered the Druze in the Golan citizenship versus permanent residence. Are others in Israel given the same offer? As in, are there Israeli Arabs (Palestinians?) with permanent residence?
Emanuel: Permanent residents can vote only for elected members of the local municipality that they reside within its jurisdiction. These are the Major (or Head of the Council) and the Council Members. The Major and Council Members must be Citizens (holders of Israeli ID, in contrast to holding a Permanent Resident Card). They cannot vote for the Parliament, the Knesset. A Member of the Knesset must be an Israeli Citizen.
Other than these restrictions, Permanent Residents are absolutely equal in both rights and duties vis-à-vis the State. Education, Health Insurance, Social Security benefits, Standing Rights in front of the Judicial System – you name it. And of course, the duty to pay taxes to the State, Social Security and to the municipality they reside in.
Receiving Permanent Residence, and Citizenship are according to the Law. Jews (without going into the definition of who is a Jew – a whole different subject) are eligible to receive Israeli Citizenship because of Being a Jew. The law stipulates the conditions that pertain to Non-Jewish Citizenship.
A Permanent Resident can apply and receive Citizenship upon compliance with a few requirements (mostly length of residence, Israel being the center of life, and some more). This is regardless of one’s origin, religion, race or gender. A close friend of mine, a Jew that lives on Israel for many decades elected to be a Permanent Resident and not a Citizen. Most Arab-Israelis who live within the legal jurisdiction of the State of Israel are Citizens. They have full rights and obligations as the Jewish Citizens, no difference whatsoever.
Sarah, you are questioning about “Israeli-Arabs (Palestinians)?”. There is a very clear and distinct difference between an Israeli-Arab and a Palestinian from the legal point of view. An Israeli-Arab is either a resident or a citizen of the State of Israel. One may feel and identify oneself as a member of the Palestinian People, but legally one is not. I’d say that a Palestinian is a person who is a non-Jew and does not reside within the legal jurisdiction of the State of Israel.
Today, this basically pertains only to those who reside in the West Bank and affiliated with the Palestinian Authority. Hence, Palestinians are not Citizens of Israel, nor they are Permanent Residents of Israel. Therefore, it is impossible to define them as “Second Class Citizens of Israel”. And yet, the doors of the Israeli Judicial System, all the way to the Supreme Court, are open for them.
Sarah: You indicate that many Druze serve in the IDF. Are permanent residents excluded from mandatory military service?
Emanuel: No, on the contrary. The Israeli Law requires both Israeli Citizens AND Permanent Residents to report to the IDF Recruiting Unit at a certain age. The IDF will determine if and when to recruit that individual, based on the personal profile and the IDF’s operational needs.