AFTER 40 YEARS, COULD THE ICE BE MELTING ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS?

By Donald Macintyre February 03, 2007

Najwa Hamsa Amasha, a widow with four grown-up children, cries briefly as she remembers her last visit to the family home in Damascus 21 years ago. “When my mum saw us off, she said, ‘Maybe it’s the last time I will see you’.” Her late mother’s premonition was right. She has never been able to return since, not even for her mother’s funeral. The Syrian capital is just 20 miles to the north-west of this Druze village in the foothills of the great snow-covered, 9,232ft peak of Mt Hermon. But the geopolitics of the Middle East means it might as well be on another planet.

Mrs Amasha, who came here in 1979 after marrying a man from the village, is now permanently cut off from her native city by the border between the territories controlled by the two most mutually hostile neighbouring states in the region. Fringed by lethal minefields, Majd el Shams is the northernmost village of the Golan Heights, the fertile and famously beautiful 1,100sq km plateau which was seized from Syria by Israel in the Six Day War, and which, almost 40 years later, stands in the way of peace between Damascus and Jerusalem.

Mrs Amasha’s children speak perfect Hebrew as well as Arabic. But she has never doubted she is still in Syria. Like more than 90 per cent of her fellow Druze in the Golan, she refused to become an Israeli citizen after Menachem Begin’s government passed a law annexing the Golan in 1981. But brandishing her blue “laisser passer” Israeli travel document – which has the chilly word “undefined” printed in the box marked “nationality” and would preclude her from entering Syria from Jordan even if she could afford to make the journey – she explains that she has made just two trips to Amman in the past two decades to see four of her six siblings.
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