A Druze man from the Golan Heights was arrested last month for crossing the border into Syria and allegedly passing along intelligence to the regime of Bashar Assad. The gag order on the case was lifted over the weekend, Maariv reported.
According to the indictment, Majdal Shams resident Rifat Chalabi, 28, sought joined the Syrian military in order to fight rebels who have been battling the government in a bloody civil war since early 2011. After reconnoitering the border fence with another suspect, Muhammad Runia, 24, Chalabi crossed into Syria on September 20.
Chalabi made his way to the Syrian intelligence post at Sasa, on the road to Damascus. A Syrian intelligence officer interrogated him there, and asked Chalabi questions about Israel’s new border fence and about IDF deployment on the Golan.
Unfortunately for Chalabi, the Syrian army refused to take him. He headed back to Israel in November and waited at the border fence until an IDF patrol picked him up. The Israeli soldiers arrested him, and he has been in custody since.
Chalabi’s family maintains his innocence. “There is a mistake here,” his father Hamed said. “My son received a good education.”
His family also said they couldn’t visit their son and have barely had any contact with him.
Unlike their co-religionists from the Carmel and Galilee who serve in the IDF, the Golan’s Druze have historically sworn allegiance to Syria ever since Israel captured the Heights in the 1967 Six Day War. Of the 20,000 Druze residing in the main villages of Majdal Shams, Mas’ade, Buq’ata and Ein Qiniyye, only a few hundred have accepted Israeli citizenship.
In recent months, however, citizenship requests have spiked several hundredfold, according to statistics provided by the Population, Immigration, and Border Administration. Most of the applications have been filed by Druze youth whose connection to Syria is generations distant, and whose perception of it has been marred by the bloody civil war.