Reference : V-P-IL-E-01820
Date : 24/09/2009
Country/Region : ISRAEL; GOLAN
Caption : Kuneitra crossing. About 560 Druze were allowed to cross from the occupied Golan into Syria. Since there are no diplomatic relations between Syria and Israel, the ICRC facilitated the pilgrimage by acting as a neutral intermediary.
Photographer : GUTMAN, Amnon
Confidentiality level : public
Publication restrictions : publication without restrictions
Copyright : ICRC
Description : For the estimated 21,100 Syrian Arabs living in the occupied Golan, travel to Syria proper is severely restricted, if not impossible. The ICRC works as a neutral intermediary with officials in Syria and in Israel to help students and pilgrims cross the demarcation line for educational and religious purposes.

It is a very special event when Syrian Druze from the Golan are able to travel to Syria proper. While Druze communities on both sides of the demarcation line can keep in touch by phone, direct family contact is almost impossible. Many people in the Golan have been separated from their loved ones since 1967. Not being able to maintain social, cultural and family ties has an immense effect on the Syrian Arab population of the occupied Golan.

Once a year, a group of Druze get the chance to set out on a pilgrimage to Syria proper. This also gives them a much appreciated opportunity to see family on the other side of the heavily guarded demarcation line.

Last year was the first time that female pilgrims were allowed to cross into Syria proper. This year, 43 women were on the list, but many more were eagerly waiting for permission from the authorities to participate. All the women allowed to cross were over 70.

In the past, the ICRC ran what was known as the "family visit programme," which allowed separated family members to meet in Syria once a year for two weeks. This programme was suspended in 1992. The ICRC continues to call on both countries to allow it to resume. Until that happens, facilitating this annual religious pilgrimage is a way of making sure that at least a small group of Druze get a chance to re-connect with their homeland and their relatives.

Al Haj Hassan Yousef Bashir (96)
"I have taken part in the pilgrimage several times over the years thanks to the ICRC, who continue to help people here in the Golan. Every time I see Damascus, I cry tears of joy; I'm home. You know, we say 'God comes first and the homeland comes second.' Who would ever consider giving up their country?
Original material : digital
Resolution : 4368x2912
Orientation : landscape
Colour/B&W : colour