Most worrisome to Golan residents when it comes to a future return to Syria are economic issues. While not as rich as the bon vivants of Tel Aviv, the inhabitants have a standard of living vastly surpassing that of their counterparts on the Syrian side of the border. "Life is all about the shekels," one resident of the largest village, Majdal Shams, told me on a recent visit. The locals work hard - whether in agriculture, construction, or services - and have little regard for Syrians who, in many Golanis' minds, "drink tea and sleep all day." In Syria, working hard rarely ever translates into making more money - unless you have government connections.
The students from the Golan - a younger generation that may not have been born during the political turbulence of the 1980s - understand that they are linked to Syria by blood and to Israel by economics; however, they have found that their identity, as time has passed, is tied mainly to their small parcel of land located between Israel and Syria. They feel stuck: a part of both states, yet a part of neither. While most identify themselves as Syrian and take Syria with both its grandeur and its faults, once in Damascus these students can see how the Golan has become a rhetorical tool that has not trickled down into Syrian public consciousness. This and the fact that they can earn more in Israel are why many young Druze, as well as their parents, fear a return to Syria.
Peace between Syria and Israel will allow the people of the Golan Heights to be reunited with their families, a paramount concern on both sides of the border. However, without domestic reforms in Syria that allow people to profit from their hard work, the return of the Golan to Syria will hardly alleviate the concern the Druze have for what might come afterward.
There is little likelihood of course, that economic conditions in Syria will match those in Israel in the foreseeable future. There is also the matter of the uncomfortable status of minorities in Syria, particularly Druze, that is not discusses in this article.