Sitting cross-legged on floor cushions around a smoking kerosene heater, their heads wrapped in linen-covered fezzes and their shoulders draped with heavy sheepskin robes, about 20 Druze elders and religious leaders were being uncustomarily deferential to the Western-attired young Druze militants who barged into a meeting the elders were holding with a foreign visitor.
Abdullah Keish, who had been appointed moderator of the discussion on the effects of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, raised his hand authoritatively and silenced the murmuring town elders.
"We are united, and the clarity with which this unity has appeared is based on our common Arab identity, which the Israelis seek to obliterate. We are steadfast. We will not accept the Israeli law at any price."
The young seculars nodded their assent, mumbling "aiwa" (yes), as one of them declared, "Druze is not just a title. We are the unifiers, those who believe in the unity of God. We are 1,000 years old. We are the integral Arabs, and we do not accept any rule but Arab rule. We rebelled against Turkish rule. We resisted French colonialism. Those who collaborated with Israel are religiously and socially shunned by us, and they will learn the mistake of their ways."
In the next room, as the elders and young militants continued to talk, an accused collaborator was learning the mistake of his ways behind closed doors.
One of only about a dozen of the 12,500 Golan Heights Druzes who still holds an identity card issued by the Israeli government in an abortive attempt to confer Israeli citizenship on the Arab population before the annexation on Dec. 14, the man had come to the elders saying he wanted to recant and repent. He said he wanted to return his identity card to the Israelis and join the pro-Syrian nationalist movement that has been sweeping across the Golan Heights.
Behind the closed door, Baqatha village leaders were spelling out in elaborate detail the conditions under which the man could be returned to the fold, conditions that one villager said would be so stringent that the accused collaborator no longer would be of any use to the Israeli authorities even if he wanted to be.
To protest Israel's annexation of the area, the Druzes started a general strike 13 days ago that has paralyzed the Druze communities.
Israeli military authorities sealed off the principal Druze towns yesterday, and Army trucks drove through the streets at 6 a.m. announcing over loudspeakers that nobody was allowed to enter or leave. Telephone service was cut overnight.
An Army spokesman said the measures were taken for "security reasons," necessary to maintain order, although he acknowledged that there had been no disturbances. The spokesman denied reports by Druze supporters that water supplies to the Druze towns had also been cut. Journalists attempting to reach the Druze towns were also turned back.
Security forces arrested two more Druze strike leaders early Wednesday and ordered them held without charges for three months. The arrests brought to eight the number of Druzes jailed since the strike began.
Some Druzes say they will continue their strike until their leaders are released.
The Druzes are members of a secret, offshoot sect of Islam going back to the 11th century whose tenets are closely guarded.
The Israeli government maintains that the annexation was necessary to perpetuate its control of the heights, whose commanding topography had been used by the Syrian Army from 1948 to 1967 to shell Israeli kibbutzim in the Galilee Valley below. Israeli leaders said the move became imperative when they realized Syria would never enter into peace negotiations with Israel.
Following Israel's agreement to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, the 6,500 settlers in 31 Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights began exerting pressure on the government to annex the territory as a guarantee that it would never be returned like the Sinai.
Because many Druzes who live in Israel proper serve willingly in Israeli Army and border police units in the occupied West Bank, and because the Golan Heights had remained free of violent resistance during the past 14 years of Israeli occupation, the Druzes here came to be thought of as amenable to perpetual coexistence with Jewish settlers and even agreeable to annexation.
But the Druzes resent the reputation that they are politically malleable.
This image was enhanced by some Druzes' publicly stated nervousness after Israel agreed to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt over the possibility of a political settlement in which the Golan Heights would be returned to Syria.
But with the annexation--and the elimination of almost any likelihood of Israel ever returning the territory to Syria--the Druzes in the Golan have become increasingly radicalized during the past two months, and the spirit of Syrian nationalism seems to be growing stronger.
The Golan Druzes say that underneath the calm facade they preserved during Israeli occupation, there always has been a deeply felt longing for a national identity. The only nationality the Golan Druzes can turn to is Syrian. The Druzes say they are Arab first, then Moslem and then Druze.
Dozens of Druzes interviewed in the Golan Heights' four principal towns expressed unanimous and intense revulsion of the application of Israeli law to the territory, accompanied by a strong desire to return to the pre-annexation status of military occupation, under which, they say, they at least are protected by international conventions of war.
"We are Syrian Arabs under occupation. We had a certain relationship with Israel for 14 years, and while occupation is never desirable, we always had the hope of a political settlement," said Fayez Ali Safadi, 38, a former public school principal from the town of Majdal Shams.
Arif Salem Safadi, a farmer from the town of Massada, said, "In the beginning, it was a question of occupation, and we understood that. It was a question of war or peace, but it was a temporary situation. Now, by annexing the Golan Heights, the Israelis are forcing us to fight for our Arab identity and our Syrian identity. Who are they to decide our national identity? Who are they to decide whether we shall be Arabs or Israelis?"
Israeli officials maintain that the pro-Syrian campaign has been one of intimidation by religious leaders, encouraged by constant incitement over Damascus radio and television, which the Golan Druzes receive in their homes.
Salam Fakhardin, a Majdal Sham construction worker, said, "There is no violence, no stone-throwing at Israeli security patrols. That is not our way. That is our strength. We are ready for a one-year strike, and we know that if you use violence, the Israelis will make sure it will not be a very long strike."
When asked if their strike was bringing hardship on anybody but themselves, Golan Druzes acknowledged that Israel has not been greatly affected, although they pointed out that 2,500 Druze workers in Israeli companies have failed to show up for work and that Druzes who live in Israel proper have refused to take their places. They said also that hundreds of Druzes have failed to show up for work in Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights.
The Golan Druzes say that they feel that a series of civil procedures adopted by the Israelis in effect is pressuring them to accept Israeli citizenship.
They said that 70 percent of Druze births have not been registered because Interior Ministry officials insist that the parents produce new civilian identity cards instead of the previously used military government cards. Similarly, they said, the Israelis are refusing to issue marriage certificates or automobile registrations without the new identity cards.
The government does not deny that the requirements cited by the Druzes are being applied, but officials maintain that because Israeli civilian law now applies to the Golan, all residents are expected to accept Israeli identity cards and produce them when applying for documents.
Keish, one of the Druze leaders in Baqatha, calls it a matter of dignity.
"There is some dignity living as Syrian Druze in a land occupied by Israelis but which everyone knows is still part of Syria. There is no dignity for Syrian Druzes living as Israelis in land that has become part of Israel," Keish said.