UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Golan Heights

Map Israeli Settlements on the Golan Heights Donald Trump said 21 March 2019 the United States was recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the Syrian territory it captured in 1967's Six-Day War and has controlled since then. Trump, in a Twitter comment, said the Golan Heights "After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!"

This was a violation of international law and of UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) which spoke of “emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Following the war, the issue of the return of Israel-occupied territories received most attention. U.S. President Johnson spoke out against any permanent change in the legal and political status of the Israeli-occupied territories and emphasized that Arab land should be returned only as part of an overall peace settlement that recognized Israel's right to exist. The principle of land for peace was embodied in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 adopted in November 1967. Resolution 242 called for the Israeli withdrawal from the territories it had occupied following the 1967 war in exchange for peace with its neighbors. The land for peace formula served as the basis for future Middle East negotiations.

The idea that military conquest transfers rights to ownership – that whoever wins last war has the legitimate right to territory – especially in the Middle East, is a dangerous proposition. Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said a basic principle of the post-World War II international system was the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.

"That's gone. Also gone would be the binding nature of UN Security Council resolutions, including ones drafted by and voted for by the United States in the past," he said. "The biggest danger is global and long-term. By recognizing and legitimating Israel's annexation of Golan, Washington is virtually inviting other international predators to seize what they want. Then, by this logic, all they need to do is hold onto that territory for long enough to call it 'reality' and demand that other countries 'recognize reality' by legitimating their land grab," he said.

Israel's de facto annexation of the Golan Heights on 14 December 1981 culminated a steady tightening of control over the region it had captured from Syria in 1967. Well before the annexation, most of the Syrians who had not fled during the fighting had been expelled, many Syrian villages had been razed, the Israeli curriculum was being taught even in the few remaining Arab schools, and dozens of Jewish settlements had been established and transferred from military to civilian control.

Historically, the Golan Heights had never been a part of a unified Jewish state, and the region had not contained a significant Jewish population for 3,000 years. The Ottoman Empire, the last of a millenium-long succession of Muslim rulers, governed the area until the end of the Great War. Then France assumed control of it as part of the League of Nations Mandate for Syria, while Britain assumed control of the neighboring Mandate for Palestine. In 1922 the two countries established an international boundary.

In 1946, the French Mandate was divided and Syria gained its independence. In 1948, when Britain withdrew from Palestine, Syria and four other Arab states attacked the new state of Israel as it fought to establish its borders within Palestine. The Armistice Agreement signed in 1949 left Syria in control of three small regions in northern Israel. Although they were demilitarized, competition and conflict over the three regions gradually escalated and in 1967 provided Israel with its primary justification for invading Syria following its successful attacks on Egypt and Jordan.

By the time a cease-fire was arranged, Israel was in control of two-thirds of Syria's agriculturally prosperous westernmost Province of Al Qunaytirah; it subsequently renamed the region the Golan Heights. In 1973 Syrian forces attacked Israel and temporarily reoccupied about half of the Golan Heights before they were repulsed, and agreed to a new cease-fire line and buffer zone. The 1973 Middle East war proved to be only a temporary interruption in the gradual "Israelization" of the Golan Heights. More than 100,000 Syrian Arabs fled or were expelled from the area during and after the 1967 fighting. An Israeli census taken soon after the war counted only 6,400 Syrian nationals on the Golan, most of them Druze farmers living in a few villages in the north. Since then the Arab population of these villages had grown to about 14,000.

Meanwhile, the Syrian imprint on the remainder of the Golan has been all but destroyed. Since 1967 some 6,000 Israelis have settled 31 new Golan communities, including Katzrin, the administrative and commercial center where the Israelis planned to house 20,000 citizens. Agriculture-grain, vegetables, fruit, and livestock-is the predominant activity. Although the Israeli settlements on the Golan increased steadily in size and number, progress was slower than planned, owing to a shortage of funds and a dearth of willing settlers. They nonetheless exist as "facts" created by Israel to strengthen its hold on the occupied Golan.

According to the terms of the disengagement agreement signed in 1974, Israeli and Syrian military forces are separated by a buffer zone at the eastern margin of the Golan Heights, which is manned by the UN Disengagement Observer Force [UNDOF]. Each country may maintain only limited forces and weaponry within specified distances of the buffer zone. Although force and weapon levels have varied considerably, both sides have generally adhered to the terms of the agreement with neither side normally maintaining as large a military presence as the agreement permits.

The Golan Heights has long held a special security significance in Israel's view. Israeli political leaders and the general public remember well the period before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when Syrian artillery on the Golan sporadically shelled Israeli farms and civilian communities in the disputed demilitarized zones in the Hula Valley. The scheduled final withdrawal from the Sinai next April, moreover, has generated new anxiety about increased vulnerability to the perceived Arab threat. This concern - plus longstanding suspicions of Syrian intentions - further reinforced the Israelis' attachment to the Golan. Indeed, Knesset passage on 14 December 1981 of Prime Minister Begin's bill effectively annexing the Golan Heights culminates a steady tightening of Israeli control over the territory.

In 1979 the Israelis established a Golan regional council controlled by the Interior Ministry. A year later, the Knesset authorized the Interior Ministry to confer Israeli citizenship on amenable Golan Druze. Most major Israeli parties, moreover, had long sponsored settlements in the territory - a connection that assured the settlers a formidable lobby within the government and Knesset. Public opinion polls showed consistently that an overwhelming majority favored eventual annexation. The timing and tactics used in passing the 1981 bill sparked ineffective criticism by the opposition, which staged an unsuccessful no-confidence vote shortly after the 14 December annexation move.

Control of the Golan Heights gives the Israelis a buffer zone beyond its borders within which to contain a possible Syrian invasion. From their positions on the lower slopes of Mount Hermon, which dominates the local landscape, the Israelis can monitor not only the movements of Syrian units near the Golan but those of Palestinian guerrillas in southern Lebanon as well. Control of the northern Golan, moreover, ensures Israeli control over the headwaters of the Baniyas River, a tributary of the upper Jordan River.

The territory now known as the Golan Heights is a tiny part of the "fertile crescent," the ancient pathway around the deserts of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq that has been a route of trade, migration, invasion, and shifting political control throughout recorded time. Although this particular area was never a part of a centralized Jewish state in the modern sense, ruins of Jewish synagogues on the Heights are continuing evidence of Jewish settlement there during the Second and Third Centuries AD. Following the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 AD and the subsequent Jewish dispersion, the entire region eventually came under the control of the Byzantines and later of a series of Muslim powers-periodically interrupted by Crusaders, the ruins of whose castles still dot the area.

The Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the last of the Muslim sovereigns over the area, ended with the Great War. Near the end of Ottoman rule, several Jewish philanthropists bought land in various areas of the Middle East for the resettlement of Jews from Europe and Russia. Although most of these purchases were in Palestine, two such resettlement communities were attempted on the Golan Heights. During th Great War, the British, French, and Italians encouraged the Arabs to revolt against Turkish rule by promising them independence. After the war, however, the Allies reneged on their promise and divided up the territory into Mandates under the League of Nations.

The boundary between the British Mandate for Palestine (out of which Israel was carved) and the French Mandate for Syria (which included the Golan Heights and present-day Lebanon) was demarcated by an Anglo-French boundary commission in 1922 and formally accepted by those governments in March 1923. The boundary is about 65 kilometers long and extends from the current Lebanon-Syria-Israel tripoint to the present Jordan border (then British Transjordan).

The Syrians reasoned that since they had controlled the zones at the time the armistice was signed they had an obligation to protect the rights of Palestinian Arabs living there. The Israelis contended the zones were part of their territory based on the UN Partition Plan. The Israelis claimed that the only limit on their authority in the demilitarized zones was the prohibition on troops and military activity and that the chairman of a Mixed Armistice Committee appointed by the United Nations had authority only over the return of civilians to the zones and the hiring of local residents as police.

The Armistice Agreement directed that farming in the demilitarized zones be quickly restored to pre-hostility levels but gave no guidance on how the land was to be returned to its owners. The problem was complex because the fields of Arab and Jewish farmers often abutted and in some places were intermingled. Both Syria and Israel used the expansion of agricultural holdings as a means to establish control. As farmers returned to the war-ravaged zones, numerous disputes over land ownership occurred. The Syrians back their own participants in local disputes, and disagreements quickly escalated to shootings-and on occasion to more serious military actions involving armored vehicles and artillery.

By early 1967 artillery exchanges and even airstrikes were occurring fairly regularly. The climax came on 09 June 1967 when Israel invaded Syria following its earlier attacks on Egypt and Jordan. Israeli forces captured the demilitarized zones and penetrated about 25 kilometers into Syria, occupying about two-thirds of the Syrian Province of Al Qunaytirah. In response to a UN Security Council demand, a cease-fire was implemented on 10 June. During the next several days the line that marked the limit of advance of the Israeli forces was demarcated by UN observers. A buffer zone ranging in width from a few hundred meters to 2.5 kilometers was established east of this line.

Israel officially named the region it occupied the Golan Heights. The name Golan is derived from the name of a city of refugees in Bashan, as the region was known in Biblical times. Sometimes, the Israelis still refer to the region as Bashan. The Golan Heights remained relatively quiet between 1967 and October 1973. In part this was due to the Israeli policy of not allowing the return of the approximately home to 100,000 refugees who had fled or were expelled during and after the 1967 fighting. Beginning in 1968, the Israelis began establishing farm communities on the Golan; this violation of international law drew widespread international criticism and enraged the Syrians. Some of the new settlements were within 3 kilometers of the 1967 cease-fire line and in sight of Syrian Army positions. In effect, the Israelis had merely moved many contentious aspects of the Demilitarized Zone situation about 25 kilometers to the east. and Israelis had established defensive positions on the The Golan Heights and in the Galilee Hills from which flat trajectory fire could be delivered to the zones on the valley floor.

Along with Egyptian attacks on the Sinai, in 1967 Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights and penetrated the center of the Israeli line, passing to the south of Al Qunaytirah and isolating several pockets of Israeli troops. By the morning of 7 October the southernmost Syrian elements had almost reached Al Al, about 10 kilometers east of Lake Tiberias, while in the north the penetration was shallower. The Israelis counterattacked on 7 October, and by 10 October the Syrian forces had retreated east of the 1967 cease-fire line except for units still holding a portion of Mount Hermon. By 14 October the Israeli forces had carved out a roughly semicircular area that stretched from the lower slopes of Mount Hermon almost to Sasa, about midway between Al Qunaytirah and Damascus, and rejoined the cease-fire line southeast of Al Qunaytirah. For the next 10 days the Israelis directed most of their efforts toward holding the 600-square-kilometer semicircle, although they also recaptured their positions on Mount Hermon. Large-scale hostilities ended on 24 October, but hostile incidents, snipings, and occasional artillery exchanges continued during the winter and spring while US Secretary of State Kissinger practiced shuttle diplomacy.

A disengagement agreement was signed by Israel and Syria on 31 May 1974. On 6 June Israeli and Arab forces began a staged withdrawal. Under the agreement, Israeli military forces pulled back to positions west of "Line A," which coincided with the 1967 cease-fire line except near Ar Rafid and Al Qunaytirah. From just north of Al Qunaytirah Line A swings westward and then southeastward to rejoin the 1967 cease-fire line. An additional line termed "A-1" forms a bulge on Line A around Al Qunaytirah, in which Israeli civilians, but The arrangement went into effect on 26 June 1974 and remains current, subject to renewal every six months (in May and November). not military forces, are permitted. All territory east of Line A is under Syrian administration and with the exception of Al Qunaytirahwhich was largely destroyed after the cease-fire by withdrawing Israeli units was gradually repopulated by Syrian civilians. Syrian forces are required to remain east of "Line B"; the area between Lines A and B is the zone of separation where the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF-strength about 1,250) is stationed to maintain the cease-fire. UNDOF also monitors the bulge between Lines A and A-1. East and west of Lines A and B are areas in which forces and armaments are limited as specified in the disengagement.

In addition, the need for Syria and Israel to negotiate the future of the Golan Heights and to conclude a peace treaty is specifically mentioned in the Camp David Accords.

Until 1967 the region now known as the Golan Heights formed about two-thirds of Al Qunaytirah Muhafazat, Syria's 13th province. In 1965 Al Qunaytirah Province had an estimated population of 142,600 people, most living in small farming communities but about 30,000 living in Al Qunaytirah, a town in the center of the province. Most of the province residents were Muslim Arabs, predominantly Sunnites; minority groups included Druze, Alawites, Christian Arabs, and Sunni Muslim Circassians. In addition to the Syrian population, some 13,000 Palestinian refugees were housed in the town of Al Qunaytirah.

Although its 1,770 square kilometers accounted for only about 1 percent of the country's total land area, Al Qunaytirah was nevertheless one of Syria's most productive agricultural regions. According to 1965 land use statistics, 58 percent of the land was suitable for cultivation (some was actually in natural pasture), 16 percent consisted of scrub woodlands and orchards, 11 percent was in improved pasture, and the remainder was unsuited for any agricultural use. Most of the farmland lay between the towns of Fiq and Al Qunaytirah; the orchards were located mainly in the north, although some tropical fruit trees were grown near Lake Tiberias. Although much of the pasture land was on the poorer, rocky slopes in the west, it still had the highest stock-carrying capacity in the country, about four times the national average.

In 1965 Al Qunaytirah accounted for about 16 percent of Syria's corn production, 17 percent of its millet, and 7 percent of its fodder crops. Winter vegetables, especially tomatoes, were an important specialty crop. Fruit yields in the province were the highest in Syria; its output of apples, for example, accounted for a fourth of the country's total crop. The Golan Heights Under Israel During and after the 1967 fighting in the Golan Heights, much of the population-an estimated 100,000 Syrians and some 13,000 Palestinian refugees-fled or were expelled farther into Syria.

An Israeli census conducted in September 1967 enumerated only 6,400 Syrian nationals-most of them Druze living in a few villages northeast of Al Qunaytirah. Since then, the population of these villages has more than doubled, but the Syrian population of the Golan Heights is still only a small fraction of its pre-1967 population. Except for the aforementioned villages, the original Syrian settlement pattern on the Golan Heights has been largely obliterated. Since 1967 the Israelis have razed at least 80 of the 190 former villages and have destroyed other Syrian private property to make way for Israeli settlements, farms, fortifications, and military training areas. In many areas the Israelis have removed the stone fences and markers that outlined Syrian fields, making any future individual Syrian land ownership claims nearly impossible.

Why the Israelis allowed these few thousand Druze (and Alawites) to remain on the Golan Heights is not known, but it is probably the result of a combination of circumstances. The Druze villages in the northern hills were outside the main battle areas; the communities were close knit, and determined not to abandon their rich farmlands; and the Israelis regard the Druze living in Israel as complaisant citizens who support the state-for example, by serving in the military. The Alawite village of Al Ghajar also survived because it was taken late in the war.

In any event, the residents of the five surviving villages still farm the lands they farmed before 1967. The 10,500 hectares under cultivation consist of extensive fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, grain fields, olive groves, and vineyards. Additional land in pasture supports herds of sheep, goats, and cattle. The Druze are neither united nor consistent in their political loyalties. Some express a desire to belong to an independent Druze state by flying the Druze flag. Others favor Israeli annexation, and still others want the return of Syrian sovereignty. Even family members disagree. Shaykh Sulayman Kanj Abu Salih, the current leader of the Golan Druze, has provided inconsistent guidance. In 1974 he formally requested Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights. Later, he evidently changed his mind, for he was among the hundreds of Golan Druze who petitioned Prime Minister Begin not to be incorporated into the State of Israel. In 1980 some Golan Druze accepted Israeli identity cards (conferring upon the holders some of the privileges of citizenship) only to turn them in a few months later under pressure from their religious authorities. Some of these Druze have apparently welcomed the new Israeli law, for it requires them to have Israeli identity cards. Others still claim, however, "I am a Druze by religion, an Arab by nationality, Syria is my homeland, and I prefer to remain Syrian."

A number of organizations are cooperating in the development of the Golan Heights. The Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) is the primary planner but coordinates closely with the Israeli Government and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an international fundraising group. The JNF is responsible for preparing land for Israeli farming; various other ministries and agencies in the Israeli Government provide support.

All major political parties sponsor settlements on the Golan Heights. The WZO establishes settlement goals and sets up general budget requirements based on four-year cycles. More definitive plans are made yearly through the budgets of individual Israeli Government ministries. The budget of the WZO is implemented through the Ministry of Agriculture, while the government's own plans are funded mainly through the ministries concerned with housing, commerce, communications, and defense. Additional funds come from other ministries that handle education, health, religion, and immigrant absorptions. Since Prime Minister Begin's election in 1977, Golan Heights settlement activities slowed because funds initially earmarked for this area have been diverted to the accelerated West Bank settlement program.

All but a few of the Israeli settlements are at least partly engaged in farming. In 1975 some 5,600 hectares (including field crops, orchards, and vineyards) were being cultivated by the Israelis; in addition, about 4,000 hectares (mainly along the rocky, western slopes) were being used for grazing. In 1977 the WZO claimed that almost 6,800 hectares were being farmed and that the total would reach nearly 12,000 hectares by 1981. According to 1981 data, however, this goal-like earlier ones-was not met; a reported 6,000 to 7,000 hectares are under cultivation in field crops and orchards. If pasture lands are added, the total area being used by the Israelis for farming amounts to more than 10,000 hectares.

El Rom and Ramat Magshimim are typical of the older Israeli agricultural settlements. El Rom, in the northern Golan, uses 290 hectares to grow wheat, apples, and avocadoes and to raise fish; in addition, it uses more than 1,700 hectares of land in the southern Golan for pasturage. Ramat Magshimim has some 450 hectares in wheat, 45 hectares in apple orchards, and 2,500 hectares in grazing land for 1,000 head of cattle.

Israeli agriculture is more intensive than that practiced earlier by the Syrians. Irrigation is widespread, even on some of the large wheat fields, and is expected to expand as new land is brought under cultivation. Data on total agricultural production from the Golan is not available to allow comparisons with former Syrian output or to determine the area's contribution to Israel's total crop and livestock production. In any event, the production is of little consequence to the national economy.

Although water resources on the Golan Heights were generally adequate for the area's Syrian population before June 1967, the Israelis are developing an expanded water distribution system designed to support irrigated agriculture. When completed, the new system will supply a total of 28 million cubic meters of water annually. Because this amount is not available on the Golan Heights, water is drawn from two taps in Lake Tiberias and pumped up some 600 meters through three 16-inch pipes to a system of water towers and tanks located at settlements and military facilities in the southern Golan. Birkat Ram, a natural lake in the northern Golan, has also been tapped to supply water to the settlement blocs west and north of Al Qunaytirah and to some of the Druze villages.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 01-04-2019 17:05:49 ZULU