The Golan Heights, What Went Wrong for Syria

The Golan Heights hold critical strategic and security importance for Israel, in particular, and to region’s stability, in general.

When President Donald Trump signed the proclamation in which the United States recognizes Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights, standing next to Trump, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to Trump: “You made history.”

I think History is making Trump and it is making him to be the finest USA President when it comes to issues that are of concern to the nation state of the Jewish people, Israel.

Until Israel declared sovereignty over the Golan Heights that mountain range was nothing but a war zone for Israel.

The Golan Heights elevation is 2,814 meter (9,232 ft.), total area is 1,800 km2; Israel territory: 1,200km2 (500 sq. miles); Syria’s territory: 600 km2 (200 sq. miles).

Panorama showing the upper Golan Heights and Mount Hermon with the Hula Valley to the left.
Panorama showing the upper Golan Heights and Mount Hermon with the Hula Valley to the left.

Some Biblical History

According to the Bible, the Israelites conquered the Golan from the Amorites. In the Bible, during the time of Joshua, the area, known by the name Bashan, was inhabited by two Israelite tribes Dan and Menashe. After the split of the Israel-Judea United Monarchy, the area was contested between the northern Kingdom of Israel and from the 9th century BC, the Aramean kingdom.

Two years ago I took a guided tour, with a historian, of the Golan, looking for evidence of Jewish life on the Heights in the early years of Christianity. There is ample evidence, by way of Jewish symbols, of Jewish life there.

Early Jewish Pioneering on the Golan

In the late 19th and early 20th century some land had been purchased in the Golan and Hauran, also spelled Hawran or Houran, a region that spans parts of southern Syria and northern Jordan, by Zionist associations based in Romania, Bulgaria, the USA and England. In 1880, Laurence Oliphant published the book Eretz ha-Gilad, The Land of Gilad, which described a plan for large-scale Jewish settlement in the Golan.

In the winter of 1885, members of the Old Yishuv in Safed formed the Beit Yehuda Society and purchased 15,000 dunam – a unit of land area used especially in the state of Israel, equals to 1000 square meters or about ¹/₄ acre – of land from the village of Ramthaniye in the central Golan. Due to financial hardships and the long wait for Ottoman land deed, named kushan, the Golan be-Bashan village was abandoned after a year. Soon thereafter the Society regrouped and purchased 2,000 dunam of land from the village of Bir e-Shagum on the western slopes of the Golan. Their village, Bnei Yehuda, existed until 1920. In the wake of the Passover Arab riots of 1920, the last families left the village. In 1944 the Jewish National Fund (JNF) bought the Bnei Yehuda land from its Jewish owners, but a later attempt to establish Jewish ownership of the property, through the courts, was unsuccessful.

Between 1891 and 1894, the Baron Edmond James de Rothschild purchased around 150,000 dunam of land in the Golan and the Hawran for Jewish settlement. Legal and political permits were secured and ownership of the land was registered in late 1894.

Due to Arab hostility, Turkish bureaucracy, disease and economic difficulties, Jewish settlements in the region dwindled over time. After World War One, in 1921-1930, during the French Mandate on the Golan, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA) obtained the deeds to the Rothschild estate and continued to manage it, collecting rents from the Arab peasants living there.

Prior to Israel’s Declaration of Independence

After WWI the Golan Heights became part of the French Mandate of Syria, while the Sea of Galilee was placed entirely within the British Mandate of Palestine to later become the state of Israel. In 1944 the French Mandate of Syria ended and the Golan Heights became part of the newly independent state of Syria and was later incorporated into Quneitra Governorate.

The Golan From 1948-to-1967

After the 1948-49 Israel war for Independence, the Golan Heights were partly demilitarized by the Israel-Syria Armistice Agreement. During the following years, Syria constantly violated the armistice agreement and Israel retaliated accordingly. Many of the armed clashes were over the water sources Israel, Jordan and Syria share.

From 1948 to 1967 the Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley were often shelled by tanks Syria positioned on the Golan and Jewish kids found themselves living underground, in shelters, more than above ground. The Syrians constantly harassed Israeli border communities by firing artillery shells from their dominant positions on the Golan Heights. At regular intervals the Russian-built forts on the Golan Heights used to lob shells into the villages, often claiming Israeli civilian casualties.

In October 1966 Israel brought the matter up before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Five nations sponsored a resolution criticizing Syria for its actions but it failed to pass due to a Soviet veto; the Soviets were Syria’s backers.

In April 1967, after Syria heavily shelled Israeli villages from the Golan Heights, Israel shot down six Syrian MiG fighter planes and warned Syria against any future attacks.

Israel Conquers the Golan Heights

During the Six-Day War of June 1967, Syria’s shelling of Israel’s territory greatly intensified and the Israeli army captured the Golan Heights on 9-10 June, 1967. The area that came under Israeli control consists of two geologically distinct areas: the Golan Heights proper and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range. The new ceasefire line was named the Purple Line. In the battle, Israel lost 115 men, with another 306 wounded.

Israeli settlement on the Golan began soon after the 1967 war ended. Construction of Israeli settlements began in the territory held by Israel, under military administration until, in 1981, Israel passed the Golan Heights Law extending Israeli law and administration throughout the territory, meaning Israeli sovereignty was applied to the Golan Heights.

Attempt to Reach Peace

Already on June 19, 1967, the Israeli cabinet voted to return the Golan to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement. Syria rejected the peace proposition after the Arab Block Khartoum Resolution ‘Three No’s: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel,’ of 1 September 1967.

1973-Yom Kippur War

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, before being pushed back by an Israeli intense counterattack, Syrian forces managed to overran much of the southern Golan.

In 1974 Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire agreement that left almost all the Heights in Israeli hands. East of the 1974 ceasefire line lies the Syrian controlled part of the Heights, an area that was not captured by Israel, area forms 30% of the Golan Heights.

Few months before the 1967 war Sir Alec Douglas-Home, former Prime Minister of Britain, visited the Galilee. After the 1973 war he said that any agreement between the two sides “must clearly put a stop to that kind of offensive action.”

Annexation by Israel and Civil Rule

On 14 December 1981, the contested Golan Heights formally became part of Israel. Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin pushed a measure through the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, to annex the strategic zone along the Syrian border.

On 14 December 1981, Israel passed the Golan Heights Law that extended Israeli “laws, jurisdiction and administration” to the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights Law was not recognized internationally, till March 2019, when it was recognized by the United States President Donald Trump.

Recognizing the history of hostility that Israel cannot trust any peace agreement with Syria, and the expansionistic encroachment of Iran into Syria and beyond, President Trump did the right thing. He recognized the need to make the Golan Height Israel’s legal territory. “Under my administration, Israel-US relations have never been stronger,” ~ Trump declared before signing his Golan proclamation.

By President Trump signing the Golan Proclamation, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Trump did what any American president who has Israel’s back should have done before him.

The truth to be said is that if the Golan Heights, of extremely strategic position for Israel, is returned to Syria it will turn to be a Gaza like and worst, a nightmare for Israel. Israel left Gaza in 2007 and ever since the rain of rockets into Israel has been the Gazans’ diet of the day. Lately the flair has been intensive. Hamas has chosen to play with fire and that fire has been, security and damages wise, most destructive to Israel, while Israel, under international scrutiny and pressure, lost much of its deterrence. To me it is clear that the only deterrence for Israel is making Gaza Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad free.

From a roof top in the city of Tiberius the Lake of Galilee and the Golan Heights is the far distance-Photo Nurit Greenger
From a roof top in the city of Tiberius the Lake of Galilee and the Golan Heights is the far distance – Photo Nurit Greenger

Hamas’ very recent rocket attack that destroyed a home in central Israel and injured 7 civilians was a clear message to all Israelis; it was a warning that the terrorist groups of Gaza can as easily hit Ben Gurion International Airport as well as other Israeli strategic assets. That is beyond unacceptable.

Imagine if rockets’ attacks will be constantly launched from the Golan Heights’ 2,814 meter (9,232 ft.) height? Not acceptable!

The Golan was a constant shelling nightmare for Israel for 19 years, till the Golan was captured by the Israeli military forces in 1967. I cannot imagine what nightmare it will be, with rockets and missiles threatening Israel, just as the threat from Hezbollah to the north from Lebanon. Israel simply cannot afford such situation. The Golan is to remain Israel sovereign land for ever. Get used to it.

The above Hamas against Israel scenarios is the example of what is to expect if the Golan Heights is evacuated of Jews and returned to the hands of Israel’s dangerous foe, Syria.

What Trump Did Was Ratifying the Obvious

As the legend goes, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin was told that Israel will have to wait, probably 100 years before Syria will consider signing a peace agreement and stick by it. Begin’s reply was, then let’s annex the Golan and we will talk about peace 100 years from now. And that is what he did, he annexed the Golan under Israel’s sovereignty.

The Muslim world condemned Trump’s Golan Heights decision. And why? Because for them this move takes them one other step back to try, once again, to conquer Israel and throw the Jews out of their homeland.

It is astonishing how much the Muslims hate Israel. No wonder they tried to obliterate the country several times and when not succeeded they launched a political, BDS (Boycott, Diverse Sanction) and the like warfare on Israel.

Russia vowed to “never recognize Israeli sovereignty” over the Golan; The European Union (EU) said their position on the territory remained unchanged, Israel is occupying the land; Iran’s Rouhani slammed Trump’s ‘colonial’ recognition of Israeli Golan Heights; Saudi Arabia ‘rejected and condemned’ US recognition of Israeli Golan Heights; Turkey slammed Trump’s Golan recognition as ‘electoral gift’ to Netanyahu; Damascus, Syria: ‘Golan Heights will remain Arab and Syrian: 14 UN Security Council members condemn Trump’s Golan Proclamation.

But now that the USA, Israel’s most supportive ally, has recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, these objections and rejections of the move can be translated to the elephant in the room.

With Prime Minister Netanyahu looking on, Trump officially granted US Recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights stating that this should have done many years ago!

In 1967, the IDF made history on the Golan Heights, now it is Trump’s turn. The Jews indeed had “light and gladness” when, as they celebrated the Purim Festival, the 45th president of the United States tweeted that America was recognizing Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. This is one other wonderful gift Pennsylvania Avenue gave to Israel since Mr. Trump became the United States president.

In Summation

On March 27, 2019, the U.S. State Department announced that it will update its maps to reflect the Trump administration’s move to officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The modified map will be “consistent” with the Golan proclamation, pronouncing that the United States “recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”

The Golan Heights is high ground land its location is in one of the most conflict-prone places on earth. And since Israel seized it from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, the U.S., like the rest of the world, had refrained from accepting Israel’s claim to this strategically important territory. But U.S. President Donald Trump, the most unconventional politician to appear on the global political scene, just as the Jews celebrated Purim on March 25, 2019, a festival in which Jew celebrate their rescue from extinction, officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in a ceremony in Washington alongside Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while Hamas was bombarding Israel South with rockets.

President Trump signs the Golan Proclamation while Israel PM Netanyahu looks over
President Trump signs the Golan Proclamation while Israel PM Netanyahu looks over

Why Is The Golan Coming Up Now?

It could be an effort to take one issue off the table as Trump prepares to release his Middle East peace plan. It could be an attempt to foreclose discussion of the Golan returning to Syria as the civil war there winds down. It could also be that Trump, a Republican, is attempting to get American Jewish voters to rethink their preference for the Democratic Party and vote for the Republican Party.

Whatever the case is, it is no longer an issue. The United States recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights has helped make Israel safer and stronger.

During the 2006 second Lebanon War, Nurit Greenger, referenced then as the “Accidental Reporter” felt compelled to become an activist. Being an ‘out-of-the-box thinker, Nurit is a passionately committed advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Free World in general. From Southern California, Nurit serves as a “one-woman Hasbarah army” for Israel who believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.

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