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Golan Heights Occupation and Resistance

American Arab-Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC) Research Institute Background Paper, 2010


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Sara Najjar-Wilson President

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An ADC Background Paper

The Golan Heights: Occupation And Resistance By Marvin Wingfield 1

Table of Contents Executive Summary.......................................................................................................... 2 Introduction..................................................................................................................... 3 History and Background.................................................................................................. 4 The Golan before 1967......................................................................................... 4 Origins of the War: Israel’s Territorial Ambitions................................................... 7 The Displacement of the Syrian Population........................................................... 9 The Consolidation of Israeli Dominance on the Golan................................................. 12 Israeli Occupation Techniques............................................................................. 12 The Destruction of Villages and Towns................................................................ 13 Dismantling Syrian Society................................................................................. 15 Annexation and Resistance............................................................................................. 17 Settlement and Expropriation........................................................................................ 19 Establishing an Israeli Presence............................................................................ 19 Settlement Development..................................................................................... 20 Land, Water and Economic Life.......................................................................... 23 The Long Haul under the Occupation........................................................................... 27 Family Life: Separation and Reunion................................................................... 27 Economy and Community Development........................................................... 30 Continuing Occupation, Continuing Struggle.................................................... 33 “Internally Displaced Persons”....................................................................................... 33 Appendix: Map of the Occupied Syrian Golan............................................................... 38

Marvin Wingfield is the former Director of Education and Outreach for the American-Arab AntiDiscrimination Committee (ADC). He is currently working with ADC as a consultant on special projects. This paper was reviewed and edited by ADC President Sara Najjar-Wilson; Nabil Mohamed, ADC VicePresident, identified personal contacts for interviews and consultation.



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Executive Summary


his paper provides an overview of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights2 and the displacement of most of the indigenous Syrian population. Unlike most journalism and scholarship on the Golan, which primarily focuses on diplomatic and strategic issues, it attempts to enable Americans to hear the voices and understand the experience of the people who have lived through war, occupation, and the loss of a homeland. After a brief sketch of the pre-war social order on the Golan, the paper examines the origins of the war in Israel’s territorial ambitions at the Syrian border. Israeli expansionism provoked a forceful Syrian response, creating a volatile border situation and an escalating series of military confrontations. In 1967, Israel seized control of the entire Golan in a 30-hour war with Syria, which resulted in the flight and expulsion of nearly the entire Syrian population from the Golan. The exception was a handful of villages in the north, which have lived under Israeli occupation ever since. The first Israeli settlers arrived only five weeks after the war ended. The occupation involves a “matrix of control” similar to that over the Palestinian territories – Israeli rule through military force, laws and bureaucratic regulations, and physical “facts on the ground,” such as military bases and settlements. The occupation set about reorganizing the political, economic, and social system of the remaining villagers, even attempting to erase their identity as Syrians and Arabs. Ultimately, Israel annexed the Golan and made it a de facto part of Israel, in clear violation of international law, which forbids the acquisition of territory by force. These policies inevitably generated resistance from the villagers, culminating in a General Strike in 1982. Virtually the whole population rose up in opposition and refused to allow Israeli citizenship to be imposed on them. Their non-violent tactics succeeded and they retained their Syrian citizenship. Nonetheless, the settlement process continued with the establishment of dozens of Israeli agricultural communities, industrial centers, ranches, orchards, and tourist attractions. The Israeli army took large areas for bases, minefields, and training grounds. But in spite of severe restrictions on the use of their own land and water, the Golanis defended their communities through innovative projects, planting more apple orchards, developing new techniques for storing rainwater, and organizing civic associations, as well as through political and other resistance activities. The separation of families divided by the Israeli/Syrian ceasefire line was especially painful. Villagers never let up in their reaffirmation of Syrian national identity and the demand for the restoration of Syrian sovereignty over the Golan.

For Golanis and other citizens of Syria, the preferred term is the “occupied Syrian Golan.” But in accord with American usage, this paper will use the conventional term “Golan Heights” or simply “the Golan.”



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The last section of the article reviews the experience of those who were displaced by the war – the flight from Israeli attacks and the expulsions in 1967, their uprootedness and reintegration into Syrian society, the government’s response to their needs, and the attenuation of traditions and community ties in an urbanized society. The yearning for lost homes, villages, and a way of life remains strong. The article is based largely on secondary materials, and we gratefully acknowledge the primary work done by the researchers and writers cited in the notes. Special thanks to Dr. Munir Fakher Eldin for sharing his insight into the current and historical experience of the people of the Golan. Dr. Eldin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University and a member of the board of directors of Al-Marsad – The Arab Center for Human Rights in the Golan Heights. Al-Marsad has been a major source of materials for this paper.



he Golan Heights is home to some 20,000 Syrian citizens living under Israeli occupation and the homeland of nearly half a million people living elsewhere in Syria. In addition, it has become the residence of about 20,000 Israelis who have settled (the indigenous inhabitants would say “colonized”) the region. The future of the people of the Golan has for many years hinged on the issue of Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for a formal “land for peace” agreement with Syria. The Syrian/Israeli “border” has been called “the quiet frontier.” Despite Israeli alarmism about potential dangers, it has, for decades, not been the scene of border clashes with Syrian troops, nor of unwanted incursions or other infiltration. Since the 1973 war, both sides have exercised caution and restraint. One thousand United Nations Disengagement Observer troops patrol a narrow demilitarized zone. In the absence of violent clashes, the global press neglects the Golan. Google searches provide a rough idea of the relative degree of world attention to the Golan. A search on “Golan Heights” turned up about 800,000 items (many of which were Israeli websites promoting tourism and industry), while a search on “West Bank” produced over nine million. A search on “Gaza Strip” found six and a half million and on “Gaza” over 48 million. Searches on Israeli occupation, land confiscation, and human rights also showed a higher level of attention to the West Bank and Gaza (although there are more references to settlements on the Golan than to those in the West Bank/Gaza). The Golan Heights has simply not been a primary focus of the world press, high profile governmental policy, or grassroots activist organizations. Frequently, it has rated no more than a mention in the laundry list of Israeli-occupied Arab territories. The news and political analysis that does appear in the world press usually address the diplomatic, geopolitical, and strategic aspects of the Syria-Israel relationship. Reports appear 3

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intermittently about negotiations or the possibility of negotiations or about an incident like the 2007 Israeli bombing of what it claimed was a Syrian nuclear reactor under construction. The influence of internal Israeli politics on relations with Syria gets its share of attention. But the Golan itself and the Israeli occupation receive little attention. And much political commentary about the Golan lacks any significant human dimension. What is largely ignored by Western commentators are the lives and well being of the people of the Golan Heights, whether under occupation or displaced. Those who fled or were driven out in 1967 are almost totally forgotten. Nearly the only exception is the colorful press coverage of the “Syrian brides� who marry across the UN-patrolled demilitarized zone and can never return home to their families again. While the Golan has not been the scene of ongoing violence and receives only intermittent international press attention, the people under occupation have, year after year and decade after decade, engaged in a daily struggle to defend their land, their property, their rights, and their national identity. Syria itself has continually reaffirmed the Syrian identity of the land and the people of the Golan. It has represented their interests before the international community and the United Nations. It monitors the human rights situation on the Golan and provides detailed reports to the UN Committees, which have continued to monitor events and reaffirm the norms of international law applicable to the Golan. Diplomatically, the recovery of the Golan remains a top Syrian priority and a primary goal in the peace process with Israel. The occupation of the Golan, like the occupation of Palestinian territory, remains a serious obstacle to peace. This background paper attempts to draw attention to the Golan itself, to the experience of its people, and to the Israeli occupation.3 The footnotes to the text have links to many websites, where the source materials can be found. [To facilitate access to these materials and further study of the issue, this background paper can be found on the website of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) at]

History and Background The Golan before 1967


he Golan Heights is a plateau and mountainous region in southwestern Syria. During the Ottoman Empire it was part of the vilayet4 of Damascus. The majority population in the Golan, about 85%, was Sunni Muslim. Historically, the highland regions also attracted minority communities. The Golan region was home to Druze, Christians, Alawites,5

For a useful overview of the range of relevant issues, see Sophie Bradford, Ed., The Golan: Ending Occupation, Establishing Peace (London: Syrian Media Centre, 2007); available at 4 A vilayet was an Ottoman regional administrative unit. 5 Alawites, like Druze, are an offshoot from the Muslim tradition. For background on the Druze, see: Robert Brenton Betts, The Druze (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988); on the Druze in the Golan and Israel, see pp. 100-107. 3


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Turkomans, Bedouin tribes, and descendants of 19th century Circassian Muslim refugees from imperial Russian domination in the Caucasus. Palestinians refugees arrived during the 1948 war. Some villages were religiously or ethnically mixed; others were inhabited by mostly one group. The Golan was integrally linked to the surrounding region by ties of language, religion, trade, and kinship. Until the British, the French, and the League of Nations began drawing lines on a map, there were no barriers.6 It was a land of small villages, agriculture, and livestock herding with fertile soil and abundant water resources. People worked small plots in 163 villages and 108 individual farms. Wives and children helped in the fields. The official Syrian population figures for the area in 1966 were 147,613. The city of Quneitra with a population of 17,080 in 1960 was the governmental center of the region. Once a caravan stop on the route between Damascus and the Mediterranean, it still lived from agricultural commerce, with large markets each Wednesday and some light industry to process local raw materials. Villagers would drive livestock to sell there and purchase supplies.7 Water resources were derived from the abundant rainfall, runoff from snow on Mount Hermon, underground aquifers, the large Baniyas Spring in the north (a major source of the Jordan River), a hundred other springs, and the Yarmouk River in the south. The streams of the Golan feed the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s primary water source. Economy and society had not been modernized. There was apparently little in the way of agricultural machinery, tractors, harvesters, or water pumps. There were spring-fed irrigation canals. Some houses might have a little electricity from generators. Traditional labor-intensive farming, sheep and cattle herding, and fishing on the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias to Syrians; Lake Kinneret to Israelis) employed 64 percent of the work force. Wheat, barley, vegetables, grapes, olives, apples, sheep, cattle, and poultry were mainstays of the economy. Until 1948, Golanis worked in Palestine as seasonal laborers. The economy was “flourishing,” fed by the abundant water resources. Syrian fishermen sailed the Sea of Galilee, as they had done for centuries.8

Sakr Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. XXIX, No. 4 (Summer 2000), pp. 5-6; available to JSTOR subscribers at Abu Fakhr’s article has interviews with 10 Golanis displaced in Syria; it is a rich source of detailed information on life before, during, and after the war. Many of the Golani voices quoted here are drawn from his article. 7 Unless otherwise indicated, details on pre-1967 Golani demography, economy, and society have been drawn mostly from Uri Davis, The Golan Heights Under the Israeli Occupation, 1967-1981 (Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham, England, 1983), pp. 1-20; available at The figures cited in the literature for population and the number of villages vary somewhat. Davis relied on data from the Syrian Ministry of Planning. See also “The Occupied Syrian Background,” (Al-Marsad – The Arab Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Syrian Golan, 2005), 12-13; available at There is a little background information in Shay Fogelman, “The Disinherited,” Ha’aretz, 7/30/10, section “Notebooks Left Behind,” no pagination; available at 8 In the Ottoman administration, the north/south border between the vilayet of Beirut and the vilayet of Damascus evenly divided the Sea. 6


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Muhammad Jum’a ‘Isa, a postman from the village of Butayha, recalled, perhaps through the eyes of nostalgia, “We lived a simple life, without difficulties. Everything was widely available, and all necessities were cheap. All a peasant needs are sugar, tea, and tobacco, since everything else can be had from what he produces.” It was a “good poor man’s country.”9 Still, there were major inequalities. Large “feudal” landowners took on tenant farmers. ‘Isa also recalls that “none of us villagers owned land” until a 1958 land reform law began the process of distributing land to villagers. Many Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 became tenant farmers, “farming, rearing livestock and planting grains.” They built homes and, in some places, were “absorbed into our society.” Landlords got one third of the crop. Abdallah Mar’i Hassan says, “We lived as fellahin did, that is, at a subsistence level.”10 The government provided assistance through liaison committees elected in each village. Benefits included free fertilizer, agricultural loans, fruit tree seedlings, and assistance in marketing produce.11 There were 142 elementary schools and 15 intermediate and secondary schools, but no university or teachers’ college; a half-dozen government dispensaries and health centers, and a hospital. Trade unions and cooperative enterprises were “rudimentary.” There were a few charitable organizations and a women’s society. Fatima al-Ali reports “Village girls of my generation did not go to school because the school was far away and because each household had about twenty head of livestock, so there was a lot of work. Girls had to milk the animals and do household chores. A few of the boys went to school, but the rest were illiterate. Everybody worked the land.” Fathers could arrange marriages without consulting their daughters, who could not refuse their wishes.12 The Druze villages were in the north at the foot of Mount Hermon, the Circassian villages in the central region, and the Sunnis in the less mountainous south and the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Although the religiously and ethnically diverse communities had maintained distinct identities for centuries, it is said that a process of (sometimes contentious) “assimilation” was taking place, as newly independent Syria sought to create a united, modern nation. Under the Ottomans there was emigration to the Americas, and significant in and out migration between the Golan and the rest of Syria. Druze military forces played a leading role in opposition to the French Mandate; and the leader Sultan Pasha al-Atrash became a national hero, when he led an uprising that spread to all of Syria and to Lebanon. Extended family networks were the center of life, and people felt a strong attachment to their villages. The Abu Salah and Safdie families were the traditional religious and political leaders in Majdal Shams. The villagers in Mas’ada “originated from” the same families. Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” p.22. Ibid. p. 14, 21-22, 25. 11 Tayseer Mara’i and Usama R. Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” Journal of Palestine Studies, XXII, No. I (Autumn 1992), p. 85. 12 Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” p. 13. 9



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Many Christians moved to Quneitra for education and advancement, while keeping their land, homes, and orchards in the villages. People of different backgrounds mixed easily in Quneitra and there were “warm relations and intermarriage.” Amina al-Khatib, a Druze whose ancestors were from Palestine, recalls, “We also had excellent relations with the neighboring villages. Christians, Sunnis, and Druze lived together like brothers. It was only that they prayed in different places. When it came to other matters, we even dressed alike. We celebrated Christian feasts too.”13 In June 1967, all of this changed, overnight. Origins of the War: Israel’s Territorial Ambitions The Israeli conquest of the Golan began long before 1967. The Zionist delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference after World War I regarded Mount Hermon as an essential source of water and potential hydroelectric power for the Jewish “homeland” promised by the British in the Balfour Declaration. Their official statement to the Conference read, ‘The economic life of Palestine….depends on the available water supply. It is, therefore, of vital importance….to be able to conserve and control them at their sources. The Hermon is Palestine’s real “Father of Waters” and cannot be severed from it without striking at the very root of its economic life.” The subsequent British and French agreements over the placement of boundaries divided up the water resources of the region and determined the boundaries of modern Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. They also ensured future conflict over territory, water, and security.14 In the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Syrian army occupied three small territories that had been assigned to Israel by the UN Partition Plan. Both countries signed an armistice agreement in 1949 that made the territories a demilitarized zone (DMZ); they agreed to keep their military forces and fortifications out of the area. Syria withdrew its troops from the zone. While the armistice stated that neither country had sovereignty over the area, pending a peace agreement, Israel reasserted a claim to sovereignty. It began an illegal process of “creeping annexation” to take de facto control over the DMZ through plowing with armored tractors, cultivating land, building fortifications, sending in soldiers disguised as police, sending in military units, sending out military patrols, laying minefields, hampering UN observers, draining off villagers’ water, disrupting villagers’ agricultural work, stealing herds, expelling Arab villagers, and demolishing their homes. It took exclusive control over the Sea of Galilee, using armored boats to attack and drive out Syrian fishermen. This aggressive policy of expansion intentionally provoked Syrian gunfire, which then served to justify further Israeli expansion and military action. Syria was made to appear the troublemaker. UN peacekeeping officer General Carl von Horn commented that the DMZ had become Ibid. pp. 11, 15, 18. Aaron T. Wolf, ‘“Hydrostrategic” Territory in the Jordan Basis: Water, War, and Arab-Israeli Negotiations” (A conference paper, Bloomington , Indiana, March 7-10, 1996), section “Boundary Proposals and Delineation: 1913-1923,” no pagination; available at Hydrostrategic%20.htm. Israel had also expanded its territory elsewhere in Palestine by some 40% beyond the UN Plan, but had no intention of withdrawing. 13 14


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“a network of Israeli canals and irrigation channels edging up against and always encroaching on Arab-owned property.”15 During the next years, continuing Israeli encroachments and Syrian responses (some of which were also violations of the 1949 ceasefire agreement) brought about an escalating series of military clashes and hundreds of incidents. Israel repeatedly attacked Syrian forces and villages on the Golan and raided a village to disrupt its agricultural production. The two countries disputed the rights to use the headwaters of the upper Jordan River. Israel developed and successfully completed a major project to divert river water through its National Water Carrier to the dry lands further south within Israel. Syria shelled Israeli construction sites and kibbutzim in the lowlands and allowed Palestinian guerillas to cross the border into Israel. Israel used its air force and bombed Syria’s own water diversion canal in 1965. Events reached a peak in an air battle over the Golan and Damascus in April 1967, when Israel shot down six Syrian fighter planes. The war came two months later, and Israeli seized the Golan.16 Testimony on Israeli expansionism as a cause of the war came from a surprising source – Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan. As Defense Minister, he had reluctantly given the order for the attack on Syria, which had already agreed to a ceasefire. In 1976, he spoke openly for the first time to a journalist about the lead-up to the war. His comments were not made public until 21 years later in 1997.17 The Israeli myth was that Syrian soldiers perched on the Golan had relentlessly shelled defenseless Israeli civilian settlements without provocation. Therefore, Israel was forced to seize, and keep, the Golan out of self-defense. Dayan saw it differently. Israel deliberately provoked Syrian gunfire. “I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor

Muhammad Muslih, “The Golan: Israel, Syria, and Strategic Calculations,” Middle East Journal (Vol. 47, No. 4, Autumn 1993, pp. 613-617; available to JSTOR subscribers at See also Muslih’s book Golan: The Road to Occupation (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1999). Also: Sheldon L. Richman, “The Golan Heights: A History of Israeli Aggression,” (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 1991); available at 16 Wolf, ‘“Hydrostrategic” Territory in the Jordan Basis: Water, War, and Arab-Israeli Negotiations”; section “Water Resources and Background to the War.” Muslih, “The Golan: Israel, Syria, and Strategic Calculations,” pp. 618-621. 17 Serge Schmemann, “General’s Words Shed a New Light on the Golan,” (New York Times, May 11, 1997); available at The quotes from Dayan are taken from this article, or from: Stephen S. Rosenfeld, “Israel and Syria: Correcting the Record,” (Washington Post, Dec. 24, 1999). Dayan’s account was confirmed by Colonel Jan Muhren, a Dutch officer who was part of the UN peacekeeping force before the 1967 war. “Six Day War deliberately provoked by Israel; former Dutch UN observer,” Deep Journal, June 8, 2007; Video interview at http://www. 15


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to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was.” As time went on, Israeli aggressions and the Syrian response created a serious security problem for the kibbutzniks. During the war, their leaders made an impassioned appeal for a military attack on Syria. According to Dayan, that is not all that was on their minds: “The kibbutzim there saw land that was good for agriculture…I can tell you with absolute confidence, the delegation that came to persuade Eshkol [Prime Minister at the time of the war] to take the heights was not thinking of these things. They were thinking about the heights’ land….I saw them, and I spoke to them. They didn’t even try to hide their greed for that land.” He also regretted agreeing to the attack on Syria: “I made a mistake in allowing the [Israeli] conquest of the Golan Heights. As defense minister I should have stopped it because the Syrians were not threatening us at the time….Of course, [war with Syria] was not necessary.” The Displacement of the Golani Population Once it attacked Syria, Israel seized the territory in less than 30 hours of ground combat. As a result, almost the entire civilian population of the Golan was displaced and became internal migrants in other areas of Syria. Exactly how that occurred continues to be disputed. Syria claims that people were driven out by the Israeli Army; Israel claims that they fled the fighting. It seems a rather meaningless distinction and does not affect the right of people to their land and other property. Many did flee from the three days of Israeli shelling and bombing prior to the invasion, and from the oncoming Israeli army. When the Syrian Army panicked and fled back to defend Damascus, many civilians were caught up in the rout. Village elders warned people to flee to protect their daughters. Senior military officers fled with their families. Others were frightened and forced out by the Israeli Army. There were “numerous shooting incidents.”18 Testimony from both Syrian villagers and Israeli officers indicates that those who remained were driven out by Israeli orders, threats, gunfire, killings, and bombing. Many villagers camped out in their fields within eyesight of their villages. They avoided the shelling of villages, but did not abandon their homes, land, or livestock. They waited there to return home when it was safe. An Israeli paratroop commander reported, “I clearly remember that we saw hundreds of people in the fields and outside the villages. They watched us from a safe distance, waiting to see what the day would bring. The civilians were not players in the game, here or anywhere else in the Golan Heights.”19 At first, villagers were allowed to return to their homes, carrying white flags. But almost immediately, the villages and the entire Golan were declared “closed military zones” and Fogelman, “The Disinherited,” section “Flight to the Fields.” Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 79. 19 Fogelman, “The Disinherited,” section “Flight to the Fields.” 18


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return was forbidden. Civilian movement was controlled. Minefields and barbed wire were set up to keep those displaced from returning to the Golan.20 Still, people would sneak back to their homes. Israeli troops fired on one man when he went back to milk his cows; he saw a neighbor hit by gunfire. So he retrieved some valuables, turned his cows loose, and left. Others who risked it were captured and expelled. Villagers stayed as long as they dared, but left after perhaps six to ten days. Some villages fled as organized units; in other places families fled on their own in all directions. Arabic-speaking Israeli soldiers gathered the remaining men of the villages and told them they had to leave. People carried a few belongings on foot or on wagons or trucks to Quneitra. Civilians were turned over to the Red Cross and the UN, which transferred them to the Syrian side of the ceasefire line.21 The “evacuation” was official policy, complete with “pre-expulsion registration” of those being forced out. The Israeli press reported that people who had remained in Quneitra were forced to sign “voluntary departure” forms and leave the city. Early on in the first days of the occupation, destruction of the villages began in order to ensure that no one had anything to return to. Declassified military reports show that, for months afterward, soldiers would open fire on unarmed “shepherds and infiltrators” risking death to return home.22 Residents of several Sunni, Druze, and Alawite villages had taken refuge and were given shelter in homes and the schoolhouse of the Druze village of Majdal Shams. Some of those in the schoolhouse were beaten, harassed, and intimidated by Israeli soldiers. They were denied the right to return to their own villages for several weeks. When they were authorized to return, non-Druze were separated out in an act of ethnic cleansing. Druze were allowed to return home; other were shot at on the road and subsequently fled or were forced out of the Golan.23 The village of Jubata Ez-Zeit, two kilometers from Majdal Shams, had 1500-2000 people before the war. In 2008, Hammoud Maray and other citizens of Majdal Shams testified about the fate of its inhabitants: “…roughly about half the people from Jubata Ez-Zeit left their village and came to Majdal Shams to hide…They had left Jubata because they were afraid of the war. After the war, the Israeli military occupied the village of Jubata and began to forcibly transfer the people who remained; the people who had left Jubata and tried to return once they thought it was safe were also transferred. The Israeli army began shooting in the air and towards the people, all the time, to frighten the

Ibid., section “First 10 Days.” Ibid., sections “Flight to the Fields,” “First 10 Days” and “Last inhabitants.” Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 79 22 Fogelman, “The Disinherited,” sections “First 10 Days,” “Last inhabitants,” and “No return.” Ha’Aretz, September 12, 1967. Cited in Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” pp.79. 23 Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” pp. 79. Bashar Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” The Link, Vol. 33, Issue 2 (April-May 2000); available at; Eldin, personal communication. 20 21


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people…After the transfer Jubata became a closed military zone; nobody could return….after the transfer nobody remained.”24 According to Hayil and Samar Abu Jabal, the Israelis forced out the “entire population” of Jubata: “The Israeli army collected the people of the village together and they ordered them to begin walking towards Lebanon and firing over their heads in order to frighten them. From what I know they did not try to kill anyone, just to instill fear in order to get people to leave.”25 They added, “After some days after the conclusion of the war, a week or two weeks, the village of Jubata Ez-Zeit was destroyed by the Israeli army. The Israeli army bombed all the houses. They…didn’t let any one remain in Jubata. Jubata was completely destroyed.” Taiseer Maray testified that the Israelis brought donkeys for disabled people so that they could leave. He observed that in a war some people are always unable or unwilling to leave, but “When you find that 100% of the people are gone from the villages, it means…these people were forced to leave.” In 1972 the Neve Ativ settlement was set up on the village land.26 Shhady Nasralla of Majdal Shams testified that he met the son of the “boss” of the village of Alfahham who told him, “A jeep with two soldiers came to their house and told them in clear Arabic that they had fifteen minutes to leave the village because the planes will bomb it. What can you get from your house in fifteen minutes? All the people scurried and left the village and they actually bombed it after the people left. No reasons were given.”27 Fatima al-Ali, a housewife from al-Asbah remembered that “Israeli aircraft were diving above our heads to terrorize us and make us leave…they fired their weapons at night to wreak havoc…We could see the tracer bullets like streaks of fire before us…they were firing on anything that moved, cars and even livestock.” Omar al-Hajj Khalil, a Turkoman teacher, said that at ‘Ayn ‘Aysha, the Israeli went house to house searching for weapons, beating and humiliating people. Two of their relatives in another village were killed and one wounded; villagers heard stories of villages where young men were rounded up and shot. The next day, the village mukhtar led them out to find a safer place. The uncle of Mamduh al-Hajj Ahmad, a Circassian teacher, was killed. “They were looking for the mukhtar, but when they couldn’t find him they killed his father instead.” The old man had refused to leave, “saying that he was over seventy years old and had nothing more to fear in this life. They killed him

Ray Murphy and Declan Gannon, “Changing the Landscape: Israel’s Gross Violations of International Law in the Occupied Syrian Golan” (Al-Marsad: Arab Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Golan, 2008), p. 27-30; available at 25 Ibid., p. 27-30. Jonathan Moloney, Michelle Stewart, and Nancy Tuohy-Hammil, From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, (Golan: Al-Marsad – The Arab Centre for Human Rights in the Golan, 2009), p. 44-45; available at 26 Murphy and Gannon., “Changing the Landscape: Israel’s Gross Violations of International Law in the Occupied Syrian Golan,” p. 27, 32. 27 Molony, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hammil, From Settlement to Occupation: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, p. 43. 24


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a few hours later in his own home. When he was killed, there was chaos in the village, and everyone began to leave.28 Israeli troops immediately constructed barriers on the cease-fire line and began to make it a permanent border. Three days after the fighting ended, the Israelis issued Military Order No. 1, which made the entire Golan a closed military zone. By Military Order No. 13 no one was allowed to return to homes in Quneitra except by a permit from the Military Commander. Military Order No. 57 authorized 15 years imprisonment or deportation to any “infiltrator” who attempted to return home. The displaced citizens of the Golan have never been allowed to return.29 The number of Golanis who were displaced is also a matter of dispute. Unofficial Israel sources claim 70,000; Syrian figures have ranged between 130,000 and 160,000. However, if we use the 1966 Syrian population figure of about 147,000 and the figure of 7000 villagers remaining after the 1967 war, then the Golan Heights must have been emptied of approximately 140,000 people. Today, together with their children and grandchildren, they number about 450,000. Israel also seized at least 70% of the land. What remained was six villages in the northern sector of the Golan with 6396 people 30 and a small portion of the land. All of the other villages, towns, and cities on the Golan were destroyed. All of the other people were gone.

The Consolidation of Israeli Dominance on the Golan


hose living under Israeli occupation found themselves alone. While Palestinians numbered in the millions, there were less than 7000 Syrians in the few remaining villages. They also found themselves confronted with a militarily powerful, wellfinanced, and highly organized occupier with a sophisticated set of institutions and policies that had already been tried out within Israel against its own Palestinian citizens. This occupation consisted of what many have called its West Bank/Gaza analogue, a “matrix of control.” In response, the Golanis have reaffirmed their sense of national identity and struggled to maintain a viable existence despite the occupation. Israeli Occupation Techniques The analysis of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as involving a “matrix of control” over Palestinians was developed by Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions -- which has opposed Israeli policies and helped Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” pp. 12, 18, 23. “The Occupied Syrian Golan Background,” (Majdal Shams, Golan Heights: Al-Marsad – The Arab Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Syrian Golan, 2005. Al-Marsad is a non-governmental organization on the Golan. Its publications provide a systematic treatment of the occupation, international law, and human rights issues. These are available on its website at 30 Statistical Abstract of Israel, No. 19, 1968 (Jerusalem: Central Bureau of Statistics, 1968), p. 593; cited in Bashar Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights.” 28 29


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build international support for Palestinians. While the situation in the Golan is very different, many similar policies have been used to establish and consolidate control over its land and people.31 These policies are designed to establish complete control over another people and their land, while giving the appearance of “normality,” ordinary life, and the routine functioning of governance and law. Analytically, there are three dimensions to the matrix: 1) Military action and coercion, including the use of military orders, collaborators, arbitrary arrests, prolonged imprisonment, expulsion, minefields, and brutality, and torture. 2) Bureaucratic and legal mechanisms, including control over appointments to official positions, control over access to employment, selective restriction on travel, the use of licenses and permits as a technique of political control, discriminatory tax policies, and development plans and zoning policies that favor Israeli settlements and restrict the growth of the communities under occupation. 3) “Facts on the ground,” including land expropriation, the destruction of existing cities and villages, the construction of settlements and the recruitment of settlers, road building, industrial parks, military areas, security zones, nature reserves, archaeological and historical sites, green spaces, the creation of a tourism industry, and control over water and natural resources. In practice these policies are overlapping and interlinked. They evolve, partly in interaction with the development of political attitudes, organization, and action among those under occupation. All or most of these policies are in direct contravention of international law – the UN Charter, the 1907 Hague Regulations, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Provisions of these pillars of international order require a speedy end to military occupation; insist on the obligation of occupying powers to respect and protect the lives, property, and rights of civilian noncombatants under occupation; and call for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. They forbid the transfer of populations in or out of occupied territories.32 The Destruction of Villages and Towns As the Israelis consolidated control of the Golan after the war, the occupation was marked by the use of violent measures. As soon as the population was driven out and barred from return, See Halper’s articles: “The 94 Percent Solution: A Matrix of Control,” Middle East Report, No. 216, Fall 2000; available at; “The Matrix of Control,” Media Monitors Network, January 29, 2001; available at; and “The Key to Peace: Dismantling the Matrix of Control,” Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 32 “Changing the Landscape: Israel’s Gross Violations of International Law in the Occupied Syrian Golan,” (Majdal Shams, Golan Heights: Al-Marsad, the Arab Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, 2008); available at 31


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Israeli authorities applied many of the same policies used in Palestine during and after the 1948 war. After Palestinians fled before the threat of violence or were expelled by Israeli troops in 1948, hundreds of villages were destroyed to ensure that Palestinians could not return. Then in 1965, the Israel Land Administration began to systematically demolish or “level” all of the empty Palestinian villages that still existed in order to “clear” the land, prevent tourists from asking “superfluous questions,” and prevent Palestinians from saying “That is my tree. This was my village.” The Israel Archaeological Survey Society contracted to survey each village.33 In 1967, this arrangement was extended to the Golan. Archaeologist Dan Urman was made Head of Surveying and Demolition Supervision for the Golan. He surveyed the Golan and created a list of 127 villages to be demolished.34 Later, Urman’s skillful research on the ancient Golan involved the survey, excavation, and preservation of Roman and Byzantine “houses, alleys, footpaths, public areas and water reservoirs.” 35 Creating ruins and preserving ruins. Here we can unearth more than a trace of irony. Meanwhile, the Military Commander of the Golan issued Military Order No. 20 declaring all remaining movable and immovable property (personal property, money, land, etc.) to be “abandoned property” (just as the Abandoned Land Order of 1948 authorized the expropriation of Palestinian “fixed and unfixed” property). Israeli troops began to systematically strip cities and villages of anything of value or utility and brought in bulldozers and explosives.36 The near-empty city of Quneitra was used by the Israelis as a training ground in urban combat, just as deserted Palestinian villages had been used after 1948. When a strip of land in the Golan was returned to Syria as part of the diplomatic settlement of the 1973 war, Israeli troops almost completely destroyed the already-damaged city before they withdrew. In 1976, the UN General Assembly sent a team of Swiss civil engineers and military experts in ballistics and explosives to study every structure in Quneitra and determine the degree and cause of damage. The team concluded that wartime damages were relatively light, but 4088 of 4180 structures had been destroyed or damaged by “deliberate action.”

“The fate of abandoned Arab villages in Israel, 1965-1969” (History and Memory, Vol 18, No. 2, FallWinter 2006), pop. 86-106; available at “Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, Chapter One.” (Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, 2008-2009), p. 15; available at 34 “Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, p. 15. 35 Commentary on Dan Urman, Rafid on the Golan: A profile of a Late Roman and Byzantine village (Archaeopress at com/searchBar.asp%3Ftitle%3DCategories%26id%3D61%26CategoryID%3D61+%22on+the+death+of+dan +urman+in+2004%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us). 36 “The Occupied Syrian Golan Background (Al-Marsad, 2005). 33


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Many were “destroyed completely” leaving “no trace.” Mosques and churches had been destroyed, their rich interior decorations looted, as was the medical equipment of the hospital. Equipment from the water pumping station and electric power station was looted. Government buildings, schools, cinemas, the sewerage system, gas stations, a water tower, monuments, and cemeteries were targeted. Buildings were stripped of doors, windows, and furniture. The town was “systematically destroyed by heavy equipment.” Sometimes earthen ramps were built to enable more effective access. Some were pulled down by cables or chains. Others were demolished by explosives set in their center. Bulldozers or explosives flattened many homes and reduced them to heaps of rubble, very similar to demolished Palestinian homes. “Huge clouds of dust” could be seen rising from the city.37 An Israeli human rights lawyer reported in 1974 that hundreds of houses and shops were destroyed, but some were left standing for future use by Israelis. Some buildings, such as a Christian chapel, had been marked by white crosses and had been spared. Israeli troops left Hebrew graffiti on a wall: “You want Quneitra, you’ll have it demolished.”38 In the end, two cities, about 130 villages, and scores of “agricultural farms” were destroyed. All of this land and property belonged to the inhabitants of the Golan or to the Syrian government; under international law all of it should have been protected by the Israeli authorities. The result was that in many ways the most of Golan Heights became everything that Israelis most dearly wished the Palestinian territories were, but which they are not – land without people. Israel was free to destroy, create, and develop as it saw fit. Dismantling Syrian Society The largest remaining village was Majdal Shams in the north; four others were nearby – Masada, Su’heita, Buqa’ayta, and ‘Ayn Qinya, which lost its Christian population in 1967. They were now virtually all-Druze villages. An Alawite village, Ghajar, was further away; it now straddles the Lebanese border.39 Sakr Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” p. 11. Edward Gruner, “Quneitra: Report on nature, extent, and value of damage,” in Report of the Special committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories (United Nations General Assembly, A/31/218, October 1, 1976); available at 4022?OpenDocument. See also Felicia Langer, With My Own Eyes (London: Ithaca Press, 1975), pp. 68-70. “A question mark over the death of a city.” The Times, February 17, 1975, p. 12 and “Golan’s capital turns into heap of stones,” The Times, July 10, 1974, p. 8; both cited on Wikipedia’s useful survey on the Golan at http:// Videos of the ruins are easily available on the Internet; see for example, 39 Ghajar remained separate from the other Syrian villages. Facing “different geographic, social, and political conditions,” the villagers decided to accept Israeli citizenship and vote in its elections, although they insisted on maintaining their Syrian identity. Little information is readily available on the village. See: Moloney, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hammil, From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan.) See also “Straddling Political Fault Lines in the Middle East,” New York Times, Feb. 2, 2010; available at Aaron T. Wolf, Hydropolitics Along the Jordan River: Scarce Water and Its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Tokyo: United National University Press, 1995). See the section “hydroconspiracy theories”; available at http:// 37 38


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The Israeli military administration controlled the Golan from 1967 until 1981, ruling through hundreds of military orders. It attempted not only to systematically destroy the physical remnants of Syrian society on the Golan, but also to destroy or alter the political, economic, and social institutions of the remaining population. It attempted to erase their Syrian Arab identity and to remake them into Israeli citizens. Israeli policy towards the Druze villagers was based on their previous experience with the Druze within Israel. A “divide and conquer” policy aimed at creating divisions among non-Jewish populations – Muslims, Christians, Bedouin, Circassians, and Druze – operated with a degree of success within Israel, where the Druze even served in the Israeli military. The Israeli assumption was that the same policy of cooperation would work on the Golan. The policy failed. The Druze villagers had what has been called a “culture of resistance” and a strong sense of identity as Syrians. They had revolted against the Ottomans and played a leading role during the Syrian revolt against French rule in the 1920s, when half the male population of the villages was killed. Those who fled returned to find the villages “burned to the ground.” At times, they had also resisted the Syrian government. In 1967, elders remembered the experience of the 1920s and persuaded the people not to flee. These villages were also the only ones dependent on “fruit-based agriculture,” a major long-term investment, which needed attention. Even so, 20 percent of their people did leave, mostly from the “professional classes.”40 Israeli occupation policy soon became clear. Israeli law replaced Syrian law. Golanis received Israeli military identity cards and license plates. Israeli-appointed mayors replaced the elected mayors. Five new village councils were created to impose changes. A handful of “cooperative” individuals were placed in positions of power by Israel. They controlled access to electricity, water, schools, basic services, and permits for construction and development projects. Those who supported the occupation got privileged access. Tax collection was enforced by Israeli courts. Village land was confiscated and settlements were being built. In 1970, the inhabitants of Su’heita were

0859e/80859E00.htm+%22scarce+water+and+its+impact+on+the+arab%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us Also: “Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories,” (UN General Assembly, A/56/491, Oct. 22, 2001), which describes Ghajar protests against occupation policies; available at Abu Fakhr describes the inhabitants in 1967 as illiterate “gypsies,” “Voices from the Golan,” p. 16-17. 40 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights”; Mara’i and Halabi, p. 80; “Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” p. 15. One witness suggests that it was “government employees, military personnel and their families” from the Golan who were the first to realize that war was imminent and to begin “flooding into Damascus.” (Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” p. 10, 15.) This was echoed by other testimony that “the first to go” were administrative units, senior officers and front-line commanders. (Fogelman, “The Disinherited,” section “Flight to the Fields”) In the 1948 Palestinian Nakba, it was the middle and upper classes that were among the first to see the danger and to move their families to safety in other Arab countries.


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forced to move to other villages, and Su’heita was also destroyed, its land was confiscated. A military installation replaced the village.41 The Israeli curriculum replaced the Syrian curriculum. It ignored Arab civilization and history and was designed to create a Druze identity that was separate from and antagonistic to Arab identity. School programs were ordered to observe the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday instead of the Muslim Sabbath on Friday. Students demonstrated and refused to attend classes. Over 100 politically active school administrators and teachers were fired and replaced by often unqualified but more compliant teachers.42 These policies naturally brought resistance. Villagers had supported Arab nationalist parties in Syria, and a large demonstration mourned the death of Egyptian president Nasser in 1970. An underground movement informed Syrian authorities about Israeli military and settlement activities on the Golan. When a group was arrested, over 2000 people showed up for the trial. Repression intensified with long prison terms and the harassment of prisoners’ families. Access to services required “vocal support” of Israel. Two of the underground resisters were killed and their bodies dragged through the streets for hours. After the 1973 war, barbed wire and minefields marked the ceasefire line.43

Annexation and Resistance


fter the Israeli Likud party came to power in 1977, it claimed Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian territory and people, and pressured villagers to accept Israeli nationality. If enough people requested citizenship, it would appear “voluntary” and ease the process of annexing the land. So drivers’ licenses and the right to travel within Israel required citizenship. Those who cooperated got lower taxes, larger water quotas, and quicker building permits. Those who did not lost jobs, medical services, and water for irrigation. Homes were demolished, shops closed. Sports clubs in the village began to engage in political activities in opposition to the occupation.44

In 1981, the Golan Heights Law was rushed through the Knesset without debate. It extended Israel’s “civil law, jurisdiction, and administration” to the Golan – de facto annexation of the territory, in defiance of international law. It claimed to abolish Syrian sovereignty and to replace it with Israeli sovereignty. The UN Security Council quickly condemned the action and declared it “null and void.”45 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights”; Mara’i and Halabi, p. 82; “The Occupied Syrian Background (Al-Marsad), p. 9. 42 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights”; Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 81; “The Occupied Syrian Background” (Al-Marsad), p. 8-9; “Appendix: Testimonies from the Occupied Golan Heights,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Spring 1979), p. 127. 43 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights”; “The Occupied Syrian Background (Al-Marsad), p. 9-10. 44 Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p, 82-83; “The Occupied Syrian Background” (Al-Marsad), p. 10; Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” p. 9. 45 For an analysis of the annexation and occupation in the light of international law, see Murphy and Gannon, “Changing the Landscape: Israel’s Gross Violations of International Law in the Occupied Syrian Golan.” 41


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Protests grew and a mass meeting was called at the Druze house of worship. Half the population showed up. The community decided to reject Israeli ID citizenship cards and “excommunicated” everyone who accepted Israeli citizenship – refusing to have any association with them, even for weddings and funerals. This was a “devastating” penalty in small Arab villages. Those who recanted had to go door to door to apologize to their neighbors. Soon the villagers called a remarkably successful General Strike that was maintained for five months and 6 days. People refused to go to their jobs or fields. The strike “crippled” industry in northern Israel for several weeks. Frequent protests and political meetings continued, sometimes with several thousand people. Israeli policy had turned the opposition to the occupation from small underground groups into a mass movement involving virtually the whole population.46 The whole community was involved. Nazim Khattir, a farmer from Majdal Shams, who lost his teaching job, testified, “We began to organize ourselves in the society. Everyone was given a job…If there was a shortage of food in one family then it would be given by another family….Each village was its own unit, separated but together in spirit.” Children and elders broke the curfew to harvest crops. Women stepped out of traditional roles to take an active role in demonstrations. Villagers with free time contributed labor, equipment, expertise, and money to new community improvement projects, such as widening streets and developing the cemetery. Each village began to create sewer systems, digging trenches and laying pipelines. (Already, in 1972, villagers had built their own “drinking water network.”) New leaders emerged – younger, secular, politically on the left – who worked in cooperation with traditional leaders. The slogan was “The Golan is Syrian Arab.” The sentiment expressed was “They can confiscate our land, they can kill us, but they cannot tell us who we are. They cannot change our identity.”47 The Israeli responded with harsh repression. The Golan was put under a blockade with no one allowed in or out, including the press, lawyers, Knesset members, Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Curfews were imposed. All food and medicine were kept out; there were cuts in water and electricity. There were more arrests. Soldiers used live ammunition against peaceful demonstrations, and 35 people were shot. At least two of the wounded died. Livestock died as people were kept at home. There was no milk for children. Food ran low. People pooled their resources. Israeli companies fired workers, more teachers lost their jobs. The villages were declared a “closed military zone.” A “state of siege” went on for 40 days. Fourteen thousand Israeli soldiers used schools as camps, raided homes, and went door-to-door to confiscate old IDs and distribute Israeli citizen identity cards.

Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 83-84; Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” p. 4; “The Occupied Syrian Golan,” (Al-Marsad), p. 10-11. 47 Moloney, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hammil, From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, p. 29-32; Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 83-84, 86; Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights”; “The Occupied Syrian Background (Al-Marsad); R. Scott Kennedy, “The Druze of the Golan: A Case of Non-violent Resistance,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XII, No. 2 (Winter 1984), p. 52-54. 46


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The next morning the streets were littered with the blue cards. Then each village collected the cards and ceremonially burned them in the village square.48 A few days later, the Israelis gave up and withdrew the troops. The invasion of Lebanon was on. Deep-rooted community solidarity and non-violent tactics had succeeded in achieving limited political goals. The Golani Intifada had won; their identity as citizens of Syria was intact. An agreement was negotiated. The villagers could keep their Syrian citizenship. No Israeli citizenship was required, and no service in the Israeli military. The “nationality” space on their Israeli identity cards was now left blank; the birthplace was specified as the Golan Heights, rather than either Israel or Syria. Nationality on travel documents was “undefined.” Other Israeli promises to respect village land and water rights were not fulfilled, and the de facto annexation proceeded without effective international opposition.49 Tensions and conflict continued between villagers and authorities. A few people had been allowed to travel to Syria for family reunification, marriage, or education. Now, no one was allowed to go.50 Those who resisted the occupation continued to be arrested and imprisoned. Street protestors ran the risk of violence from the soldiers. By 2005, 21 people had been killed by Israeli gunfire and 700 imprisoned for political activities.

Settlement and Expropriation Establishing an Israeli Presence


he first settlement was established five weeks after the war ended. The initiative came from members of the United Kibbutz movement in the north of Israel. They were animated by socialist and nationalist aspirations towards settlement of “the Whole Land of Israel,” but they promoted the enterprise in more modest terms: The settlers would merely round up abandoned livestock, harvest abandoned crops, and “plant for next year.” Their underlying intention was to establish a civilian presence, “so that no one could just order a withdrawal” and “to keep the politicians from giving up the heights in the post-war diplomacy.51

Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights”; “The Occupied Syrian Background (Al-Marsad), p. 11; Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 83-84; Kennedy, “The Druze of the Golan: A Case of Non-violent Resistance,” p. 53-55; Moloney, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hammil, From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, p. 29-32. 49 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights”; “The Occupied Syrian Background (Al-Marsad), p. 11; Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 84; Kennedy, “The Druze of the Golan: A Case of Non-violent Resistance,” p. 55-56. 50 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” p. 6. 51 Gershom Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (New York: Times Books, Henry Holt and Co., 2006), pp. 15-17, 72-74. The book title is ironic; the text makes it clear that the Israeli settlement program under the Labor Party governments was anything but “accidental.” 48


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They conducted themselves in a somewhat freewheeling, “anarchist” style, but everything was coordinated with and approved by those in authority. They had the political and practical backing of Yigal Allon, the Labor Minister and a member of the Israeli war cabinet, who proposed to the cabinet that two or three “work camps” be set up. The operation was kept “top secret” because the U.S. opposed settlements (and because the cabinet had already voted on June 19 to withdraw from the Golan in exchange for peace). The Upper Galilee regional council provided funding; the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Department provided supplies and a van. The Agriculture Ministry hired Israeli Bedouin to round up livestock and provided salaries for the settlers. The Military Commander on the Golan allowed them to stay.52 The activists managed to gather a handful of recruits from the northern kibbutzim and identified suitable locations for settlements. The first two settlers packed their sleeping bags into a jeep and “headed uphill.” The “pioneers” would tear down the fences between small plots and create large fields for plowing with tractors. In August, the cabinet authorized “working land” in the Golan, allowed the first “Merom Golan” group to remain, and proposed additional settlements. Until then, the Israelis had referred to the area as the “Syrian Heights” -- now the terminology changed. Six months later, there were five settlements with 450 people; by 1977, there were 25 settlements.53 Settlement Development In the early years, the Labor Party governments promoted settlement both on the Golan and the West Bank. Therefore the settlers on the Golan were predominantly secular Labor supporters, rather than Orthodox (whose extremists were busy establishing settlements in the Palestinian Territories). When the right-wing Likud Party was elected in 1977, it invested more heavily in the West Bank, but also increased the settlement budget in the Golan.54 Over the years, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) has formulated a series of elaborate plans for the development of the Golan. Israel authorities would provide massive aid and investment in public services and infrastructure – “education, health, public health, national insurance….housing, public institutions.” Development would utilize the confiscated resources and the local villagers would provide low cost labor. The 1975 plan envisioned maximum integration of the physical infrastructure, “water, electricity, sewage, road systems” and “segregation” in “human and economic development.”55 The plans have always fallen short. Most Israelis were not eager to become settlers. The first plan in November 1967 aimed for 45,000 to 50,000 settlers within 10 years. Forty years later in 2007, despite “tax incentives, low rents, lax enforcement of labour and environmental

Ibid., pp. 75-77, 94-96; Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Co., 2005), p. 575. 53 Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, pp. 77, 97-98. 54 Mara’i and Halabi, “Life under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” pp. 88. 55 Davis, The Golan Heights under the Israeli Occupation 1967-1981, pp. 37-39. 52


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laws,” and government subsidies, there were only about 20,000 settlers in 33 settlements (but with more on the way).56 Israel controlled most Golani land and resources, the use of which was denied to the villagers, who continued to lose land by Israeli confiscation. This was a violation of the sovereign right of people to their own resources. It was the basis of the success of many settlement enterprises in agriculture, industry, and tourism (archaeological and historical sites and museums, the sites of battles in1967, sites of natural beauty). The occupation caused environmental damage from forest fires and from toxic waste from Israeli factories. Israeli settlement products often violated international regulations that require identification of their place of origin, seeking to disguise their origin in the occupied Golan.57 Israeli settlements on Golan land included kibbutzim, moshavim agricultural cooperatives, two regional community centers, and the administrative and industrial center in the town of Katzrin. The Neve Ativ settlement near Majdal Shams, constructed with Golani building contractors, opened Israel’s only ski resort on Mount Hermon, for which a large amount of the land of Majdal Shams was confiscated. The resort is thriving, although the skiing and restaurant prices are said to be rather “pricey.” One commentator was more enthusiastic about the Druze restaurant: “What a feast and so reasonably priced!”58 In the southern Golan, “vast areas” were set aside for pastures and cattle ranching. This contributed to a romanticized image of the Golan as a colorful “frontier” with Americanstyle cowboys. The socialist Merom Golan pioneer kibbutzniks wound up with a cattle ranch, one of the most important businesses on the Golan. It relies on one of the Syrian villagers as its guide and horse trainer. Israel depends on the Golan for 40% of its beef.59

Mara’i and Halabi, “Life under Occupation in the Golan Heights,”, p. 89; “Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Syrian Golan” (Al-Marsad press release, Jan. 5, 2008); available at etemplate.php?id=33; From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Golan, p. 58. For details on WZO development planning for the Golan, see Davis, The Golan Heights under the Israeli Occupation 1967-1981, pp. 21-42. 57 From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Occupation, p. 55-58, 123-124; for a discussion of settlement products in the light of international agreements about the labeling and marketing of products, with particular focus on settlement mineral water and wine, see pp. 91-140. 58 Lonely Planet: Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Lonely Planet Publications, date unavailable), p. 271; available at iv%22+ski+%22pricey%22&source=bl&ots=xtRWQ0_l7k&sig=AeFjKfXoahonlz0Fvf4CHgtkLvc&hl=en&e i=zp9DTP4mgfjwBuDW9cMN&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAA#v=on epage&q=%22neve%20ativ%22%20ski%20%22pricey%22&f=false. See also at http://www. and “The Occupied Syrian Golan Background” (Al-Marsad), p. 14. 59 “An Old Cowhound from the Holy Land” (National Post, May 2, 2008); available at 56


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The Golan Heights Winery is located in Katzrin, the largest Israeli town with 5000 residents, and is owned by several kibbutzim and agricultural settlements. It uses grapes from the Merom Golan vineyards. It is one of the top three Israeli vineyards and the winery accounts for 38% of Israel’s wine exports. Most settlement vineyards are planted “on or near” destroyed villages and farms.60 The confiscated resources of the Golan are economically valuable, and many development projects are business investments, driven by profit rather than ideology. The multimilliondollar Eden Springs mineral water company, which uses water from the Slokia Spring, is one of the largest employers and investors on the Golan, and one of the more profitable enterprises. The Slokia settlement is built on the site of a destroyed village. The company has hired immigrants from the former Soviet Union and attracted American and European investors, but, naturally, finds the prospect of a “land for peace” agreement with Syria to be both a threat and a potential opportunity to reach the Syrian market. The Israeli peace process with Syria brought restrictions on settlement building programs; when peace talks broke down in 2000, Israel lifted all restrictions.61 Not all settlers have the same attitudes towards the prospect of the return of the Golan to Syria. Yehuda Harel, one of the earliest settlers at Merom Golan, has spent his life building the settlement movement on the Golan. During the peace process in the 1990s, he was a co-founder of the “Third Way” party, opposing Israeli withdrawal. His daughter Hagar remembers her family life revolving around settlements. “She spent her childhood in smokefilled rooms in her home, where maps and development plans for the Golan were spread out on the table and people came and went at all hours, discussing and arguing over plans to develop the area.” Settlement has been at the core of her life and if Israeli withdrew, “something would be lost forever.” Still, “It’s like marriage – the less you take it for granted, the stronger the love and commitment.” Her father still sounds ambitious about the future. “Nobody knows the borders of the ‘Land of Israel’…. because we are still making our borders!” 62 Yigal Kipnis, another early settler and Air Force pilot, resented Harel’s claim to represent all settlers and points out that the Golan gave Third Way only 17% of its votes. Kipnis founded “Settlers for Peace” and helped organized support for the peace process from residents of 13 settlements. What Israel needed was peace with Syria, and he would be willing to leave. “I don’t think that just because I live here, Israel should have to stay.”

From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Golan Heights,” p. 130-131. William Orme, “The Water Is Clear; the Future Isn’t” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2000;; From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Colonization of the Golan Heights, p. 122; Israel Lifts Freeze on Golan Building,” BBC News, April 13, 2000; available at For an overview of the occupation as a corporate business enterprise, see “Who Profits? Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry”; available at 62 “1967 made me,” Lilly Galili (Ha’aretz, June 5, 2003); available at features/1967-made-me-1.90421. Helena Cobban, “Golan Days,” ‘Just World News’ with Helena Cobban, April 1998 (originally published in Al-Hayat, London), part 3; 60 61


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Many residents on the Golan, especially in the town of Katzrin, are temporary -- the families of soldiers stationed there.63 In addition to civilian settlements, large amounts of land were set aside for 60 military bases and training areas, which have made undetonated explosives a widespread danger. Minefields were created to prevent refugees from returning to their homes and some were later removed to allow settlers to move in. Golani and Palestinian human rights leaders have identified 76 existing minefields, some very close to and even inside of villages. Tourists are advised to “never walk or drive in open fields, off main roads or dirt roads,” although marked trails are “pretty much safe.” Warning signs can be misleading, since “old mines may drift during heavy rains” and have slid downhill into villages and even into homes. As of 2005, mines had killed 16 villagers and disabled 45. Not until an 11-year-old Israeli boy stepped on a landmine and lost his leg in 2010 did 73 Knesset members sponsor a bill to remove mines.64 When tension mounted with Syria, the military presence was made more visible: In 2007, numerous military vehicles crowded the road, new military camps appeared. Soldiers “moved in formation in full battle dress” on Mount Hermon. It was reported that Mount Avital “bristles with antennae, radar, and observation devices.” An Israeli electronic intelligence-gathering post on Mount Hermon monitored the Syrian plain below, as well as Damascus itself, which was in plain sight only an hour’s drive away.65 Land, Water, and Economic Life Israeli seizure of the Golan meant not only the violation of Syrian sovereignty but also the violation of personal and communal property rights. People lost their land and the subsistence and income it provided. The land was then redistributed to settlers or used for other Israeli purposes. Previous socio-economic relationships were disrupted. People were cut off from the economic support programs of the Syrian government. The economic activities most important before 1967 were no longer possible. Restrictions on access to land and water devastated the village agriculture. The loss of pastureland meant that livestock could no longer be a major element of the village economy. Without adequate land or water, livestock breeders were forced to sell their herds. Many families inherit a small orchard and a plot of land, but only about twenty or twentyfive percent can still make a living through agriculture. Because of the loss of land and water, high taxes, low prices for their products, and competition from government-subsidized settlements, most Golanis were forced out of agriculture into wage labor. Cobban, “Golan Days, “part 4; “Profile of Internal Displacement: Syrian Arab Republic” (Norwegian Refugee Council), p 22. 64 “The Golan Heights” (Alternative Information Center); Wikitravel, July 16, 2010; available at; “Golan Druze celebrate across barbed wire,” BBC News (April 18, 2008); available at; “Israel’s Young Landmine Campaigner, BBC World Service, no date; available at programmes/2010/07/100712_outlook_yuval.shtml. 65 Conal Urquhart “The Golan Tinderbox” (The Middle East, July 1, 2007). 63


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They suffer from high unemployment and often must work at jobs beneath their educational and skill level. Their Syrian diplomas are not recognized. Israel treats them as a cheap labor force. They are denied government and public service jobs, and are reduced to dependency on unskilled, semi-skilled, or menial jobs, such as seasonal work picking fruit in Israeli settlements or at factories, farms, and construction jobs in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. Some of the jobs are strenuous or hazardous. Often it is temporary work, and they must live with the threat of dismissal. The wages are low, less than half that of Israeli workers. There is no insurance or compensation for workplace injuries. Even the health insurance and social services that are available are less than what Israeli citizens (especially settlers) receive. Many Golanis live below the poverty level; widows and the elderly may have to rely on welfare subsidies.66 The private commercial sector is “strangled” and undercut by the strong competition from businesses and industries in the settlements or in Israel. Villagers have come to depend on Israeli products and shop in commercial centers such as the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, a 30-minute drive from Majdal Shams. Many economic possibilities have been precluded by the land confiscations. Israel seized Mount Hermon for “security” purposes, and then subsidized the Neve Ativ ski resort. When Golanis tried to compete, their businesses were attacked or burned down. Settlers on the Golan are mostly not from the extremist movements that intruded into the Palestinian Territories, but they are the inevitable suspects.67 Israel seized land by declaring it a “closed military area,” as “abandoned,” or as “state land.” The law of “absentees’ property,” which was designed to expropriate Palestinian land, was applied to plots in the villages. Zoning plans classified large areas of communal land (both pastoral and urban) as state property. Confiscation for military purposes has meant “constant uprooting of trees” during the night in secret. Villagers have responded by “going en mass to re-plant uprooted fields” to show their “solidarity and resolve.”68 The authorities put “harsh restrictions” on villagers’ use of their own agricultural and residential land. They were blocked from physically expanding the villages, forcing them to build upward and put additional upper stories on their houses when new generations married and needed living space. If villagers build homes without a permit, Israel imposes high fees and then grants a license. Before 1967, the Druze villages had owned twenty to thirty percent of the land on the Golan that is now under occupation; much of it has been lost.69 The result was severe overcrowding. Public space was used for homes. Some 40 percent of Majdal Shams’ “built-up land” was considered state land and at risk of confiscation. Based on data collected by the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories,” (UN General Assembly, A/56/491, October 22, 2001. Subsequent UN reports and testimony by representatives from the Golan indicate that the same problems continue. Eldin, personal communication. 67 Eldin, personal communication. 68 Ibid. 69 Ibid. 66


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The village was hemmed in with a minefield and the electrified ceasefire line on the east, Mount Hermon to the north, a military post and two minefields within the village, and a military road up the mountain to the west. Zoning regulations and urban planning restricted building. Soldiers often set fires nearby to burn off grass, which damages the environment and sometimes explodes landmines. To build a house required a permit to “rent” the land claimed by the authorities. The Neve Ativ settlement of perhaps 100 people was allotted three times as much urban space as Majdal Shams with 10,000 (half the Golani population).70 Mufeed Al-Wili testified about his village, “At the beginning of the occupation, in Buqa’ayta, there were four thousand goats and sheep. Now, 42 years later, there are three hundred heads. The main reason… is the confiscation of the land.” The village is surrounded by minefields on three sides. “One of the grazing areas was used for this purpose. The rest was taken to be used for the settlers’ agriculture.” The village of Majdal Shams lost 80 percent of its land to confiscation for use by settlers. Authorities uproot apple and cherry trees. Settlers on the Golan farm 80 square kilometers of the territory, while Syrian villagers farm only 20. Five hundred kilometers are used for pasture and 246 for nature reserves.71 Livestock was also seized. Al Wili explained, “….the nature reservation in Israel declared that the presence of the sheep and goats in the [Masada] forest is harmful…confiscating the flocks and selling them for the benefit of the State of Israel. They did this three times. They brought trucks and the army and they confiscated the flocks. They took them… Also, in many cases, the people had to pay taxes or punishments [fines] because it costs the State money to bring trucks, to bring army, to bring labour…You have to finance your own confiscation.” The Israelis then put “thousands of cows” in the forest.72 Under Israeli law, all water resources were considered state property. Military Order No. 120 appointed an official with authority over all Golan water. It asserted, “….no person is allowed to carry out or operate any work related to water, except by an official permit.”73 For the villagers under occupation, access to water was severely restricted. In the 1970s, the authorities forbade the drilling of wells and the Masada spring, an important source for livestock and irrigation, was confiscated; water from a second major spring was diverted by the Israeli water company, Mekorot. Authorities confiscated Arab water, which had been used without cost, then sold a small portion back to the villagers at triple the amount paid by settlers. Village leaders variously estimate that each Israeli settler uses five to ten times the amount of water allotted to villagers. In the Jordan River basin as a whole, Israel is the

Moloney, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hamill, From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, p. 68-70; “The Golan Heights” (Alternative Information Center); “Appendix: Testimonies from the Occupied Golan Heights,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Spring 1979), p. 127; Eldin, personal communication. 71 Molony, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hamill, From Settlement to Shelf: the Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, p. 62. 72 Ibid., p 62-63. 73 “The Occupied Syrian Golan Background” (Al-Marsad), p. 8 70


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source of 11-12 percent of the system, but uses about 50 percent of the water. Israel depends on the Golan for 30 percent of its water, and this has come to be considered a matter of strategic importance.74 In response to the numerous pressures of the occupation, the villagers were forced to reorganize themselves, not only for political resistance, but also for economic survival. Taking a page from the Israeli playbook, villagers started “creating facts” of their own. Traditionally, half the land at Majdal Shams was privately owned; the rest was communal, much of it rocky and uncultivated. Often land ownership was not officially registered. To protect the land from confiscation, villagers divided communal lands and began to plant thousands of dunums of new apple orchards. They also financed and built a road to the orchards. The soil and climate produced high quality apples, which brought a good price in the Israeli market. When the highly subsided settlements also planted apples and began to compete, villagers planted cherry orchards as well. The authorities fixed apple prices at a low level. Villagers built cooling houses to store apples -- for sale at better prices in the off-season. In the 1980s, planting apple trees (and competing with Israeli orchards) was forbidden, but this changed, and by the early 1990s land under cultivation had tripled since 1967. From 2005, Golanis were allowed to ship apples for sale in Damascus.75 Facing threats to water from springs and pools in the 1970s, villagers initiated a more modern irrigation system. Later, they built large cisterns, iron tanks, to collect rainwater in the fields and orchards. At first, the cisterns were prohibited by the authorities, who destroyed some of them, using them for target practice, and levied heavy fines. In a change of policy, the cisterns were allowed but required a permit, and meters for measuring the water were installed on them. Dr. Tayseer Mara’i complained, “What is this? Now, even the rain in the air belongs to the Israelis?” 76 In addition, a complex tax structure on water meant that villagers, who were allocated a smaller initial quota of water, had to pay higher rates for additional water, while settlers who received a higher quota had less need for additional water. The result was that water was more expensive for the villagers.77 The villagers were burdened with numerous other taxes and paid at a much higher rate than settlers – taxes on radios and televisions, houses and property, livestock and crops. The irrigation tax was $1500 per dunum. Villagers paid $2200 in taxes per year for an

Bradford, The Golan: Ending Occupation, Establishing Peace, p. 15; “The Occupied Syrian Golan Background,” p. 8; Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 85; Molony, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hamill, From Settlement to Shelf: the Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, pp. 71-77. 75 Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 85. 76 Ibid., p. 86; Cobban, part 2; Molony, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hamill, From Settlement to Shelf: the Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, pp. 77-80. 77 Molony, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hamill, From Settlement to Shelf: the Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, pp. 74-75. 74


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automobile, $500 for a tractor. They paid national insurance, land insurance, and a valueadded tax. They paid income taxes at the full rate, while, according to Israeli law, settlements and other Israeli communities in “border areas” were “nearly exempt” from income tax. Small businesses competing with settlement businesses – shops, farms, artisans – were “acutely affected.” In 2010, a bill in the Knesset proposed reducing Golan settlers’ taxes by 13% (while those under occupation would pay the full tax). Students were taxed for attending college in Syria. Arabic textbooks were taxed; Hebrew books were not.78 But despite obstacles and discriminatory policies, villagers’ hard work and creative efforts have produced improved living standards. Most people now have modern conveniences – cars, TVs, running water, toilets. Many have computers, Internet access, DVDs, and other electronic devices.79

The Long Haul under the Occupation Family Life: Separation and Reunion


s with the Palestinians, the primary experience of the Golanis since 1967 has been one of separation and loss. For the villagers living under occupation, it is the separation from family and friends that has been most significant. Almost every family has relatives across the ceasefire line, and there is no freedom to travel to unoccupied Syria. They have lived year after year, and decade after decade, with only distant and occasional contacts with immediate and extended family members in Syria, on the other side of the Israeli checkpoints, minefields, and barbed wire. For close-knit Arab families this has been a deeply felt hardship. The denial of the right to travel has been one of the major sources of suffering for both those under occupation and those who are displaced. In the earlier years of the occupation, the Military Commander allowed mail contact through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). An ICRC tent was set up at the ceasefire line, and the Commander selected which villagers he would allow to meet there with relatives. Those who cooperated with the occupation were favored. This privilege was discontinued when the villages refused Israeli citizenship. Just outside Majdal Shams, there are two hills, separated by the ceasefire line. The villagers would gather on one hill, while their displaced relatives gathered on the other. They communicated, perhaps once a year, with megaphones and bullhorns to convey news of births, deaths, weddings, and other events. This is known variously as the “Hill of Shouting” and the “Valley of Tears.” It was not easy to hear one another or to identify

“Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices…” (UN General Assembly, 2001), section V, B; Moloney, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hamill, From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, p. 62; Eldin, personal communication; Rebecca Anna Stoil, “Tax-break bill for Golan residents splits Kadima MKs,” (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 10, 2010); available at d%3D168374+13%25+taxes+golan&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us. 79 Eldin, personal communication. 78


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who was on the other side. This was discontinued during the annexation conflict, but resumed in 1987. On Syrian Independence Day and the anniversary of the 1982 General Strike and during times of crisis, thousands of people, waving Syrian flags and banners, gather on both hills for a day of political speeches, songs, dancing, and nationalist celebration, a joint reaffirmation of unity and national identity.80 There are other ways to make contact. Despite the continued absence of direct phone or email contact with Syria, Golanis have found ways to make contact with relatives through cellphones and the Internet. After Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty, it became possible for families to make an expensive and “emotionally taxing” trip to Jordan (if the Israelis granted a travel permit) in order to have an occasional family reunion in person. Often, they had gone for years or decades without seeing one another in person, and family members could be strangers to one another.81 Sometimes the reunions are occasions when young people meet prospective marriage partners. Israel allows “cross-border” weddings between men and women from opposite sides of the ceasefire line, but there is a price. Once married, they can never go home again. Overcrowding in the villages and the shortage of housing for young couples, together with the delay in marriage for the sizable number of men seeking higher education, has meant a rise in the age of marriage. Some women have found it difficult to find husbands locally, and have found spouses within their broader extended families in unoccupied Syria. An additional problem is the danger of hereditary diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, among the heavily intermarried Golani population.82 Once families have agreed on a marriage, and after Israeli and Syrian security forces have approved the lists of wedding guests (and even the food arrangements), families gather in the narrow strip of UN-supervised territory for a brief ceremony. Not everyone is allowed in. Amidst troops and barbed wire, these so-called “Syrian brides” in their white wedding dresses prepare to leave home and family forever. Tensions can flare between the wedding parties and the Israeli troops, as brothers and sisters, parents and children, attempt to “cram a lifetime of lost emotion” into a ceremony of an hour, or less. Brides are welcomed to the Golan with platters of food and praise songs. It is the drama of the weddings that has most often drawn global media attention to the Golan.83 Leila Safadi met her husband when he was studying at the University of Damascus. They received permission to marry and she moved to the Golan. “When I got to the border, I was overcome by fear. A part of you dies when you cross the border. You wave goodbye to “Golan Druze celebrate across barbed wire,” BBC News. Eldin, personal communication. 82 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” pp. 7-8. 83 Nicholas Pelham, “The Golan Waits for the Green Light,” Middle East Report Online (July 26, 2007); available at 80 81


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your country, your family, and your friends.” She went 10 years without seeing her family, until her father died. She and her two children had to stage a three-day sit-in at the ceasefire line before Israel gave her an 18-hour pass to attend the funeral. Very often, there is no pass forthcoming and people are unable to attend the funerals of close family members.84 As of 2007, there had been 67 brides who came to the Golan and 11 who left the Golan to accompany their husbands to new homes elsewhere in Syria. Forty Golani women demonstrated for the right to travel to Syria. Lamice Ayoub from Damascus said, “What was unexpected was the level of longing for my family…Sometimes you see someone who reminds you of a person you know back home and you begin to cry…I want to visit my mom when she is still alive.” Such relationships and feelings, however, continue to be at the mercy of regional and global politics. A recent law forbids marriage with citizens of “enemy countries.”85 Each year, 300 or more Golani students are granted permission to study at Syrian universities, although others study at the more expensive Israeli universities (some of which do not allow them to study pharmacy, medicine, or dentistry and discriminate in other ways). In Syria, they study tuition-free and receive housing and a monthly stipend from the Syrian government. At the University of Damascus, they organized a students’ association. Israel allows them to return home only once a year, for summer vacations. Dental student Amin Salih reported that he was not allowed to return for his father’s funeral. “That hurt me a lot.”86 The program also serves the purposes of the occupation and can be used by authorities as a technique for political control over the Golani population. Students are allowed to study in Syria only if they and their relatives end any involvement in political activities critical of the occupation. Parents must guarantee their children’s “good behavior.” The program had been cut off completely until 1989, as punishment for the villages’ rejection of Israeli citizenship during the annexation crisis.87 Once in Syria, however, students’ sense of identity as Syrian and Arab is reaffirmed and strengthened. When they return home to the Golan, students report hours of harsh interrogation and confiscation of belongings; some face days of detention, humiliation, and physical brutality.88 “The heartbreak of Golan Heights weddings,” France 24/The Observers (November 26, 2009); available at 85 One way ticket for Druze Syrian Brides,” Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 11, 2007); available at Eldin, personal communication. 86 Golan Heights Apples Give Syrians Hope, “ (Institute for War and Peace Reporting). 87 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” pp. 6, 8. 88 Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (UN General Assembly, A/57/207, Sept. 16, 2002), section 82; available at UNISPAL.NSF/0/68ECEA2CD994BC9285256C6100569819+%22Report+of+the+Special+Committee+to+I nvestigate+Israeli+Practices+Affecting+the+Human+Rights%22+%22A/57/207%22&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk& gl=us. Hamood Maray, “The Case of Education” (Golan Heights: Golan for the Development of Arab Villages, Oct. 11, 2002); available at ink=15. 84


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The local job market awaiting them has a shortage of professional-level positions in either the public or the private sector. Community organizations have few funds for staff. As result, many graduates take jobs well below their level of education and skill, which almost certainly guarantees that they will feel a continuing sense of injustice and political discontent.89 Since 1990, Israel also allows hundreds of Druze religious leaders to make pilgrimages to shrines in Syria, such as that believed to be the burial place of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve. The annual pilgrimages, which require coordination by the Israeli army, ICRC, and the interior ministries of both countries, can also become the occasion of demonstrative shows of a spirit of Syrian nationalism. The 2009 delegation of 555 elders rallied at Quneitra to affirm their Syrian identity and reject the occupation; Syrian officials praised their “steadfastness.”90 In addition, Golanis risk losing their “permanent resident” status within Israel, if they live abroad and “move their center of life” for seven years. Brides, students, and religious pilgrimages draw media coverage and serve as important symbolic gestures. But they only make the painful separation of families and communities more apparent. Economy and Community Development Although the obstacles presented by the occupation, the village communities have continually developed creative new responses and initiatives in order to deal with the occupation – economic innovations, mass action, community service programs, and civil society organizations. New secular leaders have emerged. In addition, the educational level of the population is rising. Hundreds of young people (twenty or twenty-five percent of the population) have attended universities in Syria or Israel (or for some of the older generation, in the Soviet Union). They are the foundation stones of a new professional, technical, and commercial middle class. Graduates in “practical” fields – law, medicine, dentistry, engineering, accounting, computer science – are more likely to find employment than those in the liberal arts. Most Golanis have come to speak excellent, even “eloquent” Hebrew. There is a new “internet generation” exposed to globalization and its cosmopolitan culture. Some of them now have their Facebook pages. But there is only one, infrequently published newspaper and no public library. Few outside publications circulate.91

Maray, “The Case of Education” (Golan Heights: Golan for the Development of Arab Villages). “Delegation from the Occupied Syrian Golan Arrives in Quneitra, underlines rejection of the Israeli occupation,” Syrian Arab News Agency, September 24, 2009; available at eng/21/2009/09/24/246309.htm. 91 Eldin, personal communication; “Facebook sparks new conflict over Golan Heights,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 18, 2009; available at 89 90


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Politically, religious and secular leaders have evolved a “dynamic structure of consensusbuilding.” Despite differences of values and ideas, there is a very strong “national consensus” that the Golan remains “occupied Arab Syrian land” and the people remain “Syrian Arab citizens.” There is also agreement that the unelected municipal officials imposed by Israel have no legitimacy and cannot be recognized as representatives of the community.92 The role of women began to change during the 1982 General Strike. They were full participants in the resistance, even physically confronting Israeli soldiers when they entered their homes and tried to arrest husbands, sons, or fathers. Afterwards, more women graduated from high school, attended college, and entered the job market. Women traditionally worked at home, on the family farm, or in small businesses. Now economic pressures compel women of all ages to work outside the sphere of the family, whether or not their “cultural orientation” is “traditional” or non-traditional, religious or secular. Many work as fruit-pickers on settlements. Scores teach or work as doctors, dentists, nurses, medical assistants, laboratory technicians, and administrators.” Some started small businesses – “shops, hair salons, dress-making.” Others work in agriculture and factories. Gender inequality, however, remains “deep-rooted.” While education is available on a more equal basis, job opportunities for women are fewer than for men.93 The Strike also gave rise to a “new collective spirit” of independence and self-reliance in meeting community needs. A Golan Academic Association (GAA) formed in 1983 by students and graduates to provide lectures and tours of the Heights, tutoring, and cultural courses in the arts. It joined with a new Women’s Association to open two kindergartens. Landlords who rented rooms to them were fined and intimidated. The Israeli-appointed village councils opened competing kindergartens that drew few students. When Israel shut down two ‘Ayn Qinya kindergartens, the village council closed its own. Harassment of landlords and kindergarten employees continued.94 The GAA and the sports clubs started a summer camp for children age 5-15. To counteract Israel’s attempt to instill an Israeli identity, it taught students about Arab history, culture, and politics and awakened a sense of Arab identity and “national consciousness.” Syrian and Palestinian flags flew; tents were named after Syrian cities. The T-shirt had a map of the Arab world, “My Homeland.” Sports, music, art, and swimming were supplemented by field trips to the ruins of villages. The Israelicontrolled schools had not taught Khaled Abu Shahin about the destroyed villages. “When I saw it, I couldn’t believe the Israelis could be so harsh…I had thought they were good.” Each year Israeli security forces arrested camp organizers and attempted to intimidate families from participating. There were three police raids on the camp. In 1989, when hundreds of police raided the camp, “more than 2000 men and women from

Eldin, personal communication. Tarabieh, p. 5; Eldin, personal communication. 94 Maray, “The Case of Education” (Golan for the development of Arab Villages); Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” p. 9. 92 93


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all the villages rushed to the camp and forced the police to leave.” By 1999, 450 children were taking part.95 Another organization emerged in response to the lack of adequate medical care. Israel provided one doctor in a clinic, “6 hours a day, five days a week.” People had to travel to Israeli hospitals for care; some died for lack of emergency treatment. In 1993, the Arab Association for Development (AAD) gathered donations, solicited equipment from Palestinian hospitals, and opened a clinic providing 24-hour service and using local specialists. Branches opened in each village. It was self-sufficient through patient fees and came to serve 70 percent of villager medical needs. AAD also opened a cultural center to encourage talent in art and music. An agricultural laboratory advised farmers about fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural improvements. Israeli security interrogated AAD members. It was denied permission to acquire an ambulance, although the authorities opened two health centers and allowed them ambulances from the start.96 Al-Marsad, the first officially registered Golani non-governmental organization, was opened in 2003 by lawyers and professionals in health, education, journalism, and engineering – “mostly town planners” – human rights activists, and others. They raised funds, hired staff, recruited volunteers, and developed working relationships with Palestinian, Israeli, and international legal and human rights organizations. The ambitious Al-Marsad agenda included monitoring and documenting human rights violations past and present, providing free legal advice, interventions and advocacy, educating villagers about their rights, and raising awareness of the occupation in international forums and the media. Its new level of professionalism and international reach indicate that a wider global audience will be hearing the story of the Golani people.97 In 2009, a town hall meeting at Majdal Shams decided to reclaim 3000 dunums of confiscated mountainside land for urban development and use by the younger generation when they married. People camped out on the mountain to establish a “continuous presence” during excavation for the new sites. It was reminiscent of the early years of the occupation when a Masada farmer pushed over an Israeli-built fence, started cultivating his land again, and hundreds of townspeople joined him in defying the Israeli authorities. Recently, a settler organization initiated a lawsuit against the people of the town for “encroaching” on “state land.”98 Maray, “The Case of Education” (Golan Heights: Golan for the development of Arab Villages); Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” p. 9; Joel Greenberg, “The Druze of Golan Stay Loyal to Syria,” (New York Times, Aug. 9, 1999); available at 96 Tarabieh, “The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights,” pp. 10-11. See also “The Reality of the Israeli Occupation: A Syrian Golani Perspective,” Damascus Online, Jan. 3, 2000; available at 97 “Al-Marsad’s Narrative Report for 2009,” (Al-Marsad: The Arab Center for Human Rights in the Golan Heights, January, 2010; available at 98 Moloney, Stewart, and Tuohy-Hamill, From Settlement to Shelf: The Economic Occupation of the Syrian Golan, pp. 70-71; Mara’i and Halabi, “Life Under Occupation in the Golan Heights,” p. 85; Eldin, personal communication. 95


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Continuing Occupation, Continuing Struggle Israeli commentators like to believe that Golanis will become Israelis, in spite of themselves. They hope that beneath the rhetoric of Syrian nationalism hides a more genuine sense of comfort with Israel’s more open political system and its affluence. They forget the enduring grievances and daily injustices and discrimination in regard to family contacts, land, water, employment, taxation, travel rights, and social benefits. Villagers are unable to ignore the reality of life under occupation, under a regime imposed by military conquest. New challenges continue to appear. In 2009, the Knesset passed a Land Administration Law privatizing state-owned lands, including the occupied Golan. Land would be sold for the profit of the state. A “land swap” would transfer land to the Jewish National Fund, which represents the interests of the Jewish people only (rather than the Israeli public), and whose principles do not allow the sale of land to non-Jews. Settlers would become “legal” owners of the confiscated land and an additional barrier would be raised to prevent the return of the land to its legitimate Syrian owners. Palestinian human rights lawyers spoke out in support of Golani property rights, insisting that the Golan be excluded from this law.99 Resistance also continues. In July 2010, over 2000 people in Majdal Shams trapped 10 policemen in a building for two hours, as they searched for a man who they arrested for “security offenses.” The police fired tear gas at the crowd, which threw stones and overturned two police cars. At least 10 people were injured before Druze elders met with the police to calm the situation. Later, several other people were arrested in the security case.100

“Internally Displaced Persons”


he experience of the Golanis who were driven out in 1967 has been very different. For the whole families and entire villages and the citizens of Quneitra dispersed by the war, families may have remained intact, but it has meant the total loss of home and property. 99 Suhad Bishara and Hana Hamdan, “Adalah Position Paper on the Privatization of the Lands of the Settlements on the Golan Heights and in East Jerusalem,” Adalah’s Newsletter, Vol. 63, August 2009; available at Paper_on_Land_Reform_and_EJ_and_GH_settlements_English_Final%255B1%255D.pdf+%22adalah+ position+paper+on+the+privatization%22&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESi8xLFsz8QepBrVka6w DK5 NduP4QcsXTyL6dSSLe2bvGP1TFe94ksl5vGF1L0b3seFW35dmjpZjoMPNAJQjmmgpl7vElDpmPI1Q Q-QOWVijA9SV75nlH9h9dm5oTX-w6D3kM9q&sig=AHIEtbT v1SGSwVSSLvwpz xWxBc utNVw. “The New Israeli Land Reform,” Adalah’s Newsletter, Vol. 63, August 2009; available at features/land/The_Israeli_Land_Reform_edited_english_26_8_09.pdf. 100 “Third Majdal Shams suspect arrested,” Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2010; available at Israel/Article.aspx?ID=182017; “Outrage continues ad Majdal Shams,” Jerusalem Post, July 27, 2010; http://


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The communities which were displaced have often maintained village ties, settling in the same neighborhoods or suburbs of Damascus or elsewhere. Some still live in poverty, but they are well integrated into Syrian society and have not suffered the marginalization of Palestinians who had no alternative to refugee camps. They have also not scattered across the world bearing the spirit of resistance and inspiring a global movement of support. They have been able to live more normal, less politicized lives. Therefore, few people in the West know of them, and their cause, even more than that of those under occupation, has drawn little global attention. Since they remain within their own country, the technical term for the Golanis who resettled elsewhere in Syria is “Internally Displaced Persons” (IDP), rather than “refugees.” Systematic, detailed information about them is elusive.101 Anecdotal reports indicate that many villagers fleeing the Golan went from place to place at first, before finding a place to settle down. Mamduh Ahmad says, “The older people found it hard to adapt to a new life. Many of them died from sorrow during the first year. It was very hard.” Fatima al-Ali recalls, “…we set up a tent given to us by the villagers to protect us from the pitiless June sun. We remained like that for a month and a half, hoping to return to our village. Life was very difficult and cruel during that period. We lived on the milk of the cows and on wild plants and a little tanurs [oven] bread.” Property owners and the educated in particular could feel disgraced at being reduced to living on the charity of others. The Circassian community was the best organized to respond to the emergency. Its charitable societies sent trucks to transport people, provided food and medical care, and built housing on land donated by a village. The Red Cross provided assistance. Some survived on government assistance; others relied on their own resources. The Turkomans, however, were “unable to agree on any form of collective action.”102 Despite the disruption of the lives and the loss of homes, property, and businesses, the displaced (the naziheen) seem to have reintegrated into mainstream Syrian society, living mostly in 10 new villages near the Golan, in housing projects in five neighborhoods or

“Profile of Internal Displacement: Syrian Arab Republic” (Geneva, Switzerland: Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project, 2002). Available at (httpInfoFiles)/DF0F6588046A9F82802570BA0056D17F/$file/Syrian%20Arab%20Republic%20-April%20 2005.pdf. This discussion is mostly drawn from the Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project’s useful compilation of information from a variety of sources (not all of which is necessarily accurate or in agreement). The English-language information readily available on the IDPs is quite rudimentary. Basic questions seem to have gone unstudied: How traumatic was the flight from the Golan and the subsequent adjustment to a new life? Who settled where and why? What were the new patterns of employment, family life, or relationship to other citizens and to political and economic institutions? What were the effects of migration on family structure, gender roles, intergenerational relationships, values and culture, the demographic and socioeconomic structure of communities, community cohesion and politics, and political attitudes? How integrated are the Golanis into the larger society and how attached are subsequent generations to their “temporary” life situation? Even major research projects have not examined the experience of the Golani migrants. See for example: Marwan Khawaja, “Internal migration in Syria: Findings from a national survey” (Fafo-report 375, 2002); available at 102 Abu Fakhr, “Voices from the Golan,” pp. 10-13, 19, 24, 30. 101


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suburbs of Damascus, and in other cities. The projects were originally tent camps until the Syrian government constructed single-family homes. Many were able to rent or buy homes and start businesses. Nearly 200,000 of the displaced and their children and grandchildren have found employment abroad, especially in the Gulf. Others continue to live in poverty with a serious problem of overcrowding. Syria still considers this a “temporary” arrangement, pending Israeli withdrawal from the Golan and the residents’ return. The government gave IDPs preferential status in regard to jobs in public works projects and in attending universities.103 The government also has a Bureau of Golan Affairs, a Popular Commission for the Liberation of the Golan, and sponsors a Golani newspaper. It welcomes Golanis whom Israel allows to cross the ceasefire line and encourages those under occupation to maintain their Syrian identity, assigning them Syrian national identity numbers. In 2001, it began paying salaries and benefits to Golani school and government employees removed by Israel early in the occupation. Syrian television has a bureau on the Golan and villagers watch Syrian TV programs. The ruins of Quneitra have been left “intact” as a memorial to the war and as an object lesson on Israeli violence for visitors, such as Pope John Paul II in 2001. Government plans to reconstruct the city and two destroyed villages have produced little since they were announced in 2004. Twelve new housing projects attracted few people back to an area with few jobs. The second generation that grew up in Damascus found places as “workers, office employees, artisans, or merchants.” The older generation still wants to go home.104 Since an entire population was displaced in a catastrophic event, government aid to the IDPs took the place of the support frequently supplied to ordinary migrants by support networks based on kinship, religion, or ethnicity, which were now overwhelmed. The people remain attached to their old villages, even though they were all physically destroyed by the Israelis in 1967 after the war. One housing project with 22,000 people is called Bteha, named after the residents’ village back on the Golan; its street names also

Humanitarian needs have not required the assistance of UN agencies, although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has assisted with facilitating “minimum contact” between separated Golani families since 1967. The ICRC has also assisted Golanis under occupation and in Syria, conveying birth, death, marriage, and power of attorney documents and enabling the settlement of issues regarding pensions, inheritance, and property rights. See: Helena Cobban, “Golan Days,” Part 5 and “Forty years on, people displaced from the Golan remain in waiting” (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2007); available at: 0037B6C6/$file/Syria_IDPs_Overview_Oct07.pdf. See also: “Syrian Arab Republic: ICRC Annual Report 2009”; available at$File/icrcannual-report-2009-syrian.pdf. 104 Julian Barnes-Dacey, “Yearning for the Golan Heights: why Syria wants it back,” Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 28, 2009; available at Barnes-Dacey, “Syria angles to reclaim Golan from Israel,” Chronicle Foreign Service, March 6, 2008; available at news/17168351_1_golan-border-israel-s-water-supply-golan-heights+%22methat+saleh%22+golan&cd=1& hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us. “Golan Heights teachers dismissed by Israeli to get Syrian salary,” Ha’aretz, August 28, 2001; available at 103


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match those of the village. The town continues to have a Golan Fishermen’s Association.105 Many of the displaced Druze settled in the Jaramana suburb of Damascus,106 a community where Druze migrants were historically the majority. It is also the residence of thousands of refugee Palestinians and in recent years for many thousands of Iraqi refugees. Other religious or ethnic communities from the Golan followed a similar pattern of settling together. This continued a Syrian tradition of “clustering” by which rural-urban migrants attempt to bring their village life and customs to the city and “recreate their dispersed world morally and socially.” Like their kinsmen and compatriots under Israeli occupation, they also had a need to maintain their identity. 107 Druze Izzat al-Ayoub recalls, “The occupation cut me off from my family, my hometown, and my region. I’m an old man now…I have not forgotten those places I have not seen in thirty-three years, where I’ve worked in the gardens, herded cattle and sheep, and eaten the food of winter – molasses mixed with snow, and boiled corn….I could draw the old Majdal Shams house by house, street by street, lane by lane. The town lives in my memory, as though I were right now in our stone house with its mud roof where we used to shovel and play in the snow in winter.” And sometimes the old ties remained intact. ”We lived in Majdal with the Christians like brothers….even to this day, when we meet tears flow. We never celebrate a wedding or any other occasion without inviting them, and they do the same for us. Our happiest moments and their happiest moments are when we are together.”108 Life in modern Damascus inevitably meant changes in traditions brought from the villages. ‘Abd al-Karim ‘Umar, now a government official at Quneitra, has regrets. “Today, lifestyles have changes, with more needs and more hardships…before 1967, weddings used to take place…and people would come on their horses or later in cars and would bring with them lambs for slaughter. Today, all these customs have disappeared because of our dispersion… staying in touch on a continuous basis has become very hard for us. Our traditions and customs have been undone.” Turkoman Omar al-Hajj Khalil comments, “Living around Damascus changed many of our habits. We started intermarrying with other national groups. We married Arabs and Damascene women and others. We were no longer as closed onto ourselves as we had been.”109 Some people have returned. Fatima al-Ali says, “When our village returned to Syrian sovereignty after the [1973] war, I felt as though I had been reborn.” Many people went back to live there. “There is now electricity and gas and piped water and telephone services. People have cars, and bread is delivered to the door. However, in the old days, Nicholas Pelham, “The Golan Waits for the Green Light.” For a panoramic photo of Jaramana, see: jaramaneh2.jpg/ 107 For a description of the similar Palestinian survival strategy in refugee camps, see Nina Gren, “The Labeling of Palestinian Camp Refugees – The Case of Dheishe” in Migration and the Mashreq (Washington DC: Middle East Institute, 2010). 108 Abu Fakhr, p. 15. 109 Ibid. p. 30, 19. 105 106


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people cared for each other a lot. Now people have changed…Education is accessible to everyone – there is not a single house of people who do not know how to read and write. People are going to the university, girls as well as boys. All my children have been educated.”110 The attachment to home remains strong. Amina al-Khatib recalls, “I have been separated from my family ever since. My mother died, four of my uncles died, and my father died, and I did not see a single one of them. Those who were children when I left are married now. My yearning for the Golan, its land, waters, trees, and its people is indescribable. The Golan today is only an hour away by car, yet here I sit in Damascus, unable to visit...My most fervent wish is to be able to go back to my home to live in my birthplace among my family and relatives. Absence is hard. True, I live in my homeland Syria, but the original homeland is the place of childhood.”111 Yousif Tannous, a Christian from Majdal Shams, still owns a family home and property in the Israeli-occupied village of ‘Ayn Qinya. “We still have the Ottoman registration papers. We also own a share of the village’s communal land…Our Druze brethren remained in the village and looked after our property as best they could within the limits allowed them by the occupation authorities. When the Golan is returned, of course I will go back.”112 The people of the Golan have undergone many changes in the years since 1967. What the occupation and the displacement have not changed is the attachment to home, family, culture, and nation. These things endure because they are fundamentals of enduring value. If peace is to come between Israel and Syria, it must take the lives of these people into serious consideration. Meaningful peace requires more than strategic concerns and the realpolitik of national interests. The conscience of decision makers and the public must be awakened. We hope that this paper will contribute to that awakening.

Ibid. p. 14. Ibid. p. 20. 112 Ibid. p. 11 110 111


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Appendix Map Of The Occupied Syrian Golan The following large map portrays the villages, towns, and settlements on the Golan Heights. The small maps on the left show the three Demilitarized Zones that were created by the Armistice agreement signed by Israel and Syria in 1949. Used with the permission of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). The mapmaker is Jan de Jong. The FMEP website also has several other very useful maps of the Golan at http://www.fmep. org/maps/golan-heights.


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American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Research Institute 1732 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20007 Tel: (202) 244-2990 | Fax: (202) 333-3980 |

Golan Heights: Occupation and Resistance  

ADC hopes that this background paper will enhance Americans’ understanding of the people of the Golan. It is an acknowledgement of the endu...