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What Is The Issue With The Golan Heights?

What Is The Issue With The Golan Heights?

We have heard that Israel is in the wrong to be occupying the Golan Heights, they seized the land only because they knew it had water and oil, even though they just discovered that over the last couple of years, and the only reason they are occupying it is to steal land from the Syrians, but is this narrative true? We look into this and the history of the area.

As is stated in Wikipedia, I usually don’t quote from them, but liked the way they introduced this:

The Golan Heights (Arabicهضبة الجولان‎ Haḍbatu ‘l-Jawlān or مرتفعات الجولان Murtafaʻātu l-JawlānHebrew: רמת הגולן‬, Ramat HaGolan About this sound(audio)), or simply the Golan, is a region in the Levant, spanning about 1,800 square kilometers (690 sq mi). The region defined as the Golan Heights differs between disciplines: as a geological and biogeographical region, the Golan Heights is a basaltic plateau bordered by the Yarmouk River in the south, the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley in the west, the Anti-Lebanon with Mount Hermon in the north and Wadi Raqqad in the east; and as a geopolitical region, the Golan Heights is the area captured from Syria and occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War, territory which Israel effectively annexed in 1981. This region includes the western two-thirds of the geological Golan Heights, as well as the Israeli-occupied part of Mount Hermon.

Ancient history

History of the area goes back to the time of the ancient Hebrew Kingdoms, the Hebrews conquered the Amorites, then the tribes of Dan and Manasseh set the area up as the place their tribes settled, in other words, this was part of the ancient Hebrew Kingdom, was until the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians. The land was brought back under Hebrew control after the  Maccabean revolt, although it was under dispute until around 89 BCE when the Maccabean rulers took control of the area and made it part of their kingdom.

Mandates and Modern Israel

It was for this historical reason that when the Mandates were created by the League of Nations the Golan Heights was originally included in the Mandate of Palestine. It was the British and the French, who in violation of article 5 turned control of the Golan to the Mandate of Syria in 1923, a move that is disputed by Israel to this day.

After the creation of Israel

After the formation of the modern Israeli state that the real problems started with the Golan, the Syrians used this as a means to attack Israel in the war of 48. After the war, it was supposed to be demilitarized, but as standing structures that stand to this day will attest, that was never kept.

See the source image

In 1948 with the Israel-Syria Armistice Agreement, Syria was to demilitarize the area, but instead, there were hundreds of military clashes there, most of this came due to Syria refusing to admit that either party had control over the DMZ, much of this came due to clashes over the control over the Sea of Galilee, the Israeli’s said the whole sea and its shores were under its control, Syria said no, the control of the shores on their side were under their’s control, then set up military points to control that.

This came to greater conflict when Syria to take away water from the sea tried to divert the Jordan River from flowing to the sea, this almost set both sides on the warpath alone.

1967 War

In 1966 Fatah, or the PLO, now known as the Palestinian Authority, began a series of raids on Israel through the area Syria controlled, this was very much aided by Syria, Israel reacted, this brought on a time of shelling by Syria on Israeli communities until Israel pushed the Syrians out in the 1967 war. Israel tried to have the UN stop this, unfortunately everytime they tried the Soviet Union vetoed the measure.

After the war, Syria refused to sign a peace treaty with Israel, Israel due to this still held on to the Golan Heights proper, with a surface of 1,070 square kilometers (410 sq mi), and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range, with a surface of 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi). The new ceasefire line was named the Purple Line.

What is never said here by others, Syria to this day has never signed a peace treaty, while they did a cease-fire, they refused to sign any peace treaty due to their refusal to recognize Israel. Israel has from that day on forward occupied the area.

1973 War (Yom Kipper War)

In 1973 the Syrians again invaded through the Golan, almost pushed Israel off the heights and would have rushed into Northern Israel. Israel held them off in what today is known as the Valley of tears, where a vastly outnumbered Israeli tank force sacrificed themselves to hold up the Syrians forces until Israeli reinforcements could survive.

When the war was finished Israel handed back about 5% of the area to Syria, this was then used by UNDOF to patrol the area and keep the peace between Israel and Syria.

From 1973 Until Today

What is not said any longer, although Israel did include the area of the Golan Heights to be under Israeli civil law, they never officially annexed the area. Due to Syria refusing to sign a peace treaty, although there were times the two were close, these failed due to disagreements of what would stay under Israeli control and what would stay under Syrian.

See the source image

There were the most recent peace talks between the two, long before Syria went into civil war, between 1999 and 2000 there were talks between Israel and Syria, Syria ended up refusing to agree to the pull back to the 1948 lines in the area, they wanted the control to go back what the borders were prior to 1948, where they held on control on the shore of the Galilee, something Israel will not do, due to fears that Syria could again try to divert the Jordan.

While Israel has some claim due to this being part of the original mandate, they have never officially claimed they have a legal right to all the area, have said they would be open to land being passed for peace, but have to have assurances like they did with Egypt when they pulled out the Sinia, Syria has refused.

See the source image

To this day there are still active minefields in the area, there have been well over 200 deaths due to these mines, sadly with the area under a continued conflict of ownership, the Syrians refuse to give access to where the mines are laid so they can be defused.

Getting The Facts Right

Many times when we hear in the news one thing, it is important to educate ourselves on the entirety of the situation, it makes the understanding of what is going on not limited to news bites and misinformed claims.

At this time Israel is under no obligation under international law to do anything with the Golan Heights, Israel and Syria are still technically in a state of war, have been since 1967, with actual conflict breaking out once in that time, until Syria is agreeable to sit at a peace table with Israel, nothing will be done with the area, and even if it is, Israel does have a legal right to dispute some of the lands that Syria is demanding.

About The Author

Timothy Benton

Student of history, a journalist for the last 2 years. Specialize in Middle East History, more specifically modern history with the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Also, a political commentator has been a lifetime fan of politics.

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