Infant under home arrest in the Golan Heights!

He is a small child, yet he is confined to home arrest, not allowed to leave home with his parents, even for doctor visits.

This is not fiction, this is politics, the child is from the occupied Golan Heights, but he was born in Syria. His mother and father are from Majdal Shams, one of the biggest villages in the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied by Israel. He was born in Syria because at that time his parents were studying at the Damascus University in Damascus.

After completing their education in Syria they returned back to their village with their newborn, but were informed by the Israeli Authorities that their child cannot leave home for two years because he was born in Syria. The child, Fahid Lu’ay Shqeir, is now one year old and two months, he has to remain imprisoned in his parents’ home until he becomes 2. After that, other "legal procedures will still be needed to ensure that he will be allowed to stay in the country".

The Tishreen (October) Syrian newspaper reported that this is an unprecedented event as the child, who will want to play and run like other children, will practically be "arrested" if he leaves home because he is considered Syrian, and Syria is still regarded by Israel as an enemy state.

His family and parents contacted several international human rights groups and appealed them to intervene to resolve this issue as it is unimaginable that this child cannot even go for a walk with his parents.

This issue is yet another Israeli violation to human rights and the Fourth Geneva Conventions. Under the Israeli law, a child born to Jewish parents or a Jewish parent will be automatically considered Israeli and will be granted Israeli citizenship with no questions asked.

But this child is an Arab, born to a mother and father who are from the Golan Heights. By law; the Golan Heights are under Israeli occupation, and therefore a child born to a parent, or both parents, from the Golan or another place should be allowed to carry the nationality of his/her parents, and should be granted citizenship or at least residency rights in their country of origin.

April,  2009 Translation - Saed Bannoura - IMEMC

 

Dr. Mohammad Abdo Al-Ibrahim

The Golan Heights Revisited!

DAMASCUS - At a time when television news channels in the Middle East are spilling over with heart-wrenching stories of frightened children undergoing psychological counseling in their freshly bombed-out schools in Gaza, a reprise on the Golan Heights - the Syrian-Israeli conflict zone - may seem a little out of place, if not a downright invented crisis. This calendar-perfect rolling country, snuggled somewhere near the heart of parched holy lands, is the relatively quieter dispute in these parts.

According to Santwana Bhattacharya,Asia Times,the picture of pretty, unforced repose provided by weekend picnickers who dot the wild-flowered green meadows a few kilometers from the winding roads of Quneitra, which is under Syria's control, underscores the calm. Here the breeze is cool, the fruits sold by the village vendors fresh and juicy, and the children playing handball look the way they should: free of cares. Nearby, parents busy themselves with nothing more pressing than a relaxed game of backgammon.

One look at this Enid Blytonish idyll and it could be legitimately asked: why open old wounds? After all, the bullet marks are  on the destroyed hospital in Quneitra , more historical memento than live and active omen. Syria and Israel have off and on been in dialogue, through mediation. They were close to a settlement even in April 2008, and are not averse to talking again. Guns are not blazing.

But, as the canny old saying goes, looks can be deceptive. A chance meeting with Hazira Mohammad, and another reality comes creeping in. The elderly Druze woman dressed in her traditional attire - black, flowing overall with light silver embroidery - had strayed from the rest of her crowd, three of her grandchildren in tow. Standing at a crossroad near a half-rubbled church, she indicates a spot where she used to sell her berries in the village across the barbed wire (which you otherwise missed) nearly half a century ago.

"There ... that is the road that goes to my village, Jubhil Maizi. You walk down four kilometers, take a left turn and walk for another half kilometer ... take another left. Can you see it? Can't you see it? It's there ... on the other side ... I do not know if I can go there again," she says, haltingly. Well, I could not see. As the road wound down and wound up, there were scattered settlements visible on the far side. But I could see no village that the old Druze woman saw so clearly.

It is to remind her sons, daughters-in-law and her grandchildren of their village that she comes to Golan every summer. At least three times. Lest they forget who they are and where they come from - in a small corner of the Earth, in terms of civilization the center of the Earth for long, a sacred geography scarred by competing visions, the Druze from Golan too are a tiny flock of mohajir (emigrants) estranged from their homeland.

Hazira has been living in a tiny flat in Damascus with her family of 10 members ever since the Six-Day War in 1967. Picnics are just a pretext to draw the younger generation close to the roots, to keep them anchored. You slowly realize that behind the jollity of every bouncing ball, and every food hamper spread around the shady trees, there is a history of loss. That these are no ordinary weekend revelers, but strange pilgrims.

With a new audience before her, Hazira launches into her story - probably recounted every year to the family. She points to each and every pile of rubble lying amid the greens to resurrect a village market. "This was the biggest souk [market], our souk, in the entire Golan. It used to be very busy, full of people, music, tea-stalls ... I feel sad." Her impatient family members try to drag her away from the story-telling session. But she refuses to budge, "How can I forget? How can I live anywhere else? That was my village, they have to remember ... This is where ribbons where sold, the silversmith who made my first earring."

You can't quite blame the younger lot. It is really hard to imagine this place was a bustling market. As her voice trails off, the quiet of the place almost gets at you. Suddenly, the stillness of the surroundings - Hazira's marketplace of memories - engulfs everyone. For a second, you are almost tempted to mistake it for another one of those archaeological sites that abound Syria. Opulent, but dead.

The screeching sound of car tires wakes everyone from the reverie of the lost world. A family packed into an old convertible is rushing somewhere. The man behind the wheel reveals he has no time for a chat, he has to reach back before it's too late. "Apples" was one of the words we caught. He had come to deliver apples. Israel, I learnt later, has been allowing limited sale of apples, grown by the Syrians in the Occupied Territories, to mainland Syria.

These are a few concessions - granted perhaps more on occasional whim than as part of a coherent system of peace-making - that have been extracted by Syrians in the Occupied Territories. Apart from the free university tuition that Syrian students from the villages across the concertina are allowed to access in Damascus and elsewhere.

We say "Syrian" with deliberation: the original inhabitants of occupied Golan have steadfastly refused to surrender Syrian citizenship in favor of an Israeli identity. And the authorities on the Syrian side say even the little movements that are allowed them are fraught with short-term and long-term consequences for the people.

Mohammad Ali, a senior official in the Syria-run Quneitra Governorate, claims the years of resistance put up by the Syrians in the Occupied Territories have only earned them a tough and unstable life. That they are denied electricity and water by Israel - "we are supplying them from this side".

It seems too much prosperity in the apple trade is also not taken kindly. "They often go back to see their entire orchards have been uprooted on some pretext or the other," he adds. Just as the students who choose to study in the Syrian universities have "to go back to plough their fields ... they get no jobs".

There is an alternative view emanating from the pro-Israeli lobby in the West, ascribing the reluctance of the Golan Syrians to come under the Israeli umbrella only to a fear of retribution in the future event of the lands reverting to Syria. From this side of the concertina, one can only fall back on general truths: a certain "stateless" modern youth have indeed come into being in our times everywhere who seek a better, stable life.

They are alive to their history and culture. What we can do is trace them as communities, through the broken-up numbers. While some 20,000 Syrians live in the Occupied Territories, 76,000 live in the part of Golan (roughly 600 square kilometers) that was restored to Syria after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. According to the report of a conference held in London in June 2007, there are also currently 346,000 displaced persons, like Hazira's family, living scattered across Damascus and other Syrian cities.

As was widely reported in the international media, before making the 1974 withdrawal, Israel left a trail of destruction in which schools; hospitals, villages and towns were razed. While the United Nations (UN) condemned the action and still does not recognize the Israeli occupation of Golan, the Syrian government continues to preserve Quneitra in its bombed-out state as a reminder of the Israeli action.

Says Ali, "Our president has made it clear, we will not rebuild Quneitra [which was the capital of Golan] till we get back our land." The rationale goes a bit beyond those war-era skeleton buildings preserved, for instance, in Berlin: this is not architecture as moral fable, but as evidence in court.

At the "Shouting Valley" in Majdal Shams, a small town right at the edge of the UN-monitored border, our cell phones received text messages that said "Welcome to Israel". It is here that Syrians gather to peer at the Occupied Territories through binoculars. Sometimes they contact their relatives on the other side through loudhailers.

Sixteen-year-old Jahina Safi Ali, who's come to Golan for the first time to "see it with her own eyes", says "the experience" is much beyond what she "ever thought it would be". However, the teenager adds quietly that though young people like her want their occupied land back, "I don't want people to be killed, rather we should talk. And try very hard [to break the deadlock]."

The settlements on the Israel-held side look quite prosperous. Big houses, none less than three storey, big cars, air-conditioners, pretty garden patches. And there's heavy-duty construction work going on, as the half-finished new houses and rumbling sounds from the beyond tell us. That fact says something. The dispute over Golan is, finally, not just for military, strategic reasons, but also because of the ecosystem of the Golan plateau, which is rich in water sources. The scenic beauty is just a plus. It continues to provide Israel 15% of its total water supply.

Meanwhile, on no-man's land between the two Golans, UNDOF (the UN Disengagement Observation Force) peacekeepers man towers to ensure the ceasefire is not broken. And so that there's no fresh encroachment. They mostly have the view of the snow-clad Mount Hermon for company.

 

Mohammad Abdo Al-Ibrahim

Allowing U.S. oil drilling in Golan breaches UN resolutions

Israel has exploited the crisis in Syria and permitted a U.S. company to drill for oil and gas in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan.

The Israeli Energy Ministry reportedly gave the first oil-drilling permit in the occupied Golan Heights to the New Jersey-based Genie Energy Company after halting the drilling works in the heights for 20 years because of then-peace negotiations with some Arab countries.

The US former Vice-President, Dick Cheney, is the Advisor of the U.S. company whose most shares are owned by Rupert Murdoch, according to the Israeli "Glob" paper.

Drilling works are to cover half of the Golan's area, specifically the area between "Ketsarin" settlement in the north and "Tzemakh" settlement located south Tiberias lake, according to Arabian business website.

This act breaches international law and conventions as the relevant UN resolutions underscore that the decision, taken by Israel to impose its laws, legislations, administrative regulations on the occupied Golan is null and void, and of no legal effect on the international level.

According to Press TV, analysts in energy sector see that the act pushed by the Israeli Energy Minister, Uzi Landau, aims to convey a message that the Golan Heights would not be easily returned to Syria.

"The timing of the decision is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is not free to deal with the problem and the Syrian Army cannot pose a threat to Israel right now," Yaron Ezrahi, the Israeli political analyst said.

The Syrian Arab Army is fighting the foreign-backed terrorism to restore stability and security across the country.

Last year, SANA quoted the Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, as reporting   that the Israeli cabinet secretly approved Landau's decision to resume oil drilling in the occupied Syrian Golan.

The daily said that the Israeli Energy Minister's ideas have contributed to adopting this decision which aims to increase oil production.

"Several Arab regimes are providing Israel with large quantity of oil and gas," SANA said.

The Golan, which was seized in 1967, is a geographical area that represents the core of Natural Syria- the Sham countries which included Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon.

In 1981, Israel formally annexed the Golan, but this annexation has not been internationally recognized.

B. Qaddour

Forty six years on, people displaced from the Golan in waiting

The situation of tens of thousands of Syrian Arabs displaced from the Golan Heights forty six years ago is still far from resolved. They fled their homes in disputed circumstances during the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan, a strategic strip of land overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. Since then, Israel has prevented the displaced from returning to their homes. In 1981, Israel formally annexed the area, but this annexation has not been recognized internationally. The Syrian government estimates that around 500,000 people remain displaced today, a figure which includes the descendants of those displaced in 1967. Forty six years on, the Golan’s internally displaced population has largely integrated in their current places of residence across Syria. But while they do not face particular humanitarian risks, many continue to express a wish to return to the Golan. The issues of the restitution of their property and compensation for lost or destroyed property are also unresolved. A more immediate concern is that many displaced Syrians continue to be prevented from maintaining ties with their relatives living in the occupied Golan. Regular contact between Syrians living in Israeli-occupied Golan and their displaced family members is not possible, with the exception of specific cases facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Golan remains a potential source of tension and renewed conflict in the region. Israel and Syria have taken part in a series of unofficial talks but formal negotiations have not taken place since 2000. In the summer of 2006, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad restated Syria’s willingness to resume official talks but Israel refused conditioning the reopening of talks on a change in Syrian policy.

The displacement occurred during the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan Heights (hereafter referred to as the Golan), a narrow stretch of land overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. The exact circumstances are subject to controversy, and Syrian and Israeli accounts differ. According to the Syrian government, Israeli forces forcibly expelled the inhabitants of the Golan and destroyed villages and farms, while the Israeli government maintains that these people fled following reports of violence (UN HRC, 25 August 2000; Arnold, 1 February 2000). The Syrian government estimates that there were about 250 villages and farms and 150,000 Syrian inhabitants in 1967. Today five of these villages are still inhabited, with an estimated population of between 18,000 and 25,000 Syrians (UNHRC, 19 October 2004, para. 10; UNCHR, 16 April 2003; Mission of Syria to the UN, October 2004; UNSC, 11 December 2006).

Following the 1967 war, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242 calling for the Israeli armed forces’ withdrawal from the occupied territories and for the respect and acknowledgement of the sovereignty of every state in the area (UNSC, 22 November 1967). Conflict broke out again in 1973 and Syria attempted without success to regain the Golan. The 1973 war prompted the Security Council to adopt Resolution 338 urging Israel on the one side and Syria and Egypt on the other to agree to a ceasefire (UNSC, 22 October 1973).

An Israeli-Syrian ceasefire agreement (the “Agreement on Disengagement”) was signed in 1974, which enabled Syria to regain Quneitra, an area in the Golan emptied of its 50,000 inhabitants and left in ruins following the Israeli occupation (Schneider, 8 May 2001; Khawaja, 2002). The agreement also provided for a UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to maintain the ceasefire along the UN demarcation line which separates the occupied Golan from the remaining Syrian territory (UNSC Resolution 350 (1974)).

In December 1981, Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan which has since been under the jurisdiction and administration of Israeli law. However, the demarcation line between the Israeli-occupied Golan and Syria is not an internationally recognized border, and therefore people displaced from the Golan are considered internally displaced people (IDPs). No government has recognized Israel’s annexation, and in 1981 the Security Council found that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan was null and void and without international legal effect” (UNSC Resolution 497, 17 December 1981). The UN has since reaffirmed this principle on numerous occasions and has regularly urged Israel to allow the internally displaced people to return and recover possession of their properties.

A pressing human rights issue for the displaced people is the separation from their families caused by entry and exit restrictions imposed by the Israeli government on the occupied Golan. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) notes that local communities consider it the single most important issue tied to the occupation (ICRC, 16 March 2007). It continues to be nearly impossible for most of the people displaced from the Golan to exercise their right to respect for family life. Family visits were authorized by the Israeli authorities until 1992, but since then, contact between tens of thousands of Syrians living in Israeli-occupied Golan and their displaced family members has been severely restricted. There are some exceptions, including students, pilgrims and brides, who have been regularly allowed to cross the separation line, under the auspices of the ICRC (ICRC, 21 March 2005 and 28 June 2004; Syria Today, 1 January 2005; UN Special Committee, 23 September 2004, Sect. B).

The repercussions of this ongoing separation which has prevented many displaced Syrians and their families from maintaining social, cultural and family ties have been underlined in interviews conducted by the ICRC in 2007. For example, a man recounts his experience of meeting his family who were displaced to Syria proper after being cut off from them for more than a decade. Separated family members are generally not able to attend funerals, weddings, births and other important family events, although the Israeli government sometimes gives individuals permission on a case-by-case basis. Some families in the town of Majdal Shams in the northern tip of the occupied Golan, where nearly half of the Syrian-Arab population lives, resort to using megaphones to communicate across the valley which divides them from their families in Syria proper (ICRC, 5 June 2007).

In January 2006, the Syrian government expressed concern that Israel was imposing increasing restrictions on the movement of Syrians living in the village of Ghajar (a village which is partly inside Lebanon and partly in the occupied Golan). In a letter to the UN Human Rights Commission, Syria expressed concern at Israel’s plans to build a permanent separation wall through the town, which could effectively lead to the displacement or “transfer” of its population. The letter reported increased restrictions imposed by Israel on Ghajar’s residents, including instructions to villagers to evacuate part of the village (UN CHR, 11 January 2006).

A further issue is the concentration of mines in the area of separation between the occupied Golan and Syria proper. In his report of June 2007, the UN Secretary General reported that owing to the age of the mines and their deteriorating explosives, the danger which they present had increased (UNSC, 5 June 2007).

Neither the return of the displaced population nor compensation for property loss can be envisaged without a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. However, identifying the terms of such a treaty involves finding solutions to key issues of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, namely access to water resources (the Golan is a significant source of Israel’s water supply), resolution of disputed boundaries, security and the normalisation of bilateral relations (ICG, 16 July 2002; Middle East, July 2007).

Attempts to negotiate a political solution to the conflict between Israel and Syria began in 1991 at a peace conference on the Middle East convened in Madrid. In 2000, negotiations broke down over disagreements over the Golan. The Israeli government had offered to return the Golan excluding the strip along the Sea of Galilee, but the government of Syria insisted on an unconditional Israeli withdrawal to the 4 June 1967 line, which would ensure Syrian access to the Sea of Galilee (MEMRI, 23 Jan 2000; The Guardian, 8 May 2003 and 17 July 2003). Israel wishes to control access to the Sea of Galilee and to address its security concerns before agreeing to withdraw (Ben-Nahum Yonatan, 19 Dec 1995; MEMRI, 24 March 2000). In returning the Golan, Israel would also have to dismantle its settlements in the area (BBC, 31 December 2003, 10 October 2004 and 9 June 2007).

Some analysts suggest that talks have also failed because of the Israeli government ceding to pressure from an American government intent on isolating Syria. Officially, Israel rejected several calls by President Bashar Al-Assad to reopen negotiations (UNSC, 11 December 2006; ICG, 11 February 2004). However, secret talks are reported to have taken place between Israeli and Syrian representatives between September 2004 and July 2006 (BBC, 16 January 2007). The US has largely opposed renewed dialogue with the Syrian government because of its alleged support for Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian Territories and insurgent groups in Iraq (The Guardian, 7 June 2007 and 8 June 2007; ICG, 10 April 2007). Israel has also conditioned negotiations on evidence of change in Syria’s policies towards Hizbollah, Hamas and Iran (ICG, 10 April 2007). Meanwhile, Syria has demanded the presence of the United States as a third party in peace talks (MERIP, 26 July 2007).

Prospects for the restitution of the Golan and the return of the displaced population are also complicated by the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in the area, and public opposition in Israel to a withdrawal (UNHRC, 19 October 2004; BBC News, 31 December 2003; Arutz 7, 11 December 2002; ICG, 10 April 2007). The Israeli government has on several occasions publicly stated its intention to continue to expand settlements in the Golan (Washington Post, 30 October 2006; UNGA, 3 May 2007). In 2004, Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Settlement Affairs announced a decision to double investment in the Golan, and build nine new settlements (UN Special Committee, 23 September 2004, para.91; UNECSC, 7 June 2004; UNHRC, 19 October 2004). In December 2006, the Interior Minister announced the government’s intention to facilitate accelerated settlement construction near the border with Syria (Foundation for Middle East Peace, February 2007; UNGA, 3 May 2007). A report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia submitted to the UN’s General Assembly and Economic and Social Council details ongoing settlement expansion in parts of the occupied Golan (UNGA, 3 May 2007). Although figures are not consistent, reports suggest that there are some 40 Israeli settlements and around 20,000 Israelis living in the area (UNSC, 11 December 2006; UNGA, 3 May 2007). Meanwhile, a public opinion poll in January 2004 suggests that a majority of Israelis opposed plans to hand back the Golan to Syria (BBC News, 10 October 2004).

More recent news reports hint that a new series of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria may hinge on the issue of the Golan. In August 2006, President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria said he was interested in peace with Israel but that he would consider war to regain the Golan. In June 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was reported to have sent messages to President Assad that Israel was prepared to give up the Golan in exchange for a peace deal (The Guardian, 7 June 2007 and 8 June 2007). Olmert delivered these messages while a publicised military training exercise was carried out by the Israeli army in the south of Israel, including an attack on a mock Syrian village (The Guardian, 11 June 2007). The Israeli press during this period cited Israeli military and intelligence sources as saying that Syria was increasing its military activities on the border and may be preparing for an attack (The Guardian, 8 June 2007). Some of Golan’s residents also reported an increase in Israeli military activities in the occupied Golan (BBC, 6 June 2007; The Guardian, 11 June 2007). In October 2007, Assad announced that his government would not attend a November peace conference in Washington on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unless the agenda included negotiations over the Golan (BBC, 1 October 2007). Israel has said that any future agreement with Syria would involve the return of sovereignty to Syria, but with Israel retaining possession of the territory under a lease of at least 25 years (The Guardian, 9 June 2007; Middle East, July 2007).

The Syrian government has regularly presented its concerns regarding the ongoing occupation of the Golan and the return of Golan’s displaced to the UN’s human rights mechanisms and the Security Council. The government has made some efforts to help those displaced from areas bordering the occupied Golan, including building some HOMEs and a hospital in the area (USCR, 2000; IHT, 23 October 2004; Syria Today, 2005).

There has been no significant progress in government plans to facilitate returns to Quneitra, which borders the occupied Golan. The inhabitants of Quneitra, estimated at 50,000 people, were forced to flee during the 1967 war when the town was destroyed by Israeli forces. Although Syria regained control of the area in 1974, the government had made little effort to rebuild Quneitra, keeping the ruins as a memorial to the Israeli incursion and ongoing occupation of the rest of the Golan (Syria Today, March 2005; IHT, 23 October 2004). In March 2005 there were hopes that some of the internally displaced people might be able to return in the foreseeable future, with Prime Minister Naji Otri inaugurating a new hospital and laying the foundation stones for the rebuilding of Adaniyeh and Asheh, two nearby villages destroyed in the 1967 war. However, the reconstruction of the area has since progressed slowly. In view of a possible return, more than 100 people have approached the ICRC with legal claims to ownership of land and buildings in Quneitra (ICRC, 21 March 2005).

Grassroots organizations on both sides of the border have called for the situation of the displaced people to be resolved. Several local groups have formed among displaced Syrians to raise awareness of their plight, such as the Popular Commission for the Liberation of the Golan, but some of these groups also appear to have militant political motives (Syria Today, March 2007; Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 15 November 2006; MERIP, 26 July 2007). Israeli activists have also lobbied their government to restart peace negotiations on the Golan (Middle East Report, 26 July 2007), and in November 2006, journalists and human rights activists participating in an International Media Forum on the Golan in Quneitra called for the right of displaced Syrians to return to their HOMEs to be respected.

The international response to the situation of the Golan has largely been political rather than humanitarian, although UNDOF has maintained its presence and carried out demining activities.

The UN Security Council and the General Assembly as well as the Economic and Social Council have adopted a number of resolutions calling for Israel’s withdrawal from the Syrian Golan in accordance with international principles which underline respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty of every state of the occupied territories. UN resolutions have called for peace negotiations and urged Israel to refrain from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan. The General Assembly has also declared Israel’s decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the Golan null and void and without international legal effect (UNSC Resolutions 242 (1967), Resolution 338 (1973) and Resolution 497 (1981); UN GA Resolution 61/27 (1 December 2006) and Resolution 61/118 and 61/120 (14 December 2006); ECOSOC, 26 July 2007).

Advocacy has been undertaken at the regional level by the League of Arab States. In March 2006, the Arab League adopted a resolution rejecting all measures taken by Israel which aim to change the legal, physical and demographic character of the Syrian Golan and describing them as null and void and in breach of international convention and of the charter and resolutions of the UN (UNGA, Resolution 6612(125), 7 February 2007).

Following the 1967 war, the UN General Assembly established a “Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories” (UNGA Resolution 2443 (XXIII), 1968). The mandate of the Committee includes reporting to the Human Rights Council on the human rights of the Golan’s IDPs, or “persons normally resident in the areas under occupation but who had left those areas because of hostilities” (for example UNGA 59/33, 31 January 2005 and UNGA 59/125, 25 January 2005). However, since its establishment, the Committee has been denied access to the occupied Golan (UN Special Committee, 8 June 2007).

The UN’s human rights bodies, in particular the Human Rights Council (previously the UN Commission on Human Rights), have regularly urged Israel to allow the internally displaced people to return to and repossess their former homes. In a resolution adopted in November 2006 the Council emphasized that the displaced population of the occupied Syrian Golan must be allowed to return to their homes and to recover their properties (UN HRC, Resolution 2/3, 9 January 2007). The Council also adopted a second resolution concerning the Golan (Resolution 2/4), reaffirming the illegality of Israel’s annexation of the territory and calling on Israel to refrain from “changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan” (UN HRC, 9 January 2007).

No UN agency has adopted a role in monitoring or providing humanitarian assistance to the IDPs in Syria, because they generally do not have any humanitarian needs specifically linked to their being displaced. A number of UN agencies are present in Syria, mainly operating under a development framework. The UN’s development policy framework document for Syria for the period of 2007-2011 makes no reference to Golan’s displaced. This is in contrast to an earlier draft of the UN Development Assistance Framework (2001) which noted the need for UN support in the event of the reintegration of the occupied areas (UN, 2001; UN Syria Office of the Resident Coordinator, December 2000). Given the lack of a peace agreement, plans to support the return of the displaced population and rehabilitation of the Golan have not been developed.

The ICRC is the only international organization assisting the displaced people, though in many cases it is only able to do so minimally. It has operated in Syria since 1967, to restore and maintain family links broken by Israel’s occupation (ICRC, 28 June 2004 and 19 June 2003; Arabic News, 14 November 2002). The ICRC continues to call for the resumption of the family visit programme discontinued since 1992 which enabled people separated from their displaced family members to meet together in Syria once a year for two weeks (ICRC, 23 March 2007).

 

Dr. Mohammad Abdo Al-Ibrahim

Resistance the Way for the Liberation

 

 

 

On  the 31st anniversary of the national Open Strike by the Syrian Arab Citizens under the yoke of the Israeli occupation in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan on February 14th, 1982, our hero Syrians reiterated that the option of the Resistance against the occupation is the way for the liberation of the occupied Golan.

The steadfast Syrians in the Golan, in a statement read by the Syrian freedom-fighter and dean of Syrian Prisoner, Sidqi al-Maqt, our Syrian brothers reiterated definite and absolute rejection to the Israeli occupation and to its null, void, and illegitimate practices in the Golan Heights.

Our Syrian compatriots underlined the loyalty of the Golan to the Syrian People, Army, and Leadership in rejection to the present conspiracy and ongoing aggression against Syria, asserting the need to pursue national dialogue and fight against armed terrorist groups in Syria.

''encountering the Israeli enemy, we extend our hands to shake the hands of every honest Syrian and embrace him/her and appeal to them to stand against the criminal gangs and their sectarian schemes and rally behind the leadership of President Bashar Al-Assad,'' read the statement.

Our compatriots underscored that Syria is the dearest and above all  and that the 14th of February would ever remain the symbol for rejection Israeli ID's and that the Golan is but Syrian and ever to remain Syrian Arab land and people.

According to International Committee of the Red Cross, Israel's occupation of the Golan severely restricts the ability of its Arab residents to go about their daily lives. In addition, many have relatives across the demarcation line in Syria that they have not seen for years.

Haniya Saleem Bader Eldeen Shams is 59 years old. She has lived in the occupied Golan since 1968 when she came to be married. Her son, Youseef Hussein Shams, explains that his mother's family live on the other side of the demarcation line.

"She used to be as healthy as a horse," he says, "but since 2003 she has suffered a heart attack and has been hospitalized three times. She is always in tears, sad and depressed."

 During a one week trip to Jordan in 2003 was the last time Haniya saw her family. On the last day of the visit, her older brother died of a heart attack but because his body was taken home  to Syria, Haniya was unable to attend the funeral. Her son says this experience broke her health.  Earlier, she had been able to spend one month with her family in Syria in 1990 as part of the ICRC's family visit programme but this was suspended by the Israeli authorities in 1992. Yousef spends around 50 dollars a week on a twenty-minute phone call that allows his mother to talk to her family. "It's expensive," he says "but after she fell sick, I do what I can to help her."  "When she came here, she left her family behind. She did not see them or their children as they grew up. She missed that sense of family. If the family visits were restored, it would compensate for some of those moments and heal some of the injuries."

  "It was a difficult decision to make when I decided to come here," says Najwa Fawaz Abu Shaqra – Amasha. "My family and my father were very sad. They tried to convince me not to come. I had to ignore them to find the strength to stick to my decision and not be overwhelmed by sadness."

 The 24 year old woman left her home in Damascus in 2004 to live with her new husband in the occupied Golan. They had met at University in Damascus where they were both studying. "At first the question of his return to the occupied Golan, was not an issue," she explains, "We saw each other for three years during our studies and we fell in love. My choice then was to leave him or leave my family. It took a year to get the authorization to come here," she adds." When the approval came, I had to seize the opportunity. If I had hesitated it would have been too late."  In addition to the problems of adjusting to a new community, she is not entitled to an Israeli identification card for the first three years of her residence. This means she cannot travel outside Israel and the occupied Golan, cannot study and cannot work. 

Her new husband found work as an English teacher in Beer Sheba, in central Israel and is only home on weekends. She has no family of her own in the occupied Golan, and without family visits across the demarcation line, she does not know when she will see them again. She says the most difficult moment was when she gave birth two years ago. "I wanted my mother," she says, "I was very sad, it was very difficult not to have her there."

"My father was using a megaphone to talk to us from the shouting hill and he became very emotional. He collapsed from a heart attack and died on the spot," explains Aida Kasim Amasha. "I applied immediately for a permit to go to his funeral, but it was refused. I wanted to touch my father one last time."

 The shouting hill is on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line in the Golan and overlooks the village of Majdal Shams on the Israeli occupied side. The families separated since the 1967 ceasefire use megaphones to communicate across the barbed wire that divides them. The 47 year old woman came from Damascus in 1980 to marry her husband in the occupied Golan. Although she studied mathematics, physics and chemistry in Syria before leaving she does not have a permit to work in Israel.  Last year her 83 year old mother died. "She had been sick for a long time and had undergone surgery. But I could not go to see her before she passed away." She says she is now so depressed that she stays indoors most of the time.  She has four brothers and two sisters in Syria but it is not possible to visit them. "Family weddings over there are very sad events for us," she adds," we cannot participate."  The difficulties of her life in the occupied Golan are not new to her. She lost her five year old daughter fifteen years ago. "All my family could do is offer condolences from the shouting hill."

 ''Family is a physical experience," says 93 year old Sheikh Hasan Yousef Basheer. "We need to touch one another, to feel the children climbing onto you." Although his daughters live with him in the village of Majdal Shams, the rest of his family are all on the Syrian side of the 1967 ceasefire line. "Extended family is so important," he says.

 He was able to take part in a family visit organized in 1979 and again in 1990 but the programme was suspended by the Israeli authorities in 1992. "It was like a big wedding," he says, "It was the first time I had seen all my family members since the 1967 war. Everyone was singing, everyone wanted to kiss me and I kissed them all. I was able to stay one month, it was a good time."  Since that last visit his two brothers have passed away, but he still has one brother, a sister, as well as nephews and nieces. He says he hopes to see them again, "as long as God is willing." As a Druze elder, he was able to cross into Syria last September as part of an annual religious pilgrimage facilitated by the ICRC. But he says the pilgrimage is too short, leaving them little more than one evening to visit family.  "When we haven't seen each other in so long, it is difficult to talk. At first there is nothing to say. We need the time to really sit together, to talk and re-establish contact, to reminisce about the old days." "The pilgrimage is too short to do that," he adds, "it just reopens the wound. When I come back I am depressed and sad." He has been married to his second wife since 1994, "but she has never met any of my family on the other side."  "It is not right," he concludes, "people are dying without the chance to see their relatives. We are all human beings; shouldn't we have the right to visit?"

 "In a dream I saw my mother's funeral," says 49 year old Mohasna Sulieman Taweel Merij. "The next morning I learned she had passed way during the night. Her mother had been sick for some time, and she tried to find a way to visit her, but it was impossible. "On the phone my mother kept crying and begging for me to come, but I could not."

 Mohasna Sulieman Taweel Merij points to her family's village in Syria just the other side of the mountain. "She had sent a message the day before her death telling me to call, but our phone was not working. She stayed alive until one in the morning wondering why I didn’t call," says Mohasna. On hearing of her mother's death she tried to sneak across the demarcation line and walk the four kilometres to her family village. Her sons physically restrained her because of the danger of minefields. Mohasna moved from the village of Hadar in Syria proper to the occupied Golan to marry in 1973 at the age of 16. She has been back once in 1990 as part of the family visit programme. Her husband died of a heart attack just after that visit. She can still telephone her family in Syria, but because she is a widow, she says she can only afford a short call every two months. "We spend all the time crying on the phone and I listen to them begging me to come visit." Her worry now is whether she will be able to see one of her brothers who has been sick for the last three years. "We are roughly the same age and we were very close growing up," she explains, "I want to see him again, but I am afraid he will die first. I haven't been with him in 16 years. To see him again would be the most precious moment in my life." Mohasna has three sons and three daughters. One of her daughters lives in Austria and has come home to visit. Mohasna travelled to Austria for three weeks when her daughter gave birth. "It's easier to go to Austria than to my family's village behind that mountain over there," she points in the direction of Syria. "It would take me thirty minutes to walk there."

 

Dr. Mohammad Abdo Al-Ibrahim