The Zionism Sinister Schemes in The Occupied Golan

Israel has recently 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.

In fact,the Zionism's greediness in the Golan precedes the foundation of Israel in 1948. Some supporting examples are listed hereunder:  The World Zionist Organization's memo addressed to the Paris Peace Conference on February 3, 1919 specified that:

"Hermon is the true father of Palestine's water. It is inseparable from Palestine unless a crucial blow is inflicted, on Palestine's life. It has, therefore, to be kept dominated by those who are better capable and more desiring to restore it to its maximum profusion".

It is astonishing that Zionists spoke in 1919 of Palestine when they had constituted less than 8% of its population as if they had actually occupied it. Louis Brandes, the American Zionism representative, cabled Wizemann on February 16, 1920, that "It is necessary, in order to secure the Country economical development in the north, that Palestine should include Litany River resources at Hermon and the Golan and Hoaran Plains in the east."

Cabling Saint Rimmo Conference on 29.12.1919 Wizemann said:"The Sykes-Picot Line isn't meeting its minimum demands because it cuts off water resources and deprives the National HOMEland of some of the very best settlement fields in the Golan and Hoaran upon which the success of the whole project depends".

In 1920, Ben Gorion said in a Memo, on behalf of the Zionist Labor Union:"We have permanently requested that Israel should include the southern banks of Litany River and Hoaran Region, south of Damascus". He continued; "The Country is in need of such water".It is strange that Ben Gurion was then planning to dominate the whole of Palestine, when Jews had constituted less than 8% of its population, and to usurp not only Palestine, but also the Golan and Hoaran. This expansionist logic is renewing the alleged pleas to justify its plans. It wanted to seize lands of others in order to dominate the water resources. Would the World Opinion accept that Egypt occupies the Nile Resources in Ethiopia and Sudan in application of such logic? What if Zionists had chosen Romania for their State and decided thereafter to occupy the Danube Resources through Austria?

After signing the Syrian - Israeli Armistice Accord on July 20, 1949, Israel initiated a series of brutal actions, summarized as follows:

Israel started in 1950 drying Up Project of Alhouleh Lake that surrounds it from the north. This enabled it to dominate 45,000,000 Km2 of arable land in the Buffer Zone, breaching the so called Syrian-Israeli Armistice Accord.

The natural military barriers were eliminated by Alhouleh Lake drying up operation which jeopardized the Arab Citizens rights inside the Buffer Zone. When Syria complained to the Mixed Armistice Committee, Israel resorted to terrorism and pounded with guns, on April 5, 1951 Alhimmeh, the Syrian City, and its outskirts aiming thereby to subdue Syria. The Security Council issued its Resolution N° 2157/S on May 18, 1951 ordering Israel to repatriate the Arabs it had expelled from the Buffer Zone and to allow the UN Observers free inspection of the mentioned Zone. The Israelis completed by January 1953 the construction of Alhouleh Lake, as to fraudulently divert its water so that it would dry up completely. Thus imposing their domination on all the demilitarized zones, except the village of Alhimmeh, Mitjahou, an ex-military official admitted that the drying up work would deprive Syria of the secured borders. Syria then anxious to preserve its right continued to claim the restoration of their offs. Therefore it was entitled to request that its stance be taken into consideration. Furthermore, Moshe Dayan, twenty years later, confessed such fact; "Yes, we have deleted from our side the special status of the Buffer Zones and acted as if they were inside Israel".

The Israelis began on November 2, 1953 to build up a power station on Banat Yacoub Bridge to the north of Tiberius Lake. This compelled the Israeli constructing company to work inside the Buffer Zone and partially transfer Jordan River water. The Israeli Authorities rejected a request from General Van Beneke , then the UNTSO Chief-Of-Staff, to stop such work. Israel stopped said work for a short period, from October 28,1953 to early 1955.  The Israelis launched in December 1955 an immense raid on the Syrian positions east of Tiberius Lake in order to completely dominate it. Israel commenced in 1956 its greatest water project, known as "The National Project" whose objective was to transfer the Jordan River water to the coastal area and Tel Aviv. The Arabs retaliated by an adverse project of transferring the Jordan River tributaries, but Israel bombarded the practical project facilities. The commonly-known Israeli Commentator, Uri Afgeari, linking between the Jordan River transfer projects and the Golan occupation, said that "We must not forget that there had been no way to impede the transfer works except by using the air force. We might say that we could have been eventually obliged to wage a war ( against Syria ) if the Jordan River tributaries transfer project had been complemented, even if the 6-day War has not erupted due to the siege in Sinai".

Thus, the Golan water resources constituted a major cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the Syrian Front and a Zionist basic strategy factor or base towards the Golan, which was based not only on economic and security reasons, but also on political ones. By dominating the Golan water resources, Israel had imposed itself as a partner in the issues and events of the Area. The other factor was the Golan geographical site and its strategic importance, highlighted by Maarev Daily's remark: "The Syrian Hill was one of the causes that led to the war, because life, which was not bearable at the foot of the Syrian Fortress, had increased the severity of the Arab-Israeli conflict and eventually led to the 6-day War".  Life, according to Maarev, was unbearable on the foot of the Fortress, because Israel was constantly thinking of breaching the armistice and expanding. The Syrian Fortress was an agony to Israel being an impediment that hindered its plans and greediness. All national documents evidence that Israel was always the war initiator and aggressor despite what it alleged before 1967 as regards Syria's strategic site, not to mention that most of UN resolutions during that period condemned Israel and its actions which breached the Armistice Accord.

Consequently, Israel Launched in June 1967 another aggressive war against Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces, occupying more Arab land then what was already under her domination (The Golan, Sinai, West Bank and Gaza) . About 89395 km2, four time then it already illegally occupy, 20700 km2. When Israel realized that the Arab Nations began considerating their ranks (The revolution of 14 July 1958 in Iraq, the victory of the Algerian revolution in 1962, the creation of the Palestinian Liberation organization in May 1964, etc.. ), It though to eliminate any hope of Arab redress. The creation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the outburst of the Palestinian fedayeen activities with 35 operations in 1965, rising to 41 within the first five months of 1965 were the most important and dangerous reasons. Thus, Israel escalated its provocative actions against Syria by shelling the means and equipment working in the Arab project of transferring the Jordan River tributaries. Attacking the Syrian farmers and increasing the impact of challenges against the Syrian Forces led to more vehement clashes that reached their peak by the air battle of April 7,1967. News were spreading of Israeli military arrangements; particularly its deploying a force of 11-13 brigades along the Syrian Borders. Motivated by such news, Egypt met its obligations under the Syrian-Egyptian Common Defense Accord signed on November 4, 1966, and delegated its Chief-of-Staff, Lt. General Mohammed Fozi, to Damascus to study the matter on the ground and coordinate the cooperation. When he returned to Cairo, Egypt declared utmost mobilization, and the Egyptian Forces were paraded on May 15, 1967 in a military march through Cairo streets heading for Sinai. On May 16, 1967 the Egyptian Command-in -Chief requested the UNDOF Commander-in-Chief in Sinai to withdraw his forces. After hasty consultations, the UN Secretary General, U. Thant, decided to meet Egypt's request and ordered such forces withdrawal on May 19, 1967. President Nasser announced on May 23, 1967 the blocking of The Strait of Tiran in the face of Israeli navigation, removing thereby the last trace of the 1956-Triple Aggression against Egypt. The blocking of the Traits was considered by Israel as a declaration of war. It expedited the arrangements to launch the aggression taking for granted the USA support to its plan. The UN Secretary General exerted efforts in Cairo and Tel Aviv to limit the deterioration. It was clear that the ghost of war was dominant. Syrian and Egyptian Forces began heading for the battle fronts. On the other side Israel was taking many measures that revealed the intentions of the Zionist leaders to wage aggression. The Cabinet was re-shuffled and General Moshe Dayan was brought in to as Defense Minister. It was only a few hours later that the Israeli forces initiated the war.

Dr. Mohammad Abdo Al-Ibrahim

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