The Golan Heights
: هَضْبَةُ الْجَوْلَانِ
: Haḍbatu l-Jawlān
or مُرْتَفَعَاتُ الْجَوْلَانِ
: רמת הגולן
: Ramat HaGolan
), 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
region, the Golan Heights refers to a basalticplateau
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. As a geopolitical
region, the Golan Heights refers to the area captured from Syria
and occupied by Israel
during the 1967 Six-Day War
, territory which has been administered as part of Israel since 1981
. This region includes the western two-thirds of the geological Golan Heights and the Israeli-occupied part of Mount Hermon.
The earliest evidence of human habitation on the Golan dates to the Upper Paleolithic
According to the Bible
, an Amorite
Kingdom in Bashan
was conquered by Israelites during the reign of King Og
Throughout the biblical
period, the Golan was "the focus of a power struggle between the kings of Israel and the Aramaeans who were based near modern-day Damascus."
After Assyrian and Babylonian rule, Persia dominated the region and allowed it to be resettled by returning Jews from the Babylonian Captivity
, an Arab
people, settled there in the 2nd century BCE and remained until the end of the Byzantine period.
By the late 19th-century, the Golan Heights was inhabited mostly by colonised peasants (fellaḥîn
), Bedouin Arabs
, and Circassians
Since the 1967 Six-Day War
, the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights has been occupied
and administered by Israel
whereas the eastern third remains under the control of the Syrian Arab Republic
. Following the war, Syria dismissed any negotiations with Israel as part of the Khartoum Resolution
Construction of Israeli settlements
began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until the Knesset
passed the Golan Heights Law
in 1981, which applied Israeli law to the territory;
a move that has been described as an annexation
. This move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council
in Resolution 497
which stated that "the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect", and Resolution 242
, which emphasises the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war". Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, also citing the text of UN Resolution 242, which calls for "safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force".
name for the region is Gaulanîtis
In the Mishna
the name is Gablān
similar to Aramaic language
names for the region: Gawlāna
The name Golan Heights
was not used before the 19th century.
map of Golan Heights and vicinity
The plateau that Israel controls is part of a larger area of volcanic basalt
fields stretching north and east that were created in the series of volcanic eruptions that began recently in geological terms, almost 4 million years ago.
The rock forming the mountainous area in the northern Golan Heights, descending from Mount Hermon, differs geologically from the volcanic rocks of the plateau and has a different physiography
. The mountains are characterised by lighter-colored, Jurassic
origin. Locally, the limestone is broken by faults
and solution channels to form a karst-like topography
in which springs are common.
The Golan Heights have distinct geographic boundaries.
On the north, the Sa'ar Stream (a tributary of Nahal Hermon/Nahr Baniyas
) generally divides the lighter-coloured limestone
bedrock of Mount Hermon from the dark-coloured volcanic rocks of the Golan plateau.
The western border of the plateau is truncated structurally
by the Jordan Rift Valley
, which falls down steeply into the Sea of Galilee
(Lake Kinneret, Lake Tiberias).
The southern border is lined by the Yarmouk River
, which separates the plateau from the northern region
Finally, the eastern edge of the Golan Heights is carved out by the Raqqad river (Wadi
), along which are stretching the areas still controlled by Syria
The plateau's north–south length is approximately 65 kilometres (40 mi) and its east–west width varies from 12 to 25 kilometres (7.5 to 15.5 miles).
Israel has captured, according to its own data, 1,150 square kilometres (440 sq mi).
According to Syria, the Golan Heights measures 1,860 square kilometres (718 sq mi), of which 1,500 km2
(580 sq mi) are occupied by Israel.
According to the CIA, Israel holds 1,300 square kilometres (500 sq mi).
Banyas waterfall at the foot of Mount Hermon
, the Golan Heights is a plateau with an average altitude of 1,000 metres,
rising northwards toward Mount Hermon and sloping down to about 400 metres (1,300 ft) elevation along the Yarmouk River in the south.
The steeper, more rugged topography is generally limited to the northern half, including the foothills of Mount Hermon; on the south the plateau is more level.
There are several small peaks on the Golan Heights, most of them volcanic cones, such as: Mount Agas (1,350 m), Mount Dov
/Jebel Rous (1,529 m; northern peak 1,524 m),
Mount Bental (1171 m) and opposite it Mount Avital (1204 m), Mount Ram (1188 m), Tal Saki
The broader Golan plateau exhibits a more subdued topography, generally ranging between 120 and 520 metres (390 and 1,710 ft) in elevation. In Israel, the Golan plateau is divided into three regions: northern (between the Sa'ar and Jilabun valleys), central (between the Jilabun and Daliyot
valleys), and southern (between the Daliyot and Yarmouk valleys). The Golan Heights is bordered on the west by a rock escarpment that drops 500 metres (1,600 ft) to the Jordan River valley
and the Sea of Galilee
. In the south, the incised Yarmouk River valley marks the limits of the plateau and, east of the abandoned railroad bridge upstream of Hamat Gader
and Al Hammah
, it marks the recognised international border between Syria and Jordan.
Climate and hydrology
In addition to its strategic military importance, the Golan Heights is an important water resource
, especially at the higher elevations, which are snow-covered in the winter and help sustain baseflow
for rivers and springs during the dry season. The Heights receive significantly more precipitation than the surrounding, lower-elevation areas. The occupied sector of the Golan Heights provides or controls a substantial portion of the water in the Jordan Riverwatershed
, which in turn provides a portion of Israel's water supply. The Golan Heights supply 15% of Israel's water.
Panorama showing the upper Golan Heights and Mount Hermon with the Hula Valley to the left.
Panorama looking west from the former Syrian post of Tel Faher
Assyrian to Persian periods
After the Assyrian period, about four centuries provide limited archaeological finds in the Golan.
The Golan Heights, along with the rest of the region, came under the control of Alexander the Great
in 332 BCE, following the Battle of Issus
. Following Alexander's death, the Golan came under the domination of the Macedonian general Seleucus
and remained part of the Seleucid Empire
for most of the next two centuries. It is during this period that the name Golan, previously that of a city mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy
, came to be applied to the entire region (Greek
In the middle of the 2nd century BCE, Itureans
moved into the Golan,
occupying over one hundred locations in the region.
The Maccabean revolt
saw much action in the regions around the Golan. It is possible that the Jewish communities of the Golan were among those rescued by Judas Maccabeus
during the Galilee
) campaign mentioned in chapter 5 of 1 Maccabees
; but the Golan remained in Seleucid hands until the campaign of Alexander Jannaeus
from 83 to 80 BCE. Jannaeus established the city of Gamla
in 81 BCE as the Hasmonean capital for the region.
Following the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE, Augustus Caesar adjudicated that the Golan fell within the Tetrarchy
of Herod's son, Herod Philip I
. After Philip's death in 34 AD, the Romans
absorbed the Golan into the province of Syria
, but Caligula
restored the territory to Herod's grandson Agrippa
in 37. Following Agrippa's death in 44, the Romans again annexed the Golan to Syria, promptly to return it again when Claudius
traded the Golan to Agrippa II
, the son of Agrippa I, in 51 as part of a land swap.
Gamla, the capital of Jewish Galaunitis, would play a major role in the Jewish-Roman wars
and came to house the earliest known urban synagogue from the Hasmonean
Although nominally under Agrippa's control and not part of the province of Judea
, the Jewish communities of the Golan joined their coreligionists in the First Jewish-Roman War
, only to fall to the Roman armies in its early stages. Gamla
was captured in 67; according to Josephus
, its inhabitants committed mass suicide, preferring it to crucifixion
. Agrippa II contributed soldiers to the Roman war effort and attempted to negotiate an end to the revolt. In return for his loyalty, Rome allowed him to retain his kingdom but finally absorbed the Golan for good after his death in 100.
Like the Herodians
before them, the Ghassanids ruled as clients of Rome - this time, the Christianised Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium
; the Ghassanids were able to hold on to the Golan until the Sassanid
invasion of 614. Following a brief restoration under the Emperor Heraclius
, the Golan again fell, this time to the invading Arabs
after the Battle of Yarmouk
Early Muslim period
After the Battle of Yarmouk, Muawiyah I
, a member of Muhammad
's tribe, the Quraish
, was appointed governor of Syria, including the Golan. Following the assassination of his cousin, the Caliph Uthman
, Muawiya claimed the Caliphate for himself, initiating the Umayyad
dynasty. Over the next few centuries, while remaining in Muslim hands, the Golan passed through many dynastic changes, falling first to the Abbasids
, then to the Shi'ite Fatimids
, then to the Seljuk Turks
For many centuries nomadic tribes lived together with the sedentary population in the region. At times, the central government attempted to settle the nomads which would result in the establishment of permanent communities. When the power of the governing regime declined, as happened during the early Muslim period, nomadic trends increased and many of the rural agricultural villages were abandoned due to harassment from the Bedouins. They were not resettled until the second half of the 19th century.
The victory at Ain Jalut ensured Mamluk
dominance of the region for the next 250 years.
Natural spring in Golan Heights
In the 16th century, the Ottoman
Turks conquered Syria. During this time, the Golan formed part of the southern district of their empire. Some Druze communities were established in the Golan during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The villages abandoned during previous periods due to raids by Bedouin tribes were not resettled until the second half of the 19th century.
In 1868, the region was described as "almost entirely desolate." According to a travel handbook of the time, only 11 of 127 ancient towns and villages in the Golan were inhabited.
As a result of the Russo-Turkish War
of 1877–78, there was a huge influx of refugees from the Caucasus
into the empire. The Ottomans encouraged them to settle in southern Syria, particularly the Golan Heights, by granting them land with a 12-year tax exemption.
In 1885, civil engineer and architect, Gottlieb Schumacher
, conducted a survey of the entire Golan Heights on behalf of the German Society for the Exploration of the Holy Land, publishing his findings in a map and book entitled The Jaulân
Early Jewish settlement
In 1884 there were still open stretches of uncultivated land between villages in the lower Golan, but by the mid-1890s most was owned and cultivated.
Some land had been purchased in the Golan and Hawran
by Zionist associations based in Romania, Bulgaria, the US and England, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
In 1880, Laurence Oliphant
published Eretz ha-Gilad
(The Land of Gilead
), which described a plan for large-scale Jewish settlement in the Golan.
In the winter of 1885, members of the Old Yishuv
formed the Beit Yehuda Society and purchased 15,000 dunams of land from the village of Ramthaniye in the central Golan.
Due to financial hardships and the long wait for a kushan
(Ottoman land deed) the village, Golan be-Bashan, was abandoned after a year.
Soon afterwards, the society regrouped and purchased 2,000 dunams of land from the village of Bir e-Shagum on the western slopes of the Golan.
The village they established, Bnei Yehuda
, existed until 1920.
The last families left in the wake of the Passover riots of 1920
In 1944 the JNF bought the Bnei Yehuda lands from their Jewish owners, but a later attempt to establish Jewish ownership of the property in Bir e-Shagum through the courts was not successful.
Between 1891 and 1894, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild
purchased around 150,000 Dunams
of land in the Golan and the Hawran for Jewish settlement.
Legal and political permits were secured and ownership of the land was registered in late 1894.
The Jews also built a road stretching from Lake Hula
The Agudat Ahim society, whose headquarters were in Yekatrinoslav, Russia, acquired 100,000 dunams of land in several locations in the districts of Fiq
. A plant nursery was established and work began on farm buildings in Djillin
A village called Tiferet Binyamin was established on lands purchased from Saham al-Jawlan
by the Shavei Zion Association based in New York,
but the project was abandoned after a year when the Turks issued an edict in 1896 evicting the 17 non-Turkish families. A later attempt to resettle the site with Syrian Jews who were Ottoman citizens also failed.
Between 1904 and 1908, a group of Crimean Jews settled near the Arab village of Al-Butayha
in the Bethsaida Valley, initially as tenants of a Kurdish proprietor with the prospects of purchasing the land, but the arrangement faltered.
Jewish settlement in the region dwindled over time, due to Arab hostility, Turkish bureaucracy, disease and economic difficulties.
In 1921–1930, during the French Mandate, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association
(PICA) obtained the deeds to the Rothschild estate and continued to manage it, collecting rents from the Arab peasants living there.
French and British mandates
Boundary changes in the area of the Golan Heights in the 20th-century
Great Britain accepted a Mandate for Palestine
at the meeting of the Allied Supreme Council at San Remo
, but the borders of the territory were not defined at that stage.
The boundary between the forthcoming British and French mandates was defined in broad terms by the Franco-British Boundary Agreement
of December 1920.
That agreement placed the bulk of the Golan Heights in the French sphere. The treaty also established a joint commission to settle the precise details of the border and mark it on the ground.
The commission submitted its final report on 3 February 1922, and it was approved with some caveats by the British and French governments on 7 March 1923, several months before Britain and France assumed their Mandatory responsibilities on 29 September 1923.
In accordance with the same process, a nearby parcel of land that included the ancient site of Tel Dan
and the Dan spring
were transferred from Syria to Palestine early in 1924. The Golan Heights, including the spring at Wazzani
and the one at Banias
, thus became part of the French Mandate of Syria
, while the Sea of Galilee was placed entirely within the British Mandate of Palestine. When the French Mandate of Syria ended in 1944, the Golan Heights became part of the newly independent state of Syria and was later incorporated into Quneitra Governorate
Border incidents after 1948
Minefield warning sign in the Golan
After the 1948–49 Arab–Israeli War
, the Golan Heights were partly demilitarised by the Israel-Syria Armistice Agreement
. During the following years, the area along the border witnessed thousands of violent incidents; the armistice agreement was being violated by both sides. The underlying causes of the conflict were a disagreement over the legal status of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), cultivation of land within it and competition over water resources. Syria claimed that neither party had sovereignty over the DMZ. Israel contended that the Armistice Agreement dealt solely with military concerns and that it had political and legal rights over the DMZ. Israel wanted to assert control up till the 1923 boundary in order to reclaim the Hula swamp
, gain exclusive rights to Lake Galilee and divert water from the Jordan for its National Water Carrier
. During the 1950s, Syria registered two principal territorial accomplishments: it took over Al Hammah
enclosure south of Lake Tiberias
and established a de facto
presence on and control of eastern shore of the lake.
The Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan
was sponsored by the United States and agreed by the technical experts of the Arab League
The US funded the Israeli and Jordanian
water diversion projects, when they pledged to abide by the plan's allocations.
President Nasser too, assured the US that the Arabs would not exceed the plan's water quotas.
However, in the early 1960s the Arab League funded a Syrian water diversion project that would have denied Israel use of a major portion of its water allocation.
The resulting armed clashes are called the War over Water
in July 1966, Fatah
began raids into Israeli territory in early 1965, with active support from Syria. At first the militants entered via Lebanon or Jordan, but those countries made concerted attempts to stop them and raids directly from Syria increased.
Israel's response was a series of retaliatory raids, of which the largest were an attack on the Jordanian village of Samu in November 1966.
In April 1967, after Syria heavily shelled Israeli villages from the Golan Heights, Israel shot down six Syrian MiG
fighter planes and warned Syria against future attacks.
In the period between the first Arab–Israeli War and the Six-Day War, the Syrians constantly harassed Israeli border communities by firing artillery shells from their dominant positions on the Golan Heights.
In October 1966 Israel brought the matter up before the United Nations. Five nations sponsored a resolution criticizing Syria for its actions but it failed to pass due to a Soviet veto.
Former Israeli General Mattityahu Peled
said that more than half of the border clashes before the 1967 war "were a result of our security policy of maximum settlement in the demilitarised area."
Israeli incursions into the zone were responded to with Syrians shooting. Israel in turn would retaliate with military force.
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
, former Prime Minister of the UK
, stated that when he was visiting the Galilee a few months before the 1967 war "at regular intervals the Russian-built forts on the Golan Heights used to lob shells into the villages, often claiming civilian casualties." He said after the 1973 war that any agreement between the two sides "must clearly put a stop to that kind of offensive action."
In 1976, Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan
said that Israel provoked more than 80% of the clashes with Syria, although historians say the remark was part of an informal conversation.
The provocation was sending a tractor to plow in the demilitarized areas. The Syrians responded by firing at the tractors and shelling Israeli settlements
Jan Mühren, a former UN observer in the area at the time, told a Dutch current affairs programme that Israel "provoked most border incidents as part of its strategy to annex more land".
UN officials blamed both Israel and Syria for destabilizing the borders.
Six-Day War and Israeli occupation
After the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, Syria's shelling greatly intensified and the Israeli army
captured the Golan Heights on 9–10 June
. The area that came under Israeli control as a result of the war consists of two geologically distinct areas: the Golan Heights proper, with a surface of 1,070 square kilometres (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
. In the battle, 115 Israelis were killed and 306 wounded. An estimated 2,500 Syrians were killed, with another 5,000 wounded.
During the war, between 80,000
Syrians fled or were driven from the Heights and around 7,000 remained in the Israeli-occupied territory.
Israeli sources and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
reported that much of the local population of 100,000 fled as a result of the war, whereas the Syrian government stated that a large proportion of it was expelled.
Israel has not allowed former residents to return, citing security reasons.
The remaining villages were Majdal Shams
(later destroyed), Ein Qiniyye
and, outside the Golan proper, Ghajar
Israeli settlement in the Golan began soon after the war. Merom Golan
was founded in July 1967 and by 1970 there were 12 settlements.
Construction of Israeli settlements
began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until Israel passed the Golan Heights Law
extending Israeli law
and administration throughout the territory in 1981.
Territory held by Israel:
before the Six-Day War
after the war
On 19 June 1967, the Israeli cabinet voted to return the Golan to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement, although this was rejected after the Khartoum Resolution
of 1 September 1967.
Yom Kippur War
During the Yom Kippur War
in 1973, Syrian forces overran much of the southern Golan, before being pushed back by an Israeli counterattack. Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire agreement in 1974 that left almost all the Heights in Israeli hands. The 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria delineated a demilitarized zone
along their frontier and limited the number of forces each side can deploy within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the zone.
East of the 1974 ceasefire line lies the Syrian controlled part of the Heights, an area that was not captured by Israel (500 square kilometres or 190 sq mi) or withdrawn from (100 square kilometres or 39 sq mi). This area forms 30% of the Golan Heights.
it contains more than 40 Syrian towns and villages. In 1975, following the 1974 ceasefire agreement, Israel returned a narrow demilitarised zone to Syrian control. Some of the displaced residents began returning to their homes located in this strip and the Syrian government began helping people rebuild their villages, except for Quneitra
. In the mid-1980s the Syrian government launched a plan called "The Project for the Reconstruction of the Liberated Villages".
By the end of 2007, the population of the Quneitra Governorate
was estimated at 79,000.
In the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Syria tried but failed to recapture the Golan, Israel agreed to return about 5% of the territory to Syrian civilian control. This part was incorporated into a demilitarised zone that runs along the ceasefire line and extends eastward. This strip is under the military control of UNDOF
Mines deployed by the Syrian army remain active. As of 2003, there had been at least 216 landmine casualties in the Syrian-controlled Golan since 1973, of which 108 were fatalities.
De facto annexation by Israel and civil rule
Golan Heights wind farm on Mount Bnei Rasan
On 14 December 1981, Israel passed the Golan Heights Law
that extended Israeli "laws, jurisdiction and administration" to the Golan Heights. Although the law effectively annexed
the territory to Israel, it did not explicitly spell out a formal annexation.
The Golan Heights Law is not recognized internationally except (as of March 2019) by the United States,
and was declared "null and void and without international legal effect" by United Nations Security Council Resolution 497
The resolution demanded Israel rescind its decision.
Israel maintains that it may retain the area, as the text of Resolution 242 calls for "safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force".
However, the international community reject Israeli claims to title to the territory and regards it as sovereign Syrian territory.
During the negotiations regarding the text of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk
explained that U.S. support for secure permanent frontiers did not mean the United States supported territorial changes.
The UN representative for the United Kingdom
who was responsible for negotiating and drafting the Security Council resolution said that the actions of the Israeli Government in establishing settlements and colonizing the Golan are in clear defiance of Resolution 242.
Syria continued to demand a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including a strip of land on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee
that Syria captured during the 1948–49 Arab–Israeli War and occupied from 1949 to 1967. Successive Israeli governments have considered an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in return for normalization of relations with Syria, provided certain security concerns are met. Prior to 2000, Syrian president Hafez al-Assad
rejected normalization with Israel.
Since the passing of the Golan Heights Law
, Israel has treated the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights as a subdistrict of its Northern District
The largest locality in the region is the Druze village of Majdal Shams, which is at the foot of Mount Hermon, while Katzrin
is the largest Israeli settlement
. The region has 1,176 square kilometers.
The subdistrict has a population density of 36 inhabitants per square kilometer,
and its population includes Arab, Jewish and Druze citizens. The district has 36 localities, of which 32 are Jewish settlements and four are Druze villages.
The plan for the creation of the settlements, which had initially begun in October 1967 with a request for a regional agricultural settlement plan for the Golan, was formally approved in 1971 and later revised in 1976. The plan called for the creation of 34 settlements by 1995, one of which would be an urban center, Katzrin, and the rest rural settlements, with a population of 54,000, among them 40,000 urban and the remaining rural. By 1992, 32 settlements had been created, among them one city and two regional centers. The population total had however fallen short of Israel's goals, with only 12,000 Jewish inhabitants in the Golan settlements in 1992.
Municipal elections in Druze towns
The UN Human Rights Council issued a Resolution on Human Rights in the Occupied Syrian Golan
on 23 March 2018 that included the statement "Deploring the announcement by the Israeli occupying authorities in July 2017 that municipal elections would be held on 30 October 2018 in the four villages in the occupied Syrian Golan, which constitutes another violation to international humanitarian law and to relevant Security Council resolutions, in particular resolution 497(1981)".
Israeli–Syrian peace negotiations
During United States-brokered negotiations in 1999–2000, Israel and Syria discussed a peace deal that would include Israeli withdrawal in return for a comprehensive peace structure, recognition and full normalization of relations. The disagreement in the final stages of the talks was on access to the Sea of Galilee. Israel offered to withdraw to the pre-1948 border (the 1923 Paulet-Newcombe line
), while Syria insisted on the 1967 frontier. The former line has never been recognised by Syria, claiming it was imposed by the colonial powers, while the latter was rejected by Israel as the result of Syrian aggression. The difference between the lines is less than 100 meters for the most part, but the 1967 line would give Syria access to the Sea of Galilee, and Israel wished to retain control of the Sea of Galilee, its only freshwater lake and a major water resource. Dennis Ross
, U.S. President Bill Clinton
's chief Middle East negotiator, blamed "cold feet" on the part of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
for the breakdown.
Clinton also laid blame on Israel, as he said after the fact in his autobiography My Life
In April 2008, Syrian media reported Turkey
's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
told President Bashar al-Assad that Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace.
Israeli leaders of communities in the Golan Heights held a special meeting and stated: "all construction and development projects in the Golan are going ahead as planned, propelled by the certainty that any attempt to harm Israeli sovereignty in the Golan will cause severe damage to state security and thus is doomed to fail".
A survey found that 70% of Israelis oppose relinquishing the Golan for peace with Syria.
That year, a plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly
passed a resolution 161–1 in favour of a motion on the Golan Heights that reaffirmed UN Security Council Resolution 497
and called on Israel to desist from "changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and, in particular, to desist from the establishment of settlements [and] from imposing Israeli citizenship and Israeli identity cards on the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan and from its repressive measures against the population of the occupied Syrian Golan." Israel was the only nation to vote against the resolution.
Indirect talks broke down after the Gaza War
began. Syria broke off the talks to protest Israeli military operations. Israel subsequently appealed to Turkey to resume mediation.
In May 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that returning the Golan Heights would turn it into "Iran
's front lines which will threaten the whole state of Israel."
He said: "I remember the Golan Heights without Katzrin
, and suddenly we see a thriving city in the Land of Israel
, which having been a gem of the Second Temple
era has been revived anew."
American diplomat Martin Indyk
said that the 1999–2000 round of negotiations began during Netanyahu's first term (1996–1999), and he was not as hardline as he made out.
In March 2009, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that indirect talks had failed after Israel did not commit to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. In August 2009, he said that the return of the entire Golan Heights was "non-negotiable," it would remain "fully Arab," and would be returned to Syria.
In June 2009, Israeli President Shimon Peres
said that Syrian President Assad would have to negotiate without preconditions, and that Syria would not win territorial concessions from Israel on a "silver platter" while it maintained ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
In response, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem
demanded that Israel unconditionally cede the Golan Heights "on a silver platter" without any preconditions, adding that "it is our land," and blamed Israel for failing to commit to peace. Syrian President Assad claimed that there was "no real partner in Israel."
In 2010, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman
said: "We must make Syria recognise that just as it relinquished its dream of a greater Syria that controls Lebanon ... it will have to relinquish its ultimate demand regarding the Golan Heights."
Overview of UN zone and Syrian controlled territory from the Golan Heights
Syrian Civil War
The atrocities of the Syrian Civil War
and the rise of ISIL, which from 2016 to 2018 controlled parts of the Syrian-administered Golan, have added a new twist to the issue. In 2015, it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
asked US President Barack Obama
to recognize Israeli claims to the territory because of these recent ISIL actions and because he said that modern Syria had likely "disintegrated" beyond the point of reunification.
The White House
dismissed Netanyahu's suggestion, stating that President Obama continued to support UN resolutions 242 and 497, and any alterations of this policy could strain American alliances with Western-backed Syrian rebel groups.
In May 2018, the Israel Defense Forces
(IDF) launched "extensive" air strikes
against alleged Iranianmilitary installations
in Syria after 20 Iranian rockets were reportedly launched at Israeli army positions in the Western Golan Heights.
On 31 July 2018, after waging a month-long military offensive
against the rebels and ISIL, the Syrian government regained control of the eastern Golan Heights.
Claims on the territory include the fact that an area in northwestern of the Golan region, delineated by a rough triangle formed by the towns of Banias
and the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee
, was part of the British Palestine Mandate in which the establishment of a Jewish national home had been promised.
In 1923, this triangle in northwestern Golan was ceded to the French Mandate in Syria, but in exchange for this, land areas in Syria and Lebanon was ceded to Palestine, and the whole of the Sea of Galilee which previously had its eastern boundary connected to Syria was placed inside Palestine.
Syrian counters that the region was placed in the Vilayet of Damascus
as part of Syria under the Ottoman boundaries, and that the 1920 Franco-British agreement
, which had placed part of the Golan under the control of Britain, was only temporary. Syria further holds that the final border line drawn up in 1923, which excluded the Golan triangle, had superseded the 1920 agreement,
although Syria has never recognised the 1923 border as legally binding.
Borders, armistice line and ceasefire line
One of the aspects of the dispute involves the existence prior to 1967 of three different lines separating Syria from the area that before 1948 was referred to as Mandatory Palestine
During the Arab–Israeli War, Syria captured various areas of the formerly British controlled Mandatory Palestine
, including the 10-meter strip of beach, the east bank of the upper Jordan, as well as areas along the Yarmouk.
While negotiating the 1949 Armistice Agreements
, Israel called for the removal of all Syrian forces from the former Palestine territory. Syria refused, insisting on an armistice line based not on the 1923 international border but on the military status quo. The result was a compromise. Under the terms of an armistice signed on 20 July 1949, Syrian forces were to withdraw east of the old Palestine-Syria boundary. Israeli forces were to refrain from entering the evacuated areas, which would become a demilitarised zone, "from which the armed forces of both Parties shall be totally excluded, and in which no activities by military or paramilitary forces shall be permitted."
Accordingly, major parts of the armistice lines departed from the 1923 boundary and protruded into Israel. There were three distinct, non-contiguous enclaves—in the extreme northeast to the west of Banias, on the west bank of the Jordan River near Lake Hula, and the eastern-southeastern shores of the Sea of Galilee extending out to Hamat Gader, consisting of 66.5 square kilometres (25.7 sq mi) of land lying between the 1949 armistice line and the 1923 boundary, forming the demilitarised zone.
Following the armistice, both Israel and Syria sought to take advantage of the territorial ambiguities left in place by the 1949 agreement. This resulted in an evolving tactical situation, one "snapshot" of which was the disposition of forces immediately prior to the Six-Day War
, the "line of June 4, 1967".
On 7 June 2000, the demarcation Blue Line
was established by the United Nations in order to ensure full Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, according to UN Security Council Resolution 425
. After Israeli troops left Lebanese soil
, the UN announced the resolution had been respected. However, Lebanon
continues to claim a small portion of the area occupied by Israel and administered as part of the Golan Heights. The territory, known as the Shebaa Farms
, measures 22 square kilometres (8.5 sq mi) and lies on the border between Lebanon and the Golan Heights. Maps used by the UN in demarcating the Blue Line
were not able to conclusively show the border between Lebanon and Syria in the area. Syria agrees that the Shebaa Farms are within Lebanese territory; however, Israel considers the area to be inside of Syria's borders and continues to occupy the territory.
The village of Ghajar
is another complex border issue west of Shebaa farms
. Before the 1967 war
village was in Syria. Residents of Ghajar accepted Israeli citizenship in 1981.
It is divided by an international boundary
, with the northern part of the village on the Lebanese side since 2000
. Residents of both parts hold Israeli citizenship, and in the northern part often a Lebanese passport as well. Today the entire village is surrounded by a fence, with no division between the Israeli-occupied and Lebanese sides. There is an Israeli army
checkpoint at the entrance to the village from the rest of the Golan Heights.
The international community, with the exception of the United States, considers the Golan to be Syrian territory held under Israeli occupation.
recognize the Israeli occupation as being valid under the United Nations Charter
on a self-defense basis, entitling Israel to extract concessions to guarantee its security from the Syrians in return for the territory. These states do not consider those concerns to allow for the annexation of territory captured by force.
The United States, in 2019, became the first country to recognize
Israeli sovereignty over the territory it has held since 1967.
The European members of the UN Security Council issued a joint statement condemning the US announcement and the UN Secretary-General issued a statement saying that the status of the Golan had not changed.
(the United Nations
Disengagement Observer Force) was established in 1974 to supervise the implementation of the Agreement on Disengagement
and maintain the ceasefire with an area of separation known as the UNDOF Zone
. Currently there are more than 1,000 UN peacekeepers
there trying to sustain a lasting peace. Details of the UNDOF mission, mandate, map and military positions can be accessed via the following United Nations link.
Syria and Israel still contest the ownership of the Heights but have not used overt military force since 1974. The great strategic value of the Heights both militarily and as a source of water means that a deal is uncertain. Members of the UN Disengagement force are usually the only individuals who cross the Israeli–Syrian de facto border (cease fire "Alpha Line"
), but since 1988 Israel has allowed Druze pilgrims to cross into Syria to visit the shrine of Abel
on Mount Qasioun
. Since 1967, Druze brides have been allowed to cross into Syria, although they do so in the knowledge that they may not be able to return.
Though the cease fire in the UNDOF zone has been largely uninterrupted since the seventies, in 2012 there were repeated violations from the Syrian side, including tanks
and live gunfire,
though these incidents are attributed to the ongoing Syrian Civil War
rather than intentionally directed towards Israel.
On 15 October 2018 the Quneitra border crossing
between the Golan Heights and Syria reopened for United Nations Disengagement Observer Force
(UNDOF) personnel after four years of closure.
Destroyed buildings in Quneitra
The population of the Golan Heights prior to the 1967 Six-Day War has been estimated between 130,000 and 145,000, including 17,000 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA.
Syrians fled or were driven from the Heights during the Six-Day War and around 7,000 remained in the Israeli-held territory in six villages: Majdal Shams
, Ein Qiniyye
Israel demolished over one hundred Syrian villages and farms in the Golan Heights.
After the demolitions, the lands were given to Israeli settlers.
was the largest town in the Golan Heights until 1967, with a population of 27,000. It was occupied by Israel on the last day of the Six-Day War and handed back to Syrian civil control per the 1974 Disengagement Agreement. But the Israelis had destroyed Quneitra with dynamite and bulldozers before they withdrew from the city.
East of the 1973 ceasefire line, in the Syrian controlled part of the Golan Heights, an area of 600 square kilometres (232 sq mi), are more than 40 Syrian towns and villages, including Quneitra
, Khan Arnabah
, al-Hamidiyah, al-Rafid
, al-Samdaniyah, al-Mudariyah, Beer Ajam
, Ghadir al-Bustan, Hader
, Juba, Kodana, Ufaniyah, Ruwayhinah, Nabe' al-Sakhar, Trinjah, Umm al-A'zam, and Umm Batna. The population of the Quneitra Governorate
Once annexing the Golan Heights in 1981, the Israeli government offered all non-Israelis living in the Golan citizenship, but until the early 21st century fewer than 10% of the Druze were Israeli citizens; the remainder held Syrian citizenship.
The Golan Alawites
in the village of Ghajar
accepted Israeli citizenship in 1981.
In 2012, due to the situation in Syria, young Druze have applied to Israeli citizenship in much larger numbers than in previous years.
In 2012, there were 20,000 Druze
with Syrian citizenship living in the Israeli-occupied portion Golan Heights.
The Druze living in the Golan Heights are permanent residents of Israel. They hold laissez-passers
issued by the Israeli government, and enjoy the country's social-welfare benefits.
The pro-Israeli Druze were historically ostracized by the pro-Syrian Druze.
Reluctance to accept citizenship also reflects fear of ill treatment or displacement by Syrian authorities should the Golan Heights eventually be returned to Syria.
According to The Independent
, most Druze in the Golan Heights live relatively comfortable lives in a freer society than they would have in Syria under Assad's government.
According to Egypt's Daily Star
, their standard of living vastly surpasses that of their counterparts on the Syrian side of the border. Hence their fear of a return to Syria, though most of them identify themselves as Syrian,
but feel alienated from the "autocratic
" government in Damascus. According to the Associated Press
, "many young Druse have been quietly relieved at the failure of previous Syrian–Israeli peace talks to go forward."
On the other hand, expressing pro-Syrian rhetoric, The Economist
found, represents the Golan Druzes' view that by doing so they may be potentially rewarded by Syria, while simultaneously risking nothing in Israel's freewheeling society. The Economist
likewise reported that "Some optimists see the future Golan as a sort of Hong Kong
, continuing to enjoy the perks of Israel's dynamic economy and open society
, while coming back under the sovereignty of a stricter
, less developed Syria." The Druze are also reportedly well-educated and relatively prosperous, and have made use of Israel's universities.
Since 1988, Druze clerics have been permitted to make annual religious pilgrimages to Syria. Since 2005, Israel has allowed Druze farmers to export some 11,000 tons of apples to the rest of Syria each year, constituting the first commercial relations between Syria and Israel.
Since the breakout of the Syrian Civil War
in 2012, the number of applications for Israeli citizenship is growing, although Syrian loyalty remains strong and those who apply for citizenship are often ostracized by members of the older generation.
Israeli farms in the Golan Heights
activity began in the 1970s. The area was governed by military administration until 1981 when Israel passed the Golan Heights Law
, which extended Israeli law
and administration throughout the territory.
This move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council
in UN Resolution 497
although Israel states it has a right to retain the area, citing the text of UN Resolution 242
, adopted after the Six-Day War, which calls for "safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force".
The continued Israeli control of the Golan Heights remains highly contested and is still regarded as belligerent occupation by most countries. The international community rejects the validity of the Golan Heights Law as an attempted annexation
by force, illegal under the UN Charter
and the Geneva Conventions
Israeli settlements and human rights policy in the occupied territory have also drawn criticism from the UN.
The Israeli-occupied territory is administered by the Golan Regional Council
, based in Katzrin
, which has a population of 6,400. There are another 19 moshavim
and 10 kibbutzim
. In 1989, the Israeli settler population was 10,000.
By 2010 the Israeli settler population had expanded to 20,000
living in 32 settlements,
and by 2019 had expanded to 22,000.
On 23 April 2019, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
announced that he will bring a resolution for government approval to name a new community in the Golan Heights after U.S. President Donald Trump.
The planned settlement was unveiled as Trump Heights
on 16 June 2019.
The Golan Heights features numerous archeological sites, mountains, streams and waterfalls. Throughout the region 25 ancient synagogues have been found dating back to the Roman and Byzantine periods.
is an ancient site that developed around a spring once associated with the Greek god Pan
is a ruined Byzantine
-period and Syrian
village. Founded in 4th century CE, it has a monastery and church of St George
from the 6th century. The church has a square apse - a feature known from ancient Syria and Jordan, but not present in churches west of the Jordan River
is an archaeological site and national park on the shore of the Sea of Galilee at the foothills of the Golan, containing the ruins of a Byzantine Christian monastery connected to the Gospels
is the administrative and commercial center of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Katzrin Ancient Village
is an archaeological site on the outskirts of Katzrin where the remains of a Talmud
-era village and synagogue
have been reconstructed.Golan Archaeological Museum
hosts archaeological finds uncovered in the Golan Heights from prehistoric times. A special focus concerns Gamla and excavations of synagogues and Byzantine churches.
Two open air strip malls
, one which holds the Kesem ha-Golan
(Golan Magic), a three-dimensional movie and model of the geography and history of the Golan Heights.
Gamla Nature Reserve
Mount Gamla seen from above
The Sea of Galilee as seen from the Golan
Nature Reserve is an open park with the archaeological remains of the ancient Jewish city of Gamla — including a tower, wall and synagogue. It is also the site of a large waterfall, an ancient Byzantine church, and a panoramic spot to observe the nearly 100 vultures
that dwell in the cliffs. Israeli scientists study the vultures and tourists can watch them fly and nest.
is a large circular stone monument similar to Stonehenge
. Excavations since 1968 have not uncovered material remains common to archaeological sites in the region. Archaeologists believe the site may have been a ritual center linked to a cult of the dead.
A 3D model of the site exists in the Museum of Golan Antiquities in Katzrin.
Um el Kanatir
Um el Kanatir
is another impressive set of standing ruins of a village of the Byzantine
era. The site includes a very large synagogue and two arches next to a natural spring.
Mount Hermon and Lake Ram
is an ancient Greco-Roman city, known in Arabic
as Qal'at al-Hisn and in Aramaic
as Susita. The archaeological site includes excavations of the city's forum, the small imperial cult temple, a large Hellenistic temple compound, the Roman city gates, and two Byzantine churches.
Organic vineyard in the Golan Heights
On a visit to Israel and the Golan Heights in 1972, Cornelius Ough, a professor of viticulture
at the University of California, Davis
, pronounced conditions in the Golan very suitable for the cultivation of wine grapes.
A consortium of four kibbutzim and four moshavim took up the challenge, clearing 250 burnt-out tanks in the Golan's Valley of Tears
to plant vineyards for what would eventually become the Golan Heights Winery
The first vines were planted in 1976, and the first wine was released by the winery in 1983.
The heights are now home to about a dozen wineries.
Oil and gas exploration
In the early 1990s, the Israel National Oil Company (INOC) was granted shaft-sinking
permits in the Golan Heights. It estimated a recovery potential of two million barrels of oil, equivalent at the time to $24 million. During the Yitzhak Rabin administration (1992–1995), the permits were suspended as efforts were undertaken to restart peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu granted preliminary approval to INOC to proceed with oil exploration drilling in the Golan.
INOC began undergoing a process of privatization in 1997, overseen by then-Director of the Government Companies Authority (GCA), Tzipi Livni
. During that time, it was decided that INOC's drilling permits would be returned to the state.
In 2012, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau
approved exploratory drilling for oil and natural gas in the Golan.
The following year, the Petroleum Council of Israel's Ministry of Energy and Water Resources
secretly awarded a drilling license covering half the area of the Golan Heights to a local subsidiary of New Jersey
-based Genie Energy Ltd.
headed by Effi Eitam
Human rights groups have said that the drilling violates international law, as the Golan Heights are an occupied territory.
Panoramic view of the Golan Heights, with the Hermon mountains on the left side, taken from Snir.
The United States recognized
Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in March 2019. The US is the first country to recognize the Golan as Israeli territory, while the rest of the international community still considers it Syrian territory occupied by Israel.
- ^ a b c
- "The international community maintains that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan is null and void and without international legal effect." International Labour Office (2009). The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories (International government publication ed.). International Labour Office. p. 23. ISBN 978-92-2-120630-9.
- In 2008, a plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly voted by 161–1 in favour of a motion on the "occupied Syrian Golan" that reaffirmed support for UN Resolution 497. (General Assembly adopts broad range of texts, 26 in all, on recommendation of its fourth Committee, including on decolonization, information, Palestine refugees, United Nations, 5 December 2008.)
- "the Syrian Golan Heights territory, which Israel has occupied since 1967". Also, "the Golan Heights, a 450-square mile portion of southwestern Syria that Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab–Israeli war." (CRS Issue Brief for Congress: Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues, Congressional Research Service. 19 January 2006)
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- ^ The UNRWA commissioned a plan for the development of the Jordan River; this became widely known as "The Johnston plan". The plan was modelled on the Tennessee Valley Authority development plan for the development of the Jordan River as a single unit. Greg Shapland, (1997) Rivers of Discord: International Water Disputes in the Middle East, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, ISBN 1-85065-214-7 p. 14
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- ^ Avi Shlaim (2000). The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. Penguin Books. pp. 229, 230. ISBN 978-0-14-028870-4. In January 1964 an Arab League summit meeting convened in Cairo. The main item on the agenda was the threat posed by Israel's diversion of water … The preamble to its decision stated: "The establishment of Israel is the basic threat that the Arab nation in its entirety has agreed to forestall. And Since the existence of Israel is a danger that threatens the Arab nation, the diversion of the Jordan waters by it multiplies the dangers to Arab existence. Accordingly, the Arab states have to prepare the plans necessary for dealing with the political, economic and social aspects, so that if necessary results are not achieved, collective Arab military preparations, when they are not completed, will constitute the ultimate practical means for the final liquidation of Israel
- ^ Masahiro Murakami (1995). Managing Water for Peace in the Middle East; Alternative Strategies. United Nations University Press. pp. 287–297. ISBN 978-92-808-0858-2. Retrieved 15 July 2013. The book appears in: http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/80858e/80858E0m.htm . The initial diversion capacity of the National Water Carrier without supplementary booster pumps was 320 million m3, well within the limits of the Johnston Plan. ......Shortly before completion of the Israeli Water Carrier in 1964, an Arab summit conference decided to try to thwart it. Discarding direct military attack, the Arab states chose to divert the Jordan headwater......the Arab states chose to divert the Jordan headwaters.......diversion of both the Hasbani and the Banias to the Yarmouk.....According to neutral assessments, the scheme was only marginally feasible; it was technically difficult and expensive......Political considerations cited by the Arabs in rejecting the 1955 Johnston Plan were revived to justify the diversion scheme. Particular emphasis was placed on the Carrier's capability to enhance Israel's capacity to absorb immigrants to the detriment of Palestinian refugees. In response, Israel stressed that the National Water Carrier was within the limits of the Johnston Plan......the Arabs started work on the Headwater Diversion project in 1965. Israel declared that it would regard such diversion as an infringement of its sovereign rights. According to estimates, completion of the project would have deprived Israel of 35% of its contemplated withdrawal from the upper Jordan, constituting one-ninth of Israel's annual water budget.......In a series of military strikes, Israel hit the diversion works. The attacks culminated in April 1967 in air strikes deep inside Syria. The increase in water-related Arab–Israeli hostility was a major factor leading to the June 1967 war.
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