As opposed to Palestinian refugees, the fate of the Syrians expelled from the Golan Heights by Israel in 1967 was covered up and hidden from public awareness. Even today, most Israelis believe the area was largely empty of Syrians, and anyone who may have been there fled voluntarily.
By Irit Gal
Among the Syrian refugees fleeing their burning country to the European countries that were kind enough to open their gates, there are those who belong to a second generation of refugees. The first fled in 1967 when the Syrian Golan Heights were conquered by the Israeli army. In contrast to the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, the story of these refugees was blotted out of the Israeli consciousness. The facts disappeared, their story was hidden, obscured and vanished from view — as if it had never happened.
In the late 90s, I was sent by an Israeli television program to document the story of the Druze residents of the Golan Heights. I was asked to look at why they kept their allegiance to their Syrian homeland and refused to accept Israeli citizenship, despite the many benefits granted them by Israel. In the course of the investigation I was surprised to come across a completely different story. It turned out that in 1967, when the Six-Day War broke out, the Golan Heights were populated by Syrian citizens, of whom the Druze who remained were but a minority. I looked for corroboration in history books, but the Syrian inhabitants simply vanished. Only a single encyclopedia entry mentioned the
fact that before the Israeli conquest the population of the Golan Heights numbered more than 100,000.
In the course of the investigation and filming, we heard from former IDF soldiers who fought in the Golan Heights, from members of kibbutzim and villages in the Jordan Valley as well as from the Druze themselves. They all told the same story: the Golan Heights, which in the Israeli consciousness was perceived as having been empty and devoid of people, was in fact populated — just like the West Bank when it was conquered. The report was filmed and edited, but just as the promo for the program was being broadcast, the head of the Arab affairs desk demanded that we stop the broadcast for fear of being ridiculed. He stated that there had never been civilians in the Golan Heights except for the Syrian armed forces, the proof being that “everyone knows this.”
To prevent a misunderstanding, a senior historian was called in. He was a Middle East specialist and...Read More