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Talk of Golan annexation leaves out those expelled from it

President Trump’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights has been widely celebrated by Israelis. But do those same Israelis know of the hundreds of thousands of people expelled from the territory during the 1967 war?

By Tom Pessah

Members of the Druze community in the Golan Heights protest the decision of President Donald Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the territory, Majdal Shams, March 23, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Members of the Druze community in the Golan Heights protest the decision of President Donald Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the territory, Majdal Shams, March 23, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The vast majority of Israelis are still unaware that over 130,000 residents of the Golan Heights were expelled from their villages, towns, and cities during the 1967 war. In fact, over the past decades, the territory has become a “consensus” issue among most Israelis, with many seeing no reason to return it. So while President Trump stunned the world last week by recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan, in Israel almost everyone celebrated the move.

Like in the case of Palestinian refugees, for decades the official Israeli line was that the Golan’s inhabitants simply fled of their own accord. According to Syrian estimates, however, only approximately 50,000 of them escaped Israeli bombardments and left alongside the retreating Syrian army. Israeli soldiers admitted in interviews that many residents stayed behind and waited to return to their villages, while others attempted to re-cross the armistice lines.

The IDF would turn to the same methods used against Palestinians in 1948 to prevent the return of the new refugees to their homes — razing entire villages to the ground, driving out the residents, and shooting “infiltrators.” Whether through direct expulsion or prevention of return, Israel was effectively ethnically cleansing the Golan.

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Many of the refugees remain on the Syrian side of the border, in the Damascus and Dara areas, leaving them vulnearable to the deadly impact of the civil war in the country. According to Al-Marsad Arab Human Rights Centre in the Golan Heights, the current number of refugees and their descendants is estimated at 500,000.

Only one group was permitted to remain: between 6,000-7,000 Syrian Druze, who mostly live in four villages in the northern Golan, many of whom have relatives in Syria who are not permitted to return to their villages. The Israeli authorities assumed that following the 1967 war, the Golan Druze would become loyal Israeli citizens, echoing the decision made by the Druze leadership inside Israel in 1948. In practice, the Golan Druze have been resisting Israeli control for over 50 years. Today there are 22,000 Druze in the Golan, but only 1,700 have accepted Israeli citizenship, and the residents there continue to protest the occupation of their land, with many imprisoned for their political activities.

Israeli soldiers drive a captured Syrian army vehicle on the outskirts of the Golan city of Quneitra on June 11, 1967, a day after the war ended. (Moshe Milner/GPO)

Israeli soldiers drive a captured Syrian army vehicle on the outskirts of the city of Quneitra in the Golan Heights, June 11, 1967, a day after the war ended. (Moshe Milner/GPO)

Israel would eventually annex the Golan in 1981, a decision that, until Trump’s recent announcement, was universally condemned. Following annexation, the Israeli authorities attempted to force the local residents to carry an Israeli I.D. card. The Golan Druze responded with a six-month general strike, which included protests and public burnings of the government-issued cards. Druze working in various industries in northern Israel preferred to lose their jobs than violate the strike. According to one source, Israeli soldiers were ordered to shoot at protesters — a command they refused. Despite imposing a curfew, cutting the residents’ telephone access, and preventing the entry of journalists and doctors, the Israeli government was forced to reach an agreement with the residents and to issue cards with an “unspecified citizenship,” rather than an Israeli one.

In the meantime, the Israeli government was hard at work in building settlements across the newly-occupied territory. Today, the Golan’s Jewish population consists of some 22,000 settlers living in 32 settlements (unlike those in the West Bank, Israelis do not typically refer to the Jewish localities in the Golan Heights as settlements). Each of those settlements was built on the land of former Syrian towns and villages, of which there are still visible ruins.

Israel has reportedly offered several times to return some of the Golan to Syria during previous rounds of peace negotiations, yet no agreement has ever been reached (Netanyahu reportedly discussed a withdrawal to 1967 lines in 2010).

Today, Israel still maintains restrictive residency rules, while continuing to demolish homes and confiscate land from the Golan Druze. The Israeli authorities have also revoked the residency of around 100 Druze, and have refused to clear the area of landmines — relics of the 1967 war, which repeatedly claim lives —  while ensuring the separation of families on both sides of the border. Rather than maintaining internal “consensus” on the Golan Heights, both Israel’s leaders and citizens should be paying more attention to the voices of those most affected by Trump’s announcement.

Tom Pessah is an Israeli sociologist and activist.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      Trump’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights may also encourage Israel to annex the West Bank –

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/22/opinion/trump-israel-golan-heights.html

      “Israel Is on the Brink of Disaster. Trump Just Made Things Worse… Of the 29 Likud legislators running for re-election, 28 are on record as supporting annexation of at least a part of the West Bank…As cataloged by the Israeli group Commanders for Israel’s Security, annexation would cost billions of dollars annually, would create virtually indefensible borders because of the spider web of Israeli-governed territory within the larger West Bank that most supporters of this plan want to annex, provide ammunition to the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and destroy Israel’s foreign relations with a host of countries.”

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordine

        I think Israeli MPs know better than you what is good or bad for Israel. Unlike you, they live in Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Living in Israel is a risk factor, not a protective factor, regarding the disastrous thinking Bruce points to. Besides which, the Israeli group Commanders for Israel’s Security live in Israeli too. What follows from that, Halevy, is that you just opportunistically pick and choose whatever propaganda line suits your religious nationalist cult agenda at the moment.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Anyone who wants to understand Halevy better, and wants to understand the brainwashing driving the settlements, and driving the Israeli cruelty necessary to maintain the occupation, just has to listen to (all too typical) fanatic Daniella Weiss talk frankly and unabashedly about the brainwashing she does:
          https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israeli-palestinian-conflict-solutions/.premium-on-a-clear-day-in-the-west-bank-you-can-see-the-israel-you-lost-forever-1.7044362

          Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            Stop sending links to Haaretz. If one is not subscribed electronically to this newspaper that no one reads (apart from some ashamed Jews or some leftists) impossible to read its insulting content for the majority of the Jewish people.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Daniella Weiss: “People say to me, why don’t you explain to the Jews of the United States what it is exactly behind your thinking? I explain,” she laughs, “‘You have to brainwash all the time… You know, we have a family confrontation, my husband says to me every week, ‘Why do you speak to your children all the time about Zionism, pioneers in Judea and Samaria, settling and settling?’ And all my family are settlers here. Because this is the only way to continue Zionism. If there is no enthusiasm, there is no sex. If there is no sex, there is no pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, there are no babies. This is the problem in the United States today… Now, you may ask, but you live here, and you know the things that I’ve said, and you do not change your mind. ‘Okay. Why didn’t the brainwashing work on me?’ Because I didn’t do it on you. Two hours of a meeting is not brainwashing. I do it to my children a few hours every day. My husband says to me, ‘What do you do all the time?’ I brainwash.”

            Reply to Comment
    2. itshak Gordine

      The Golan is a strategic point essential to the security of Israel. It allows monitoring of Syrian troops and their allies from Hezbollah and Iran. In addition it is a sparsely populated territory that has significant reserves of water and oil. The Jewish inhabitants who live there produce, among other things, some of the best kosher wines of Israel, wines awarded in international competitions.
      The likely announcement of President Trump is a great service to Israeli democracy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Israel will always find “security” reasons for further expansion.

        From the Kattan article linked to below:

        “The Golan Heights remain Syrian because that acquisition of territory, even if acquired in a war of “self-defense,” violates a fundamental tenet of the international legal order: the non-acquisition of territory by force….

        Let me be clear: Israel’s decision to annex the Golan Heights was legally wrong, not just because the Security Council or any other state said it was wrong. It was wrong because the international community has prohibited the acquisition of territory by war since 1945. And the reason why the international community prohibited recognizing the acquisition of territory by armed conflict was in order to discourage further conflict by revisionist powers.

        This prohibition formed the cornerstone of the Anglo-American security architecture that was outlined in the Atlantic Charter (1941) that was formulated amidst the Second World War. Its roots go back even further, to the Stimson doctrine, which ironically, was formulated by the United States in response to Japan’s annexation of Manchuria in 1931. The doctrine of non-recognition was also applied by the U.S. to the Soviet annexation of the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and remained official US policy until their independence in 1991….

        But the recognition also has broader policy implications beyond the Arab-Israeli dispute.

        Just think of China’s claim to the islands in the South China Sea, or its claim to Askai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir. How can President Trump square his decision to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel when the U.S. government strongly condemned Russia’s annexation of the Crimea? How would President Trump or the European Union react were the Arab states to recognize the independence of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and establish diplomatic relations with it – in spite of UN Security Council condemnation?”

        Reply to Comment
      • Tom

        Yes agree, the Golan is very strategic for Israel, but does it make it fair to steal the land and expel 120 000 civil people from their land ?

        Reply to Comment
    3. average american

      Ah, all for Israel, let it reign. All bow. All give presents. I seem blocked. My coments not accepted. Ok. I see why. No one can speak againtst the Great Israel. No one certainly in American GOvernment. Why don’t you just keep my comment in your Un-accepted archive and 1000 years from now like Planet Of The Apes someone will discover us in a seaside cave. “Try again”.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        EU States Unanimously Announce: We Do Not Recognize Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights
        European Union foreign policy chief releases statement on behalf of 28 union states, despite Netanyahu’s past claims that his actions were going to break EU unanimity in matters concerning Israel

        Druze leaders in the Golan Heights, meanwhile, called Trump’s announcement “a delusional declaration of a delusional man. The decision changes nothing in terms of the status of the Golan according to international law or for the Druze residents and was clearly meant to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu politically.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          The Golan Druse do support Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
          Where would you prefer to live ?
          A country with a GDP per head of $40,000 with excellent state-funded medical care, pensions, good roads or a 3rd World dictatorship/failed state with a GDP that is too low to accurately calculate.

          What the Druse say is lipservice to protect their extended families in Syria. When an Israel TV channel interviewed a Golan Druse after he returned from visiting & paying respects to Assad, the Druse guy said “we have many relatives there, many relatives”. The way he stressed “many” made it clear what he was suggesting.

          But I reckon the Bens of this World will find this message too subtle to decipher !

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Yeah those guys up there in the picture are waving Israeli blue and white…oh, wait a minute…

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            As I said, Ben will find this message too subtle to decipher.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            On top of everything else, you’re colorblind too? You poor thing. When’s the last time you actually talked to a Druze? Or a Palestinian?
            The Golan Druze identify as Arab, Syrian or both. They do not take on Israeli citizenship because to do so would recognize an occupation that they reject and that the UN and the international community does, as well. (The Trumpistan Lunatic Asylum (inhabitant, one patient named Donald) excluded.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The Golan Druze have a regular Syrian flag-waving function once a week. Israel does not interfere with this session because everyone knows why they have to do it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Everyone knows.” A classic. Along with “some people say.”

            Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      Knives in the back, and in the heart, seem to be a theme these days:

      Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech is a knife in the heart of the U.S.-Israel alliance
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-republicans-chutzpah-at-aipac/2019/03/26/21c12356-4fff-11e9-a3f7-78b7525a8d5f_story.html?utm_term=.df61a2147639

      Really, the sanctimonious, dishonest, hypocritical use of weaponized anti-Semitism charges by the Right has reached newly appalling levels. The mind boggles. The heart rebels.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Joshua Leinsdorf

      Israel attacked Egypt in 1956 and started attacking Syria in 1964 to prevent it from diverting water to its own agriculture. Israeli water theft. Why is the 1956 Suez War never mentioned by Israel’s apologists?

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        The Sinai Campaign of 1956 (known as Suez crisis in the West) is not mentioned so much by Israel for the same same reason that the War of Attrition of 1970 is not mentioned.

        The anti-Israel Jihad is so lengthy that some of the wars that ended being relatively non-consequential in terms of the long term changes are omitted for brevity’s sake.

        Reply to Comment
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