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The Israeli occupation the world forgot: the Golan Heights

While the mainstream media commonly refers to the West Bank and Gaza as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it often incorrectly calls the Golan Heights part of Israel. How has the occupation impacted the Golan? And why has the world forgotten it? 

Protesters mark the anniversary of the 1982 uprising that some locals refer to as "the Intifada of the people of the Golan Heights" or the Golan Intifada (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Earlier this month, The Atlantic published “2011: The Year in Photos.” It included a picture of Palestinian protesters climbing the fence that separates, according to The Atlantic, the “Israel-Syria border… near Majdal Shams.” The caption explained that Majdal Shams is located in “northern Israel.”

Imagine the fury if mainstream media outlets referred to the occupied West Bank as “Judea and Samaria.” That would be equivalent to calling the Golan Heights, which also lies beyond the Green Line, “northern Israel.” Calling the Golan “northern Israel” tacitly legitimizes the 1981 Israeli annexation, which has been rejected by the United Nations on numerous occasions in numerous resolutions and goes unrecognized by the international community.

It is this kind of blind repetition of the Israeli government line that has caused both Israeli citizens and the world to forget that the Golan Heights is occupied territory, not unlike East Jerusalem. Those who live in both East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are not citizens of the state but residents who pay taxes to the Israeli government and receive next to nothing in return. The residents of the Golan run their own hospitals. They build their own schools. And, as is the case in East Jerusalem and Area C in the West Bank, they usually build without permits as Israel will not allow for natural population growth.

As is the case in the West Bank, Arab residents of the occupied Golan Heights have faced restricted access to their lands, land confiscation, and tight water restrictions that impede their farming. According to the NGO Jawlan- Golan for the Development of the Arab villages, the area’s Israeli settlers use as much as17 times more water per capita than the indigenous inhabitants of the Golan.

As is the case with Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, Israeli expulsions and expansion has split Golan families into two. In 1967, 130,000 Arab inhabitants were expelled from the Golan Heights, leaving only 6000 residents behind. As a number of Majdal Shams residents told me, every house in the Golan is divided. Everyone has family in Syria, loved ones they see through binoculars at Shouting Hill, cousins they talk to through bullhorns, brothers they have never met.

As is the case with the Palestinians, residents of the Golan have resisted Israeli occupation. Many a member of the Golan Heights’ community has been held in Israeli jails as political prisoners.

But The Atlantic isn’t the only media outlet to forget the occupation of the Golan. For reasons I don’t quite understand, a number of journalists I’ve spoken to consider the Golan “different” from the Palestinian territories. Perhaps it’s easier for journalists to talk about “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” or the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But to do so is an oversimplification that ignores the broader regional context that includes the Golan Heights.

Or, perhaps, journalists have bought into Israel’s line that the Golan residents aren’t Arab, they’re Druze, and the Druze are “different.” But, talk to most Druze in the Golan and they’ll tell you that they are Druze only by religion. Most identify as Arab, Syrian, or both.

The Golan Heights serves as yet another reminder that the conflict on the ground is very different than the story Israel offers up to the world. The conflict isn’t about the Western world battling the Muslim world; it’s not a clash of cultures or a clash of values; the occupation isn’t a security measure, meant to protect Israel from “terrorists.” And while the Palestinians are the people who, as a whole, suffer the direst consequences of the conflict and the occupation, the conflict and the occupation isn’t necessarily about the Palestinians—it’s about the Jewish state privileging Jewish interests and rights over those of non-Jewish “others.”

This post also appears on the Alternative Information Center website

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    1. aristeides

      Your summary cuts right to the heart of the issue. “it’s about the Jewish state privileging Jewish interests and rights over those of non-Jewish “others.””

      Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron

      I guess two reasons the Golan occupation gets ignored:
      1. Relatively small indigenous population.
      2. Settlers are center-left, not right-wing.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron

      The Golan case is also interesting for those of us who take seriously the arguments that Judea and Samaria are not, legally speaking, occupied territory. Those arguments are based on the fact that they were never legally part of Jordan. But the Golan clearly seems to be occupied territory: it was legally part of Syria, a High Contracting Party to the Geneva Conventions. In other words, the Golan seems much more clearly to be occupied territory (in the sense of the Geneva Conventions) than do Judea and Samaria.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron

      Rather, I should have said that it’s occupied, period – regardless of the Geneva Conventions. That’s because the Golan was legally part of Syria. (Sorry for three posts in a row.)

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ed Frias

      Syria controlled the Golan for only 21 years, half the period it has been under Israeli rule. Almost half of its territory has been purchased by Rothschild and later robbed by the Syrian government in 1946. Jews started to return to the Golan as early as 1886 with the land Rothschild bought, but they were expelled and massacred in 46 by the Syrian Arabs.

      The Golan Heights was part of the British Mandate borders of 1917 that was supposed to go to Israel. .
      The Golan was never part of Syria before 1946.
      That is a historic fact.

      The Golan Has Been Jewish for Centuries.
      The Arab colonialists have stolen lands from Kurds, Berbers, Copts, Babylonians, Chaldeans and they want to steal Jewish lands as well. The Golan was part of ancient and modern Israel for centuries, while it was under Syrian occupation for a mere 21 years!! The archaeology of the Golan is proof that the Golan is Jewish. I personally helped dig up a Talmudic era synagogue in Katzrin which is now has a visitor centre. The only Arab land is Saudi Arabia.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ed Frias

      Subversive cells of LEFT-WING RADICALS like Mya have no right to give away our inherited homeland.
      East Jerusalem and the Golan are the ancestral inheritance of Jews the world over. Appeasing Hitler did not work before WW II. Appeasing modern-day enemies of the Jewish people will work no better. They will only turn the Golan and East Jerusalem into terrorist bases from which to attack Israel, just as they did with Gaza

      The Golan was in Jewish hands in Hasmonean and Roman times, as archeological evidence attests. It was granted to the Jewish homeland under the League of Nations Mandate.

      It was temporarily in Syrian hands until 1967 when Israel, responding to Syrian aggression, retook it. It’s now back in the hands of its rightful owner.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Weird discussion above. Israel’s title to “Israel” (i.e., pre-1967 Israel) is the same as Jordan’s was to the West Bank: each conquered a territory they had not earlier had any title to or sovereignty over. Conquest pure and simple. Israel has claimed to “annex” various snippets here and there, including the Jolan, and Jordan claimed to annex the West Bank. The claims to “annex” were void legally.

      Did Syria really acquire the Jolan (Golan) recently? and steal/confiscate abandoned properties? Well, and didn’t Israel do the same? Shall we complain of one “custodian of absentee property” (Syria’s) and not complain of the other (Israel’s)?

      And, as with the well known refugees/exiles from Palestine, 1948 and 1967, let us not forget the refugees/exiles from the Jolan (1967): the place was practically rendered Muslim-free after all.

      Geez Louise!

      Reply to Comment
    8. A

      Whaaaaaaat……Comparing the two cases is an insult to the readers intelligence…

      The Golan was taken from Syria in 1967, after it opened a war against Israel. The Druz in the Golan can have Israeli citizenship. Most of them CHOOSE not to. They have full human and civil rights. The Golan will be returned to Syria if and only if there will be peace between the states. Three times in the last decades there was an almost-peace between the states. The deal on the table was Sinai-like deal, but Asad refused to accept the international border between the states, but insisted Syria will also get the chunk of land west of the international border it occupied in 1948. In light of recent events in Syria, I don’t think there is anyone to talk to there about peace now..
      There is NO humanitarian problem in the Golan, there is NO oppressed people (maybe they don’t like the current status, well, tough luck). When Syria decides it wants peace, we’ll talk. But I think they have bigger problems now..

      Reply to Comment
    9. Henry Weinstein

      More than 6,200 killed in ongoing Syrian crackdown by the Assad regime and the world is guilty to have forgotten “the Israeli occupation” of the Golan Heights?
      You seem to live in a very small and confined world, Mya.

      Reply to Comment
    10. I was under the impression that the “occupied” residents of the Golan Heights have the ability to take Israeli citizenship. If this is true, than this is exactly the reason the Golan is treated differently by the world press- being able to be full citizens of Israel puts them in an entirely different situation from that of, say, the residents of East Jerusalem.

      Not a very convincing article. Takes what could be valid critique of Israeli policy in the Golan (which is actually relevant for Israeli-Arabs as well) about resource allocation, and loses it in a misleading comparison to the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    11. MarkW

      I suppose the commenters are avoiding UN Security Council Resolution 497 intentionally?
      Any Israeli action there since 1967 has no international legitimacy.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Zayzafouna

      Mya, spot on

      Reply to Comment
    13. Sinjim

      Henry, your response is pathetic. Yes, the Syrian regime is guilty of major crimes against its people, even if you discount the events of the last few months. But that doesn’t mean you can justify ignoring the human and civil rights of the occupied people of the Golan.
      To be forcibly separated from your own people for over 40 years against your will is not some minor detail. Nor is bringing attention to this crime a sign of living in a “small and confined world.”

      Reply to Comment
    14. Ed Frias

      Assad is probably like, i’m killing my people everyday and Mya is doing propaganda for me?

      Reply to Comment
    15. Ed Frias

      Henry Weinstein, the Arabs can kill thousands of their own people and if Israel kills 1 Arab thats what will bother Mya and her ilk.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ed Frias

      The Palestinians won’t be Shame-free until they have defeated the Jews; The Peacenik Jews like Mya won’t be guilt-free until they have helped them do it.


      To them every Jew is a target: good or bad, liberal or conservative, religious or non-religious, young or old.

      It is something for the leftist Jew to ponder about.

      The only thing Mya doesn’t seem to hate is Arabs and Suicidal Terrorist Bus Bombers(with rat poison and nails in the C4) Man! if she would just say one negative thing about “Muslim police rape rooms” or suicidal Pizzeria bombings, ahh, never mind, it will never happen.

      There is no greater personification of evil than that of Islamic demogogues who use religion to inflame the passions of the mindless exhorting them to commit murder against civilians and calling it martyrdom. The demogogues never themselves consider committing suicide, and furthermore succeed in stealing vast sums of governmental money. They benefit from the money themselves while the masses live poverty. Welcome to Arab culture. This is the model for life in Arab countries.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Michael W.

      I think everyone here should take a chill pill.

      Reply to Comment
    18. A

      Mark, sinjim: yes, the Golan is an occupied territory. But there is NO humanitarian crisis over there. Putting the few tens of thousands Druze in the Golan that can not meet their relatives every day, but part from that have full citizenship, in the same boat as the Palestinians is doing wrong to the Palestinians.
      Since Syria opened the attack on Israel in 1967, it is totally ok to demand a full peace before we will return it. Same deal we had with Egypt. This is deal is on the table since the negotiations in 1995, but there is no one to take it, and I don’t see anyone who will take it soon.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Tal

      The world is indifferent to Israeli occupation of the Golan the same way it is indifferent to many other conquers of lands around the world. Why is there little attention to the Chinese occupation of Tibet? They chinese govt treats the indigenous Tibeten population far worse than the Israelis treat the syrians. Furthermore, Tibet’s unique culture and language are at risk of becoming extinct while no such threat exists in the Golan.

      So why is the world troubled about the WB? for obvious reasons – It is the heart and soul of the Arab – Israeli conflict and it is a pure case of injustice and moral corruption.

      Reply to Comment
    20. mya guarnieri

      A: The residents of the Golan do not have full citizenship. They are residents like Palestinians of East Jerusalem. As I mentioned in my article, they face numerous building restrictions and limits on water usage that do not apply to the Jewish settlers in the area. They get minimal services from the state even though they pay taxes.
      As for the idea that Syria “opened the attack” on Israel, reducing the discussion to “he started it” puts you on shaky argumentative ground. It’s not about “he started it”–it’s about the occupation and its impact on residents of the Golan and why both Israel and the mainstream media ignores this occupation.
      Further, to say Syria “opened the attack” is a gross oversimplification that doesn’t jive with the MANY eyewitness testimonies, some of which I collected myself while I was researching in the Golan, that Israeli soldiers did their fair share of provoking Syrian forces… darting across the border, shooting across the border, so on and so forth.

      Reply to Comment
    21. mya guarnieri


      A majority of your comments are completely off-topic. You are welcome to discuss the article above but the rest is unacceptable. Keep it up and I will have no choice to but to ban you from posting on my channel.


      Reply to Comment
    22. A

      Mya, the people of the Golan are residents by CHOICE. They are entitled by law to full israeli citizenship, but the majority chooses to be only residents, because of many reasons. The state WANTS them to be citizens, and actually does a lot to convince them to be (some of the methods are indid questionable). It is all the difference in world from east Jerusalemists, who are entitled only to residency to begin with, and the state doing everything in its power to revoke it.
      My point about the war history with Syria was not who started it, I’m not in the fourth grade (although I have family who lived in a Hula valley Kibuts before 1967 and can tell you about provocations) . My point was it is an issue between sovereign STATES. There is no humanitarian issue in the Golan, hence there is no reason to promote a retreat not in the context of an agreement between the states (a.k.a peace).

      Reply to Comment
    23. mya guarnieri

      A, First, I don’t think it’s up to you to decide that there is no humanitarian issue in the Golan when the residents who live there would strongly disagree with you.
      Second, you are correct that they did not take Israeli citizenship. Why? To do so would recognize an occupation that they reject and that the UN and much of the international community does, as well. That does not mean that the people of the Golan, who pay taxes to Israel, should go without basic services and should be subject to discrimination.

      Reply to Comment
    24. A

      Just to put things in context: As I guess you well know, the main issue that prevented an agreement between Israel and Syria is the border issue. There are few lines to consider: The international recognized border, which lies 50m east of the Jordan river and the Kinneret. Since after the independence war the Syrians army occupied some territory west of this line (actually also west of the Jordan), in the ceasefire agreement it was declared a demilitarized zone, which Israeli farmers to which it belonged, could continue cultivate their fields. in the 1950’s Syria took control over these areas. This is what is called “June 1967 lines”. The peace process with Syria blew up since the Syrians insisted on retreat to 1967 lines, while Israel insisted on the international border.

      Reply to Comment
    25. A

      Mya, I agree with you on that. The Druze of the Golan, no matter if they are citizens or residents, should get the same services and right as me. This is also true for the residents of east Jerusalem, and for a matter of fact to Israeli-arabs as well, that are mistreated on many issues. But this is an INTERNAL problem in Israel. It is a separate issue from the question of the Golan status, its occupation or the history with Syria.
      I will join you in any fight for equal rights in Israel for a Druze, an Israeli Arab and any other resident of this country. But this is totally orthogonal to the Golan issue. By putting it all in the same basket you alienating me and I guess most Israelis. I know you don’t hink much of this argument, but you should ask yourself does your aim in this post is to point to the lacking of some services in the Golan villages, or to have another Israel-is-so-bad post?

      Reply to Comment
    26. mya guarnieri

      First off, A, I am Israeli, too, and I don’t feel at all alienated by my post. But thanks for the little tip.

      Second, no, you can’t separate occupation and Israeli intransigence from discrimination against non-Jews. They are part and parcel of the same attitude which is that of Jewish hegemony and privilege over non-Jews. This is the point I made in my last sentence.

      Your attempt to frame this as an internal issue is interesting as the UN and the international community does not consider it an internal issue. It’s a human rights issue. Human. As in humanity.

      Let’s put the shoe on the other foot…if antisemitism were a serious problem in some country, I wonder if you’d write it off as an “internal” issue of that country?

      As for my motivations for writing this post, I feel that to be an irrelevant question that I don’t need to address. I’m a journalist. I write about things. Would you ask a plumber his or her motivations for fixing a pipe?


      Reply to Comment
    27. directrob

      ‘A’, before you rewrite history you have to use your flash eraser first, otherwise it does not work. East Jerusalem is not an INTERNAL problem in Israel, the same is true for the occupied Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank. Everything what happens in the occupied territories is an international issue.
      Furthermore I do not think you can blame Mya for writing bad things about Israel when she is writing about the Golan. The occupation is bad, what happens in occupied land is worse and the occupier is Israel. What is worse than writing an article like this is not to write at all.

      Reply to Comment
    28. A

      Mya and Directrob, by “INTERNAL” I don’t mean “foreigner get your noise out, its none of your business”. Of coarse human right issue in Israel is the business of the international community, exactly as I care about antisemitism in europe or the civil war in Syria. By INTERNAL I mean it is not related to the border issue. Israel should treat its residents, I dont care which, equally. No matter if it a Druze, an African, an Arab or East Jerusalemist. This is a matter of how I want to see my state. Hope it is now clear. Once again, it is orthogonal to the Golan occupation issue, which is a INTERSTATE issue, in which I guess you understood my views.
      Mya, I respect you, so I guess you know a journalist is not a plumber. A journalist don’t just “write about things”. He chooses to right about things. He chooses to use these words and not others. He chooses to mention this fact and ignore another. A journalist actively look for stories to write on. This is true for any journalist, and is especially true for this site, which proclaim itself as “active journalism”. I really respect active journalists, I think they are movers of things. But it makes the question of intention is super relevant one.

      Reply to Comment
    29. zayzafuna

      I would argue that what Israel has done to the inhabitants of the Golan is much worse than what Syria has done to its citizens. Syria has killed individuals, but by annexing the Golan, Israel is trying to eliminate an identity

      Reply to Comment
    30. Ed Frias

      Wrong Mya, everything I said was correct.
      The Golan Heights was never part of Syria before 1946. The Golan Heights is historic Jewish land, which Rothschild bought a big percentage back in the late 1800s.
      This article documents everything i’m saying and how your so wrong.
      Tell me one thing in the article thats incorrect.
      Then you say, that Israel provoked Syria in the 67 war.
      Is this more Arab propaganda from you?
      Syria attacked Israel from the Golan with the intention to annihilate the Jews.
      Can you read!
      Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Assad, May 20, 1967
      Syria’s forces are “ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united…. I as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.”

      Reply to Comment
    31. mya guarnieri

      ed, take a deep breath and get yourself under control. you are, again, off topic. last warning.

      Reply to Comment
    32. mya guarnieri

      ed, i have deleted your response to directrob as it is off topic. best, mya

      Reply to Comment
    33. ed, i deleted your last two responses as both were off-topic and are simply cluttering the thread, not adding to the conversation. you are now banned from my channel and none of your subsequent comments will appear on my posts. best, mya

      Reply to Comment
    34. Emet

      Mya, I believe that you simply should learn to ignore racist comments and keep going with your work.
      Every person that has basic academic tools would simply laugh while reading that “The only Arab land is Saudi Arabia”. This is childish and the fact that you answer to such basic comments is simply a waste of energy.

      Reply to Comment
    35. Rose

      Ed FRIAS,
      So the Golan Heights ‘belong to Israel’, since they were part of an ancient kingdom which disappeared over three thousand years ago? And why exactly did the history of the region and the history of the world started with the Israelites and their conquests?
      Uru-Shalem was there much before Yerushalaim, Beit-lahm was there much earlier than Bethlehem, so Asqalana, Yafa, Akka, ‘Ariha (“Jericho”), Ghazza and many many other cities whose original Canaanite names are much more closer to current Arabic than to Hebrew (“square Hebrew”)

      Reply to Comment
    36. Rose

      PS “The Golan Heights was part of the British Mandate borders of 1917 that was supposed to go to Israel.”
      British mandate in 1917???
      And was a colonialistic “white man’s burden” oriented organization (the league of nations), composed only by Western countries, entitled to decide how the indigenous populations were supposed to organize their present and their future?
      You are a colonialist (an ignorant colonialist); that’s the reason why you don’t feel any shame in writing: “Golan is Jewish”.

      Reply to Comment
    37. Omri

      The logic in this piece is so flawed, I don’t know even where to start. Rather, it’s not even worth a full, informative and logical reply since this “journalist” is blatantly one-sided.

      So, because foreign journalists fail to mention the Golan Heights as occupied territory (by the way, unlike the West Bank, Israel did pass the land under civil administration and not military rule) – the conclusion of this writer is that “Jewish interests and rights over those of non-Jewish”. Logical conclusion indeed.

      Oh, and why was the word terrorists written with quotation marks in that last paragraph? You’re right, they’re peaceful “freedom fighters”. Tell that to the Fogel family.

      Reply to Comment
    38. Ruth

      Mendacious reporting as usual.

      Reply to Comment
    39. Elal

      Hallo people .. im from the Golan and I wanna know if we have any rights in this big world who don’t care or see or know us … im feeling sick of being undefined… I wanna belong for something I wanna be like all the other people … I started to lose my feeling of being a human … feeling the non existence when someone asks me about my land … can someone help me to know my rights ? that’s my E-mail… samiadmon2@gmail.com

      Reply to Comment
    40. Mark Bernadiner

      Golan Heights belong to Israel legally
      Chamish Rothschilds-Syria story:
      By Barry Chamish; http://www.rense.com/general18/rothschildslandon.htm
      JERUSALEM – In January 1996, the business magazine section of the Tel Aviv-based daily newspaper Globes published a four part series revealing a profoundly important fact that was unexplainably ignored: Israel has legal title over a large chunk of the Golan Heights and Western Syria. In the 1890s, Baron Rothschild purchased 20,000 acres of Syrian land owned by the Ottoman empire. In 1942, the Syrian government illegally confiscated the land. The Baron transferred the deeds to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 1957. In 1992, the deeds were moved to the Prime Minister’s Office where they are stored today.
      Now about American history:
      European criminals moved to American continent, killed millions American Indians, stole their land and natural resources. Those Indians who survived the Holocaust, where put in concentration camps reservations.

      Reply to Comment
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