The Golan Heights ( Arabic هضبة الجولان Hadbat al-Jaulān , DMG Haḍbat al-Ǧawlān , Hebrew רמת הגולן Ramat haGolan , pronounced in German [ ɡoˈlaːn ]; Graecized Γαυλανίτις, Gaulanitis) are in a geographical sense, a sparsely populated, hilly land in the Middle East . Internationally recognized as part of Syria , the Golan Heights were occupied by Israel in the Six Day War and annexed in 1981. Before the Israeli occupation, almost 130,000 Syrians lived in the Golan Heights; two months later it was only 6,396. Israel administered the territories as part of its northern district ; the annexation was not recognized by most of the states. Syria still claims the entire area and counts it to its al-Quneitra governorate ; a narrow buffer zone has been monitored by UN peacekeeping forces since 1974 ( UNDOF ). The status of the Golan Heights was an obstacle to peace negotiations between the two states. During the Syrian Civil War , the region became a focal point again with rocket attacks from Syria and Israel. On March 25, 2019, the US formally recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
The Golan Heights in the geographical and geological sense is a basaltic high plateau of volcanic origin between the Sea of Galilee and the Syrian capital Damascus , which runs through the Jarmuk in the south, the Sea of Galilee and the Chula Plain in the west, the Hermon in the north and the Wadi ar-Ruqqad is limited to the east. A large part of the area is around , with a length of 60 km and a width of 25 km, the total area is approx. 1,500 km². The highest point is in the north of the Hermon with 2814 meters. Due to the altitude, there is so much snow in winter that a ski area could be set up near the Israeli settlement of Newe Atiw - the only one in the regions dominated by Israel. In the northeast there is an extinct volcano, the Bental with a height of 1171 meters.
The largest city in the Golan Heights was the Syrian Quneitra , which was occupied by the Israeli army during the Six Day War in 1967. Kibbutz Merom Golan was founded four kilometers to the west in 1967 and is located in the crater of Har Bental. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War , the city was recaptured by the Syrian army . In 1974 the Israeli army, which had repulsed the Syrian attack, withdrew from the city. The city has only been partially rebuilt to this day. The Israeli capital of the Golan is Katzrin . In total, about 20,000 Jewish Israelis live in 33 towns and villages on the Golan Heights, and a similar number of Druze live in a small area with four villages in the north of the Golan.
The soils of the Golan are very rocky and large areas are potentially mined. The precipitation is comparatively high. Israel obtains much of its drinking water indirectly (via the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee ) from the Golan Heights. 8,100 hectares of land are used for agriculture, including for viticulture. Another 46,575 hectares serve as pastureland for around 15,000 cattle and 5000 sheep, which are used for milk and meat production.
The settlement goes back to prehistoric times. The latest discoveries show that Homo neanderthalensis has already left its mark in this region.
Especially in connection with biblical narratives, the Greek form of the name Gaulanitis is used, which comes from the translation of the Bible into Greek. Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights dates back to ancient times. Similar to Masada by the Dead Sea , there was a fortress of Zealots in Gamla (Gamala) , which was taken by the Romans in 67 after a relatively short time. Under the political, economic and religious (especially in the Byzantine Empire) pressure from the ruling powers, the Jewish population dwindled, as everywhere in the Middle East. The area was settled by Arabs and Druze.
Around 1900 Jewish settlements were established on the Golan Heights. In 1923, in an agreement between England and France, the Golan Heights were separated from the British mandate of Palestine and joined to the French mandate of Syria and Lebanon . In contrast to the British, there were no conditions for the promotion of Zionist interests in the French mandate area. All Jewish settlements were abandoned in the early 1920s.
The Golan Heights were used by Syria as a military base from which Israeli communities were repeatedly shelled. This was particularly true of the Israeli villages bordering the Golan in the demilitarized zones that were established as part of the 1949 armistice agreement. Arab attempts to colonize these areas were in turn prevented by Israel.
During the Six Day War , Israel conquered the Golan Heights. In November 1967, the United Nations Security Council , in its resolution 242 , urged Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in return for recognition of Israel and respect for its right to security. During and after the war , almost all Arab residents fled the area except for the Druze , most of which continue to live there. Estimates range between 80,000 and 131,000 people who, according to Israeli and American sources, fled or, according to the Syrian government, were largely displaced. One reason for the Druze to remain was that, since the times of the British Mandate, there had been relatively good and peaceful relations between the Druze and the Jewish population and leadership.
Even before the West Bank , Israeli settlement began on the Golan Heights in July 1967 with the establishment of Kibbutz Merom Golan , which was expressly condemned as illegal by the UN Security Council in its resolutions 446 and 452 of 1979. Syria was initially able to reoccupy parts of the Golan in the 1973 Yom Kippur War; however, these areas were lost again in the further course of the fighting. In its resolution 338 of October 1973, the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire and the implementation of all parts of resolution 242, including the Israeli withdrawal. In the following year, Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire agreement, and a buffer zone was set up under observation by UN Blue Helmets ( UNDOF ). The city of Quneitra, occupied by the Israelis in 1967, lies in this buffer zone. In 1979, Israel offered the Druze on the Golan the opportunity to acquire Israeli citizenship, but only a few Druze accepted this. Instead, in 1981/1982 there were massive protests by the Druze against Israel. Among other things, the return of the area to Syria was demanded.
On December 14, 1981, Israel passed a law extending its laws and administration to the area. This process has been commonly referred to as annexation by the Israeli and international public . On December 17, 1981, at a special session of the United Nations Security Council, Resolution No. 497 declared this law null and void.
In 2000, negotiations on the Golan Heights with Syria under Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak failed . Instead, the Israeli government under Ariel Sharon announced at the beginning of January 2004 that it wanted to settle a further 900 families in new communities on the Golan, with the aim of doubling the Israeli population there within three years.
On November 3, 2012, in connection with the civil war that broke out in Syria in 2011, three tanks of the Syrian government, accompanied by two armored transport vehicles, penetrated the demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights. They fought a lengthy firefight with Syrian rebels in the village of Bir Ajam . Syrian mortar shells had hit the demilitarized zone before. In response to these actions by the Syrian army, Israel lodged a complaint with the UN peacekeeping force stationed in the demilitarized zone. Two days later, according to the Israeli forces, an army vehicle was hit by several projectiles fired from Syrian territory in the Golan Heights near the demarcation line. Although the vehicle was damaged in the process, no one was injured. It has not been possible to determine whether these shots were fired by the Syrian army or by the rebels. On November 11, an Israeli border post in the Golan Heights was hit by a Syrian mortar shell. Several shells from the Syrian army had already hit the Golan Heights. Although the Israeli government considered the shelling to be an accident, the Israeli forces fired at least one anti-tank missile on Syrian territory as a warning on the same day. The Israeli government again lodged a complaint with the UN troops stationed in the Golan Heights. A day later, the Israeli army responded to a Syrian grenade that had struck near an Israeli military post by targeting the artillery unit responsible for the fire with tanks.
Political and military importance
Israel puts forward military-strategic and water- related reasons for the occupation . From positions on the Golan Heights, the Syrian artillery can bombard large parts of northern Israel, which they regularly did before the Israeli occupation in 1967. As early as 1964, Syria tried to use the water of the Jordan itself by diverting the source rivers of the Jordan, the Banyas and Hasbani , which are not on Israeli territory . The complete or partial return of the Golan Heights to Syria should, according to the Israeli position, only take place in the course of a full-fledged peace treaty that also includes solutions to these questions. Some attempts at rapprochement between Israel and Syria most recently failed in 2000. Several Israeli prime ministers have indicated their willingness to compromise on territory, most recently Ehud Olmert . In December 2003, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad initially unsuccessfully suggested resuming negotiations with Israel. Although the Israeli government denied official contacts with Syria, indirect talks between the two states have been taking place since 2004 with Turkish mediation. In May 2008, the Syrian and Israeli governments announced that they would begin official peace talks, in which the return of the Golan Heights would be at the center of the negotiations.
The Golan Heights also include the Shebaa farms , which are mainly claimed by the Hezbollah movement for Lebanon and serve as the main pretext to prevent the disarmament of this group, as required by Resolution 1701 of the UN Security Council , and to continue to assign Israel as an occupying power in Lebanon brand. Together with Syria, it is asserted that Syria ceded the area to Lebanon in 1951 . However, the United Nations does not recognize this assignment because there is no evidence of it and therefore continues to consider it Syrian. The unresolved conflict is therefore indirectly responsible for the ongoing tensions in Lebanon via the Syrian influence in Lebanon and also directly via the unresolved issue of the Shebaa farms.
On March 25, 2019, US President Trump formally recognized the Syrian Golan Heights, which had been annexed by Israel for 52 years, as the state of Israel. In the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu , Trump signed a corresponding proclamation in the White House. He justified this step with the necessary protection of Israel from enemy attacks from the Golan Heights. Netanyahu had long sought international recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli. Shortly before the parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019 in Israel, the right-wing conservative government in Israel received this long-cherished wish from Trump. The government in Syria sharply criticized the decision, calling the decision a "hideous attack on sovereignty and territorial integrity" and calling Trump's move "irresponsible".
The recognition also provoked sharp criticism from many other countries such as Turkey, Iran and Russia, as well as from international organizations worldwide. The Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Guterres referred to the resolutions of the UN Security Council and stressed that the status of the Golan Heights was unchanged and in accordance with UN Resolution 497, which was unanimously adopted in 1981. The Arab League condemned Trump's decision, calling it a violation of international law. The European Union stressed that Trump's decision would not change the EU’s stance, it would not recognize Israel’s claim to the area in accordance with international law.
The Genie Energy Ltd. , a US company from Newark , New Jersey , received a license in 2013 to search for oil in the Israeli part of the Golan Heights despite possible international protests . On October 7, 2015, Genie Energy announced that they had found a large oil deposit through test drilling. On November 16, 2017, Genie Energy Ltd. however, the wells started again due to a lack of profitable deposits.
In secret negotiations between Israel and Syria - well into the war in Syria in 2011, 2012 - Prime Minister Netanyahu is said to have promised the full return of the occupied Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement. The newspaper " Yediot Ahronot " reported that the negotiations, mediated by the USA and Fred Hoff (US government special coordinator for Syria), had silted up as the war widened.
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