Golan Heights: A Storied Past, An Unpredictable Fu Essay

This essay has a total of 3111 words and 16 pages.

Golan Heights: A Storied Past, An Unpredictable Future











The Golan Heights: A Storied Past, An Unpredictable Future









Situated just north of Lake Kinneret overlooking the Huleh Valley in Israel and the Al
Raquad Valley in Syria sits a plateau, which rises to between 700 and 1,400 feet above sea
level and is perhaps the most strategic piece of land in the Middle East, depending on
one's perspective. (Jewish Virtual Library, 2001) The antiquities left behind by the
Romans, Turks, Greeks, and Mongols, just to name a few of the empires that have conquered
this area, date back several centuries. This relatively small area of land, roughly the
size of Queens, New York, is approximately 40-45 miles long and 15.5 miles across at its
widest point, and controls the Kinneret, Israel's only lake and foremost water resource.
(Bard, 2002) This much-disputed piece of land is called the Golan Heights.


Israel's History of the Golan Heights
Israel's claim to the Golan Heights dates back centuries to Biblical times when Abraham
promised the Bashan Region, the Biblical name for the Golan Heights, to the people of
Israel. Israeli citizens did not settle in the Golan, however, until the First Temple
Period, which began in 953BC. Half of the Israeli tribe of Menasseh settled in Transjordan
and later named the area after another Biblical city of the same name, Golan. (Web Golan)
During this era, the town acted as a refuge for criminals awaiting trial, which could also
account for the town's name, as the word "golah" means exile. In 732BC, the Israelis were
exiled from the Golan by an Asyrian Emperor, Tiglath-Pileser II, and did not return to
Bashan until after 586BC, which was the start of the Second Temple Period. From 732BC to
586BC, the Asyrian Emperor populated the entire region with citizens from various parts of
his empire. When the Israelis returned to their homes, though, they lived in peace
alongside the non-Jewish inhabitants. (Camera Media Report,1995) The Golan Heights changed
hands several more times and was influenced by various cultures throughout the
Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Talmudic Periods from 65BC to 636AD. From 636 to 1516
during the Islamic Conquest, also known as the Mamluk Period, most of the Jewish
settlements from previous periods disappeared entirely and the Druze were the primary
inhabitants of the Golan. The Druze remain in certain areas of the Golan to this day.
(Israeli Government, 1998)


Besides a brief occupation by the Egyptians, from 1831 to 1840, the Golan Heights were
regained by the Ottoman Empire following the Ottoman Conquest in 1517. The Turks
maintained control of the Golan for 400 years, until 1917. (Camera Media Report, 1995)
Under the Ottoman Empire, although the Golan was administrated from Damascus and
controlled from Istanbul, Israeli families began to flourish in the region and the first
permanent settlements of the modern era were established. Jews began buying purchasing
land as well under the Turkish rule. In 1891, more than 18,000 acres of land was purchased
by Baron Edmund de Rothschild, which was meant to be used for a Jewish settlement in the
Golan. (Wikipedia, 2002)


In 1917, Britain defeated the Turks and conquered Palestine. Three years later in 1920,
Britain and France divided up the former Ottoman Empire, with France receiving mandate
over Syria and Britain taking mandate over Palestine. After the British realized there was
no oil in the Golan, they made a deal to exchange the Golan Heights with France for a
section of land in Syria, Mosul or Metula, where they felt the chance of finding oil was
much greater. An important stipulation of the trade was that France had to give up any and
all claims to Palestine. (Camera Media Report, 1995) Once the French took control of the
Golan, all land purchased and owned by the Jews in the Golan was taken away. Jews,
however, found ways to finance and maintain farms in the Golan until the entire Golan
Heights was seized by Syria in 1947, after Israel's War of Independence. Israel annexed
the Golan Heights during the Six Day War is 1967, although the annexation has never been
internationally recognized. (Wikipedia, 2002)


Syria's History of the Golan Heights
Syria's claim to and history of the Golan Heights is quite different from Israel's claim.
Although most of the conquering empires throughout time are undisputed, many historical
facts that both sides offer contrast considerably. The Syrian's or more precisely Arab's
first links to the Golan Heights date back to the 2nd and 3rd millennium, when the region
was inhabited by Ammorites, Kan'anians, and Arameans, all tribes of Arab origins. These
Arab tribes established kingdoms in different sections of Syria and the Golan until 732BC,
when the Assyrians took control of the Golan Heights. (Web Golan, 2002) For the next 200
years, the Caldanian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires annexed the Golan Heights for
varying periods of time before the Hellenistic Period began, in 332BC. During the
Hellenistic Period, two Greek kingdoms, one located in Syria and another in Egypt,
disputed ownership of the Golan until 1st century BC, when the Romans conquered the
region. (NIC: Damascus, Syria) Some sources have the name Golan dating back to this period
and suggest the Romans began calling the area Golan, which was taken from the Greek name
for the area, Gaulanitis. (Wikipedia, 2002)


In Syrian history, during much of the Roman Period, Syria's culture and civilization
thrived and progressed a great deal. This was partly due to the independent nature in
which the Ghassanian Arab princes ruled the land. The Ghassanian Arabs' independence
contributed to the cultural development not only throughout Syria, but in the Golan
Heights as well. The Ghassanian Arabs' influence continued through the Byzantine Period,
when the Syrian king, Alhareth, assumed to the second rank in the Byzantine state, the
rank of Patriarch. All of this culminated in an Arab victory over the Byzantine Empire and
Arab control of Syria and the Golan in approximately 636AD. (NIC: Damascus, Syria)


For the next 400-500 years, many of the settlements in the Golan Heights were abandoned
and nomads were the predominant inhabitants, as the Golan served as a buffer zone between
the Crusader kingdom in Palestine and the emirate in Damascus. Permanent populations did
not return to the Golan until the 15th to 16th centuries, when the Druze began settling in
the Golan Heights. Sudanese, Algerians, Kurds, Turkomans, and Arabs from Samaria arrived
shortly after the Druze in the northern Golan and Mt. Hermon regions. (Nyrip, pp 5-16) The
Ottoman Empire took control of Syria, Palestine, and the Golan Heights in the 16th
century. The Golan remained sparely populated, however, until the 19th century, when
permanent Beduin, Magreb, Circassian, Alawite, Druze, and Turkoman populated settlements
arose. (Web Golan, 2002) The Ottoman Empire fell after it aligned itself with Germany in
World War I, and following the war, the French and British negotiated a deal that would
affect the history of the Golan Heights and the Middle East. (Orvedahl, pp 18-19)


In 1944, as the Syrian goverment was well on the way to achieving independence, the Golan
Heights became part of the Republic of Syria. This act encouraged Sunni Muslims,
Circassians, Druze, Alawites, a small Christian minority and other small groups to
repopulate the Golan. Also at this time, all Jewish land rights were revoked in the Golan
Heights, since the Golan was now part of Syria. An armistice was signed in 1949, which
took three months to negotiate, and allowed for Israeli-Syrian relations to remain
relatively peaceful. Those relations changed in 1967. (Camera Media Report, 1995)


Historical Conclusions
The history of the Golan Heights is intrinsically linked to Israel and Syria alike,
despite the two nations' unwillingness to acknowledge the other's historical influence and
impact on this small, strategically vital piece of land, unless that acknowledgement is to
suggest something negative about the other. This speaks to the level of complete disdain
each nation possesses for its neighbor and the disagreements each have over the past,
present and future of the Golan Heights. The Golan will continue to be a reminder to Syria
of Israel's existence, as well as a reminder to Israel of Syria's utter hatred for the
Jewish State and Jews worldwide. In recent years, Israel's position on returning the Golan
Heights to Syria has softened. Some in the Israeli government have concluded that
returning the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peaceful coexistence is the proper
policy to implement. However, hardliners remain just as resolved to never give the Syrians
another opportunity to use the Golan as a military stronghold against Israel. Syria on the
other hand has never budged on the issue of the Golan and has always demanded the return
of the Golan Heights. Just as these two nations' pasts are linked, so are as linked their
futures.


Why Israel Needs the Golan
First and foremost, security and safety for the Israeli people is the primary concern for
Israel. The Golan Heights is strategically located between Syria and Israel, approximately
40 miles from Damascus, Syria. Before Israel preempted the Six Day War in 1967, Syria
shelled Israeli settlements with impunity from atop the ridges that look down onto Israel
settlements. The Golan Heights allowed the Syrian military to fire on areas as far south
as the northern West Bank with little to no fear of retaliation from Israeli forces. These
days, with more advanced weaponry, Syria would be able to reach the coastal areas of
nothern Israel with their SCUD C missiles. Another major consideration for maintaining
control of the plateau is whoever legitimately holds the Golan, also holds the militarily
advantage in a ground war. The position is easily defended and gives either side a view
deep into the heart of both countries. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Israelis
were not only greatly outnumbered, but were also completely surprised when the Syrian
military advanced on the Goloan Heights, yet the Israel Defense Force (IDF) held their
positions on the Golan long enough for reinforcements to arrive in time to repel the
Syrian military. (Orvedahl, pp 35-43) The Golan Heights also acts as a deterrent to any
aggression from Syria, Jordan, or Lebanon along the Golan border. The fact that Damascus
is within range of Israeli artillery, prevents Syria from even considering an altercation
with the Israelis. Former Prime Minister summed the issue of security up in his address to
the residents of the Golan Heights in 1992, when he said the following: "Words are not
enough about the Golan Heights. We must put them into actions... Withdrawal from the Golan
is unthinkable, even in times of peace. Anyone considering withdrawal from the Golan
Heights would be abandoning Israel's security. Let us invest, all of us together, in order
to fulfill our obligations to the Golan Heights. And to you residents- those who made the
Golan Heights what it is- you have all my respect."



Besides security considerations, the Golan Heights is also a key source of water for
Israel, as well as Syria. On the western edge of the Golan Heights lies the Sea of
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