The Golan Heights Revisited!

 By Santwana Bhattacharya

DAMASCUS - At a time when television news channels in the Middle East are spilling over with heart-wrenching stories of frightened children undergoing psychological counseling in their freshly bombed-out schools in Gaza, a reprise on the Golan Heights - the Syrian-Israeli conflict zone - may seem a little out of place, if not a downright invented crisis. This calendar-perfect rolling country, snuggled somewhere near the heart of parched holy lands, is the relatively quieter dispute in these parts.

The picture of pretty, unforced repose provided by weekend picnickers who dot the wild-flowered green meadows a few kilometers from the winding roads of Quneitra, which is under Syria's control, underscores the calm. Here the breeze is cool, the fruits sold by the village vendors fresh and juicy, and the children playing handball look the way they should: free of cares. Nearby, parents busy themselves with nothing more pressing than a relaxed game of backgammon.

One look at this Enid Blytonish idyll and it could be legitimately asked: why open old wounds? After all, the bullet marks on the destroyed hospital in Quneitra are 34 years old, more historical memento than live and active omen. Syria and Israel have off and on been in dialogue, through mediation. They were close to a settlement even in April 2008, and are not averse to talking again. Guns are not blazing.

But, as the canny old saying goes, looks can be deceptive. A chance meeting with Hazira Mohammad, and another reality comes creeping in. The elderly Druze woman dressed in her traditional attire - black, flowing overall with light silver embroidery - had strayed from the rest of her crowd, three of her grandchildren in tow. Standing at a crossroad near a half-rubbled church, she indicates a spot where she used to sell her berries in the village across the barbed wire (which you otherwise missed) nearly half a century ago.

"There ... that is the road that goes to my village, Jubhil Maizi. You walk down four kilometers, take a left turn and walk for another half kilometer ... take another left. Can you see it? Can't you see it? It's there ... on the other side ... I do not know if I can go there again," she says, haltingly. Well, I could not see. As the road wound down and wound up, there were scattered settlements visible on the far side. But I could see no village that the old Druze woman saw so clearly.

It is to remind her sons, daughters-in-law and her grandchildren of their village that she comes to Golan every summer. At least three times. Lest they forget who they are and where they come from - in a small corner of the Earth, in terms of civilization the center of the Earth for long, a sacred geography scarred by competing visions, the Druze from Golan too are a tiny flock of mohajir (emigrants) estranged from their homeland.

Hazira has been living in a tiny flat in Damascus with her family of 10 members ever since the Six-Day War in 1967. Picnics are just a pretext to draw the younger generation close to the roots, to keep them anchored. You slowly realize that behind the jollity of every bouncing ball, and every food hamper spread around the shady trees, there is a history of loss. That these are no ordinary weekend revelers, but strange pilgrims.

With a new audience before her, Hazira launches into her story - probably recounted every year to the family. She points to each and every pile of rubble lying amid the greens to resurrect a village market. "This was the biggest souk [market], our souk, in the entire Golan. It used to be very busy, full of people, music, tea-stalls ... I feel sad." Her impatient family members try to drag her away from the story-telling session. But she refuses to budge, "How can I forget? How can I live anywhere else? That was my village, they have to remember ... This is where ribbons where sold, the silversmith who made my first earring."

You can't quite blame the younger lot. It is really hard to imagine this place was a bustling market. As her voice trails off, the quiet of the place almost gets at you. Suddenly, the stillness of the surroundings - Hazira's marketplace of memories - engulfs everyone. For a second, you are almost tempted to mistake it for another one of those archaeological sites that abound Syria. Opulent, but dead.

The screeching sound of car tires wakes everyone from the reverie of the lost world. A family packed into an old convertible is rushing somewhere. The man behind the wheel reveals he has no time for a chat, he has to reach back before it's too late. "Apples" was one of the words we caught. He had come to deliver apples. Israel, I learnt later, has been allowing limited sale of apples, grown by the Syrians in the Occupied Territories, to mainland Syria.

These are a few concessions - granted perhaps more on occasional whim than as part of a coherent system of peace-making - that have been extracted by Syrians in the Occupied Territories. Apart from the free university tuition that Syrian students from the villages across the concertina are allowed to access in Damascus and elsewhere.

We say "Syrian" with deliberation: the original inhabitants of occupied Golan have steadfastly refused to surrender Syrian citizenship in favor of an Israeli identity. And the authorities on the Syrian side say even the little movements that are allowed them are fraught with short-term and long-term consequences for the people.

Mohammad Ali, a senior official in the Syria-run Quneitra Governorate, claims the years of resistance put up by the Syrians in the Occupied Territories have only earned them a tough and unstable life. That they are denied electricity and water by Israel - "we are supplying them from this side".

It seems too much prosperity in the apple trade is also not taken kindly. "They often go back to see their entire orchards have been uprooted on some pretext or the other," he adds. Just as the students who choose to study in the Syrian universities have "to go back to plough their fields ... they get no jobs".

There is an alternative view emanating from the pro-Israeli lobby in the West, ascribing the reluctance of the Golan Syrians to come under the Israeli umbrella only to a fear of retribution in the future event of the lands reverting to Syria. From this side of the concertina, one can only fall back on general truths: a certain "stateless" modern youth have indeed come into being in our times everywhere who seek a better, stable life.

They are alive to their history and culture. What we can do is trace them as communities, through the broken-up numbers. While some 20,000 Syrians live in the Occupied Territories, 76,000 live in the part of Golan (roughly 600 square kilometers) that was restored to Syria after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. According to the report of a conference held in London in June 2007, there are also currently 346,000 displaced persons, like Hazira's family, living scattered across Damascus and other Syrian cities.

As was widely reported in the international media, before making the 1974 withdrawal, Israel left a trail of destruction in which schools, hospitals, villages and towns were razed. While the United Nations (UN) condemned the action and still does not recognize the Israeli occupation of Golan, the Syrian government continues to preserve Quneitra in its bombed-out state as a reminder of the Israeli action.

Says Ali, "Our president has made it clear, we will not rebuild Quneitra [which was the capital of Golan] till we get back our land." The rationale goes a bit beyond those war-era skeleton buildings preserved, for instance, in Berlin: this is not architecture as moral fable, but as evidence in court.

At the "Shouting Valley" in Majdal Shams, a small town right at the edge of the UN-monitored border, our cell phones received text messages that said "Welcome to Israel". It is here that Syrians gather to peer at the Occupied Territories through binoculars. Sometimes they contact their relatives on the other side through loudhailers.

Sixteen-year-old Jahina Safi Ali, who's come to Golan for the first time to "see it with her own eyes", says "the experience" is much beyond what she "ever thought it would be". However, the teenager adds quietly that though young people like her want their occupied land back, "I don't want people to be killed, rather we should talk. And try very hard [to break the deadlock]."

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Infant under home arrest in the Golan Heights!

 

He is a small child, yet he is confined to home arrest, not allowed to leave home with his parents, even for doctor visits.

This is not fiction, this is politics, the child is from the occupied Golan Heights, but he was born in Syria. His mother and father are from Majdal Shams, one of the biggest villages in the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied by Israel. He was born in Syria because at that time his parents were studying at the Damascus University in Damascus.

After completing their education in Syria they returned back to their village with their newborn, but were informed by the Israeli Authorities that their child cannot leave home for two years because he was born in Syria. The child, Fahid Lu’ay Shqeir, is now one year old and two months, he has to remain imprisoned in his parents’ home until he becomes 2. After that, other "legal procedures will still be needed to ensure that he will be allowed to stay in the country".

The Tishreen (October) Syrian newspaper reported that this is an unprecedented event as the child, who will want to play and run like other children, will practically be "arrested" if he leaves home because he is considered Syrian, and Syria is still regarded by Israel as an enemy state.

His family and parents contacted several international human rights groups and appealed them to intervene to resolve this issue as it is unimaginable that this child cannot even go for a walk with his parents.

This issue is yet another Israeli violation to human rights and the Fourth Geneva Conventions. Under the Israeli law, a child born to Jewish parents or a Jewish parent will be automatically considered Israeli and will be granted Israeli citizenship with no questions asked.

But this child is an Arab, born to a mother and father who are from the Golan Heights. By law; the Golan Heights are under Israeli control, and therefore a child born to a parent, or both parents, from the Golan or another place should be allowed to carry the nationality of his/her parents, and should be granted citizenship or at least residency rights in their country of origin.

Monday April 13, 2009 11:55 by Translation - Saed Bannoura - IMEMC

http://www.imemc.org/article/59901

 
  

 

 

 

 Occupation Should End!

 These are some of the main settlements built by Israel instead of our Syrian Villages, including my own village, AlQaraana, where my father dreamt to be buried in the land of the ancestors, but in vain. There should be an end to our suffering for how long to wait! Occupation is unbearable!

According to the Israeli Map we have now Chadnes instead of the once to be AlQaraana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Forty years on, people displaced from the Golan remain in waiting

 

The situation of tens of thousands of Syrian Arabs displaced from the Golan Heights forty years ago is still far from resolved. They fled their HOMEs in disputed circumstances during the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan, a strategic strip of land overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. Since then, Israel has prevented the displaced from returning to their HOMEs. In 1981, Israel formally annexed the area, but this annexation has not been recognised internationally. The Syrian government estimates that around 305,000 people remain displaced today, a figure which includes the descendants of those displaced in 1967. Forty years on, the Golan’s internally displaced population has largely integrated in their current places of residence across Syria. But while they do not face particular humanitarian risks, many continue to express a wish to return to the Golan. The issues of the restitution of their property and compensation for lost or destroyed property are also unresolved. A more immediate concern is that many displaced Syrians continue to be prevented from maintaining ties with their relatives living in the occupied Golan. Regular contact between Syrians living in Israeli-occupied Golan and their displaced family members is not possible, with the exception of specific cases facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Golan remains a potential source of tension and renewed conflict in the region. Israel and Syria have taken part in a series of unofficial talks but formal negotiations have not taken place since 2000. In the summer of 2006, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad restated Syria’s willingness to resume official talks but Israel refused conditioning the reopening of talks on a change in Syrian policy. A recent Israeli air raid into northern Syria has further discouraged the renewal of peace talks. No progress was noted either on return for a small number of the displaced to Quneitra, a town bordering the occupied Golan which Syria regained in 1974 but never rebuilt. Since the government of Syria unveiled plans to rebuild Quneitra in 2004 to allow an estimated 50,000 people to return, reconstruction has advanced only slowly.


Background and main causes

The displacement occurred during the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan Heights (hereafter referred to as the Golan), a narrow stretch of land overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. The exact circumstances are subject to controversy, and Syrian and Israeli accounts differ. According to the Syrian government, Israeli forces forcibly expelled the inhabitants of the Golan and destroyed villages and farms, while the Israeli government maintains that these people fled following reports of violence (UN HRC, 25 August 2000; Arnold, 1 February 2000). The Syrian government estimates that there were about 250 villages and farms and 150,000 Syrian inhabitants in 1967. Today five of these villages are still inhabited, with an estimated population of between 18,000 and 25,000 Syrians (UNHRC, 19 October 2004, para. 10; UNCHR, 16 April 2003; Mission of Syria to the UN, October 2004; UNSC, 11 December 2006).

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Israel’s Violations of International law In the occupied Syrian Golan

Al Marsad: The Arab Center for Human Rights in the Golan Heights The Alternative Information Center

Declan Gannon

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Overview

1.1 Background

1.2 The status of the Syrian Golan according to international law

1.3 Crimes committed by Israel in its 40 year occupation

1.3.1 The forcible transfer of civilians 1.3.2 Destroyed villages, towns and cities

1.3.3 Transfer of Israeli population into occupied territory

Chapter 2: Legal Analysis

2.1 War Crimes Committed in the Occupied Syrian Golan 2.1.1 Displacement and deportation of a population

2.1.2 Wanton destruction of property 2.1.3 Changing the ethnic demographic

2.2 Obligations of the High Contracting Parties 2.3 High Contracting Parties Obligations regarding Grave Breaches

Chapter 3: Ethnic Cleansing 3.1 What is ethnic cleansing?

3.2 Ethnic cleansing and the Occupied Syrian Golan Conclusion

 

Israel’s Violations of International Law in the Occupied Syrian Golan

Consecutive Israeli governments have taken numerous purposeful policies since Israel began its occupation of the Syrian Golan to eradicate or contain the Syrian population. They have destroyed hundreds of villages, driven thousands from their HOMEs, expropriated private and public property, constricted the expansion of the remaining villages and actively stopped the free movement of people.

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