Golan for Development (GfD) is a
non-profit organization founded in 1991 in the occupied Golan
Heights. GfD activities target the Arab population that remained
in the Golan after its occupation by the Israeli forces in June
The major goals of GfD can be summarized as the following:
ē To build a self-reliant and democratic modern society in the
Golan as a way of resisting the occupational policy.
ē To promote integrated and sustainable developmental
ē To encourage young leadership with Improved management
capabilities, enthusiasm and experience to take an active role
in steering these institutions.
The local community participates in the activities and programs
of the organization on different levels. There are seven
registered members of its board who form the core of the
organization. They are responsible for maintaining all the
affairs of the organization, handle all the foreign relations
and contacts, set policies, make decisions of hiring and approve
the operating budget and fund - raising plans. The board has
regularly scheduled meetings. These members are experienced in
public policy, research methods, developmental work and group
In addition there is a steering
committee of three people who handle daily problems and quick
issues, in addition to an observation committee of two people
that supervise over all the projects and double checkup when it
is needed. The board cooperates with a number of qualified and
committed volunteers who are active in most of the programs. In
addition, full and part time employees are hired according to
the needs of projects. Finally, hundreds of supporters from our
community provide occasional assistance upon demand to the
The Occupied Syrian Golan Heights - facts
- Total area of the occupied part in 1967: 1250 square
- Total area of the freed part by Syria in 1974: 50 square
- Area of the land still under occupation: 1200 square
- Total population before the Israeli occupation: 130000 Syrians
(including about 9000 Palestinian refugees)
- The remaining population after the occupation: 6396 Syrians
- Total Arab villages before the occupation: 137
- Total Arab towns before the occupation: 2 (Qunitra and Fiq)
- Total Arab farms before the occupation: 61
- The remaining villages after the Israeli occupation: 8
villages (two were given back in 1974 and one was destroyed
later by Israel)
- The total Arab villages at the present time: 5
- The total Arab population at the present time: Estimated 20000
- Israeli colonies at the present time: 33 (10 kibbutzim, 19
Moshavim, two regional community centers and one town)
- Number of settlers at the present time: Estimated 18000
(including families of army and settlers registered in the Golan
and living inside Israel)
- Pasture land of the Golan: 500 square kilometers
- Agricultural area tilled by 18000 settlers: 80 Square
- Agricultural area tilled by 20000 indigenous people: 25 Square
- Natural reserve (used by settlers for tourism ): 246 Square
The Syrian Golan Heights under the Israeli Occupation
Visitors to the Golan Heights will see mostly empty area, an
expanse of rolling grassland interlaced- if one looks closely-
by crumbled stone fences. Occasionally, an Israeli settlement,
new and well-tended, will appear at a crossroad.
But a visitor who looks more carefully will see other signs. A
line of stone structures on a hilltop, without roofs or windows,
a small cluster of stone walls in a grove of trees, or simply an
area where the grass is suddenly, rhythmically hummocked.
These are destroyed Syrian Arab villages, where once nearly
130,000 people lived and farmed. They were blown up or razed by
Israeli forces, after Israel took over the heights in the war of
1967. Their Arab inhabitants were forced out by the fighting or
by orders from the Israeli army. Those who remained were forced
by the occupational authorities to leave within the first week
after the occupation. Most now live in Syria, separated from
their homes and land by the fences and no-manís-land of the
Syrian-Israeli cease -fire line, and by the enduring conflict.
Inside Israel, during the1948 war, hundreds of Palestinian
villages were similarly demolished, but most are now difficult
or impossible to see. In the Golan, far from Israelís urban
centers along the coast, most of the old villages are still
visible, in varying degrees of destruction and decay. They stand
as monuments to history and to a society erased by invasion. One
hundred and thirty-nine Arab villages flourished in the Golan
Heights before Israelís invasion. Of these, 134 were
systematically destroyed. The vast network of stone fences,
which still carves the grassy landscape, marked their pastures,
orchards and wheat fields.
The Golan Heights are located in the southwestern part of the
Syrian Arab Republic. The region is 1,850 Square kilometers, and
includes mountains reaching an altitude of 2,880 meters above
sea level. The heights dominate the plains below. The Jordan
River, Lake Tiberias and the Hula Valley border the region on
the west. To the east is the Raqqad Valley and the south is
Yarmok River and valley. The northern boundary of the region is
the mountain Jabal as-Sheikh (Mount Hermon), one of the highest
in the Middle East. It is a rich agricultural area,
traditionally farmed by an Arab society encompassing 108 private
farms and 163 villages and towns.
The 1967 War and the Israeli Occupation of
In six days of war, Israel accomplished the expansionist aims
that pre-state diplomatic efforts and previous wars had failed
to achieve. The war was a devastating blow to the Arab regimes.
In its conquest of the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip
from Egypt, the remainder of historic Palestine came under
Israeli control. The Sinai Peninsula was occupied from Egypt.
Syria suffered the loss of 1,250 square kilometers of the Golan
Heights, including the provincial capital city of Quneitra.
Israel could not effect a mass expulsion of the Palestinian
population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, but it
repeated expulsion tactics it had used against Palestinians in
1948 against the inhabitants of the Golan. Israeli Defense
minister Moshe Dayan ordered his troops to expel the population
of the Golan. As of June 10, 1967, only 6,396 of the pre-war
population of 130,000 remained. After the war all that remained
of the two cities, 139 villages and 61 farms were six villages
(Majdal Shams, Masadah, Buqatha, Ain Qinya, Ghajar and Síheita).
All of the others had been destroyed. In 1970 Síheita was also
destroyed and its population were transferred to Masadah.
Israeli interest in the Golan Heights dates to diligent Zionist
efforts, in the 1910s, to have the rich agricultural area
included in the new state of Palestine, where the Zionist
movement hoped to establish the Jewish state. But Europeís
division of the region in 1919 included the Golan as a part of
It was not until the Six-Day War in 1967 that Israel succeeded
in seizing the Golan, and promptly began a settlement program to
affirm its control, establishing the Marom Golan settlement one
month after the warís end. By December 1967, the World Zionist
Organization had designed a plan to establish 17-22 settlements,
with 45,000-50,000 Jewish settlers, within ten years. Due to a
lack of settlers, the plan fell short: by 1991, the settler
population was only 11,000, in 30 settlements.
Under the Shamir government, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon
announced plans to increase the population to 22,000 by the end
of 1992, mostly by settling Jewish immigrants from the former
Soviet Union and Ethiopia. By spring 1992, the population had
topped 13,000. Nowadays the total number of settlers is
estimated to be 18000 in 34 settlements.
Jewish Settlement: The Annexation Strategy
As in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israelís settlement program
is an elaborate and effective strategy to annex land through
social engineering. Israeli settlements in the Golan are
designed to secure Israelís claim to the land both by boosting
the Jewish civilian population and by erasing the indicting
evidence of prior Arab habitation.
The Tactical Erasure
Israelís settlement strategy employs several techniques to veil
its nature. The most effective is the placement of Jewish
settlements directly over the site of the destroyed Arab
villages, often using the stones of Arab homes to construct the
new Jewish residences, physically overwhelming the foundation of
the original village. The Arab village is erased to all but the
best-trained eye, and a visitor would never know it existed.
A second technique is to name such settlements with the Hebrew
version of the Arab name, which comes over time to suggest a
continuity of the site and to obscure the destruction and
displacement of the original Arab community. Many Israeli
maps show only the Hebrew names of such sites, although for the
previous thousand or more years they held Arab towns.
A third device is to landscape new settlement construction with
shrubbery and trees imported fully-grown from the Jordan Valley,
to convey a sense both to residents and visitors that the
settlement has been in place for a far longer period.
Settlements can be visually transformed from raw construction
sites to comfortable, verdant communities within a year.
Expulsion of a People
Before the 1967 war, the Golan Heights was administered as the
Syrian province of Quneitra, which embraced 1750 square
kilometers. In 1966, the Arab population of the province was
Israel occupied 70 percent (1250 square kilometer) of the Golan
Heights in the 1967 war. The area, which Israel seized,
contained 61 Arab farms and 139 villages and towns, which had
held a population of 130000 Arabs (including 9000 Palestinians
who had fled from northern Palestine in the war 1948). Many of
these residents were evacuated by the Syrian army or fled during
the fighting, but Arab accounts and UN reports also document an
Israeli program to expel those who remained, one similar to that
conducted in the West Bank: Terror attacks, threats of death,
and forced signatures of documents agreeing to the residentsí
own expulsion. The program was successful: an Israeli census
after the war found only 6296 Arabs, indicating that
approximately 124000 Syrian civilians were expelled.
Within three months, the Israeli army had bulldozed 131 of their
villages, including the city of Quneitra, the provincial seat
that had held a population of some 25000.
Only five Arab villages in the northern highlands by Mount
Hermon remained. With a population of 6392 immediately after the
1967 war, the Arab villages today hold around 18000. The Arabs
maintain control over only about 6 percent of the original
territory: the rest has been confiscated by Israel for military
use or settlement.
Israel extended its civil law and administration to the Golan
Heights in 1981. However, the Syrian residents of the Golan have
refused annexation, and insist on reunification with Syria.
Their resistance has included extensive agricultural projects to
secure their land from Israeli confiscation, and they continue
to strive to develop their own basic services, like sufficient
health care, to compensate for Israeli neglect.
Water: The Key to Israelís Hold?
With Israelís annual water consumption of nearly two billion
cubic meters already depleting local resources, water is one of
Israelís principal interests in the Golan Heights.
The Golanís territory itself provides one of the water sources
for Israel; before the war, the total output of Syrian
groundwater wells in the Golan was only about 12.5 million cubic
meters (mcm). These days the settler output from the underground
water is more than 30 mcm, in addition to more than 45 mcm that
they get from artificial water reservoirs. However, the Golanís
relatively high rainfall (averaging 1000 mcm annually) supplies
two aquifers, one draining into Lake Tiberius, Israelís
principal reservoir, and the other rising to form the headwaters
of the vital Jordanís headwaters (about 500mcm) from Lake
Tiberius south to irrigate settlements in the Negev desert,
through a pipeline system known as the National Water Carrier.
This diversion has resulted in both the depletion and the
salinization of the Jordan River below Lake Tiberius, with
devastating effects on Jordanian agriculture in the Jordan
Valley. Jordan has only partly compensated for this loss by
diverting part of the Yarmuk River southward via a canal. Other
Arab engineering efforts have been forestalled by Israelís
strategic dominance over the Yarmuk, from the proximate bluffs
of the Golan Heights.
Israelís occupation of the Golan also eliminated all Syrian
access to Lake Tiberius. Prior to 1967, Israel asserted complete
control over the lake, where Syrian Arabs had traditionally
fished, by patrolling the northeastern shore of the lake with
armored boats and launching occasional raids on nearby Syrian
Israeli control of the Golan Heights therefore gives Israel
strategic control over major water sources. Israel is unlikely
to relinquish such control; peace negotiations may find the
issue is one critical stumbling block.
Israel has taken several measures to limit the remaining Arabsí
use of the Golanís water supply. The Water Law of 1959 made all
water resources the property of the state, and all water use
subject to government approval. The drilling of pools or
artesian wells is forbidden. Rainwater collection tanks, built
by the Syrian Arabs in the northern villages for irrigation,
were metered and taxed, and further construction forbidden in
1986. Ram Pool, lying in the heart of Arab agricultural land
near the village of Masíada and holding between two and three
mcm annually, is closed to Arab use; its water is piped to
Jewish settlements as much as 70 km away.
Israel cannot justify such policies on grounds of general
conservation; as in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jewish settler
water consumption in the Golan Heights has been greatly higher
than that allowed to the Golani Arab villagers: as much as 17
times higher per capita. Discriminatory policies also apply to
the price of water. While a Jewish settler pays X perÖ., a Golan
Arab pays X, roughly four times what the settlers pay in the
The Political Power of Suffering
Israeli guides to the Golan Heights will say that the stone
ruins which litter the countryside are old Syrian army
emplacements, dating from the inter war period between 1948 and
1967. If they admit to the existence of the former Syrian
residents, they will say they fled on orders from the Syrian
army. They will not admit to knowing the numbers.
Israeli settlers will even claim that, prior to Israelís
invasion in 1967, very few people lived in the Golan Heights.
They will say that the land was basically empty and unused, and
that the Jewish settlements are filling a void. Syriaís interest
in the region, they claim, is purely hostile, a launching point
for an attack on Israel, from the Heightís higher elevations
overlooking the Galilee.
But the ruined villages bear mute testimony to Israelís interest
in obscuring the truth. They are ruined because they were
deliberately destroyed; they are empty because their residents
are not allowed to return. The sprinkling of new Jewish
settlements have no relation to the stone fences, the organic
division of the land effected by centuries of Arab cultivation.
Syriaís interest in the Golan Heights is complex: military
strategic concern is a factor, as is the political legitimacy of
President Asad in resisting a permanent loss of Syrian
territory. But that legitimacy rests not on pride, but on a
fundamental issue: popular Syrian concern for the loss of a rich
land, which sustained a thriving society. If the international
community, absorbed by the complexities of the Palestinian
problem, tends to forget the Golan Heights, or to imagine it an
empty area or a purely strategic issue, this does not erase the
memories of the 130000 who lost their homes, their farms and
their livelihoods to Israeli bulldozers.
On what basis can they be asked to forget?
Too often, the forces of international diplomacy look over the
heads of the people to solutions made of maps and missile
agreements. If we have learned any lesson in the last
half-century, it is that such oblivion has its bitter costs.
Care must be taken with people whose pain and resentment form a
smoldering political force in itself, simple compassion aside.
Someday, even the political elites must come to redefine
real-politic to include the experience of the people on the
ground, whose needs have been defined as rights party because of
the political power of their suffering.
The Hidden Killers s in the occupied Golan
Since the occupation of the Golan Heights (Syrian land) in June
1967 by the Israeli forces, landmines were and remain one of the
most difficult problems facing the remaining Arab population in
the area. Civilians were killed or wounded, land was confiscated
and houses were evacuated from their inhabitants for the sake of
so-called ďsecurity of the Israeli armyĒ.
The Israeli authorities have planted landmines not only on the
cease-fire line to protect its army, as they clam, but
surrounding the civilian population and the agricultural land.
The authority has systemically ignored any responsibility and
refused to clean the land mines from the populated areas.
However, it is not rare to find fenced off landmine areas near
schools and or in the backyard of Arab residentsí homes. No
precise information is available regarding the types of these
mines or their exact location, and children become the main
victims of these ďback yard minesĒ. An example of this is
4-year-old Amir Abu-Jabel, who was killed by a landmine in 1989
while playing less than ten meters away for his house.
Human rights organizations or the UN have taken almost no action
and the issue is completely ignored. As occupied people we have
the right to be protected under Geneva Convention and other
international treaties. The applicability of the fourth Geneva
convention to the Golan Heights is not questioned by the
international community and has been reaffirmed by UN security
council resolutions as well as other resolutions from the
The occupational authorities have not only refused to implement
these resolutions on the Arab population in the Golan, but
failed to fulfill its obligation to protect them. These actions
endanger the local civilians. Since June 1967, most of the
hilltops in the Golan Heights, including those surrounding and
inside the remaining Arab villages were controlled by the army
and used as military bases. Some of these bases are located
inside the civilian population, and surrounded by their houses
(only a few meters distance separates them). During the wars,
(for example in 1973), these camps have been used intensively
against the Syrian army, while the nearby Arab residents
provided a human shield to the Israeli military bases.
The Israeli army has planted antipersonnel mines around these
bases. In most of these cases the mines are not properly marked
or fenced and children can easily enter these fields. In
addition, during the winter heavy rain causes erosion of the
minefield on the hillside. The landmines move downhill to the
backyards of the houses.
The Israeli army claims that the risk for the soldiers while
clearing mines far outweighs the risk of injury to civilians. On
the other hand, Israel provides mine clearance assistance to
During the summertime, when it gets hot (up to 40 degrees
celcius) mines become very dangerous. It is not rare for fires
to break out in dry grass, setting off the explosion of mines
only metres away from houses.
A field research carried by Al-Haq (a Palestinian human rights
NGO) shows that there have been 66 Arab Golani landmine victims
since the beginning of the Occupation in 1967, of whom 16 died
and 50 were injured. The data indicates that among the 50
victims who survived, 86% (43 victims) were under the age of 18.
Eight of the 16 fatally wounded were under the age of 18.
Currently, there are no governmental or local programs or
initiatives to teach school children in Golan, or the general
public, about the dangers of mines. Furthermore, there is not a
landmine policy in place should the Israeli withdrawal of the
Golan occur in the future. Education in schools, lectures to
community leaders and pamphlet distribution is a minimum that
could be done for the Golani people. In addition, mine
awareness, clearance, rehabilitation and compensation should be
provided by Israel.
The National Charter of the Syrian
in the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights
We, the Syrian citizens of the Occupied Golan Heights, feel the
necessity to announce to official and popular bodies worldwide,
the United Nations and its institutions, to the people of the
world - and likewise to the people of Israel, in order to
influence public opinion, clearly and honestly and for the sake
of truth and history, our real position towards the Israeli
occupation and the continuing perseverance by the Israeli
government to eradicate our national identity and their attempts
to annex the Occupied Golan Heights on the one hand and
implement Israeli laws on the other.
We have been forced by various means to become part of the
Israeli entity, merge into the Israeli identity and renounce our
Arab - Syrian citizenship of which we are proud and would wish
to have no other. We inherited our nationality from our noble
ancestors from whom we descended and whose legacy includes our
sole national language - Arabic, which we speak with pride and
honor. We received from them our beloved lands, passed on by our
forefathers when Arabs stetted in this country thousands of
years ago. Our mountainous lands have been saturated with the
sweat and blood of our families and ancestors; throughout
history they did not stop at any time from protecting it and
liberating it from all aggressors and occupation. These lands
are dear to our hearts. We swear to be sincere and faithful all
of our lives to our inheritance and never to relinquish any part
of it whatever the pressures imposed on us from the occupation
authorities to coerce or persuade us to renounce our
citizenship, even though this will cost us dearly.
This is a stance common to every people, all of part facing
occupation, and is derived from feelings of historical
responsibility which we carry on our shoulders for ourselves,
our sons and their sons.
For more information and cooperation,
Dr. Taiseer Maray
Golan For Development, Golan-Media and publication
Majdal Shams 12438, P.O.Box 1203, Golan Heights, via Israel
Tel: 972 (0)4 6982825 Fax: 972 (0) 4 6870549
Mobile: 972 (0) 50 8316174