The life of Syrians in the Golan heights: why they rejected an Israeli passport

photo: AP

The Golan heights originally belonged to Syria, but came under the control of the Israeli army in the six day war of 1967. In 1981, this area on the border of Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Syria received an official status within Israel, but no other country in the world until recently did not recognize him.

Before the war on this rocky plateau, there were about 130 thousand Syrians, mostly Druze Arabs, professing the particular form of the Shiite branch of Islam. The occupation by Israel has forced most of them to leave their homes and flee to Syria. About a hundred deserted villages then razed to the ground. Today in the Golan heights, there are about 26 thousand of the Syrians, and about the same number of Jews who have moved here since the beginning of the occupation. However, the Arab population have to live on a small plot of land: according to local human rights group al-Marsad, about 95% of the territory placed at the disposal of the Israeli army and settlers. While local people living in 36 villages, all Syrians, were herded into five villages. The government of Israel, announced in 2015, to encourage about 100 thousand Jewish settlers to move to the Golan heights.

Tel Aviv from the very beginning of the occupation offered a Syrian from the Golan to Israeli citizenship. However, most of them refused and still only have permanent residence permit in the country. The opportunity is still open with the beginning of the civil war in Syria, the local youth became more actively to use it. The older generation, however, can not forget old grudges. On the one hand, the refusal of citizenship to them — a form of resistance to the occupation, on the other — they are afraid that in case of return to Syria they may have problems.

Despite the absence of citizenship, the Arab children of the Golan go to the same school as their Jewish neighbors, and young people must serve in the army or alternative civilian service. However, both causing discontent among the occupied people: in schools supposedly don’t teach the Arabic language, and the requirement to give a civic duty power-occupier ridiculous.

Construction on the Golan heights strictly regulated by the relevant committees. To build a house, you must obtain permission from the authorities. Local Syrians complain that the permits they are often not given, and this leads them to build houses illegally. The Arab farmers also believe that the water they sell at prices four times higher than for their Jewish competitors.

The Golan heights is valuable to Israel’s strategic situation: before the war the Syrians used the position to fire at Israeli settlements, and today tel Aviv regards as a key Supervisory and defensive point. In addition, this land is rich in natural resources. By one estimate, mineral resources of the Golan contain 40 billion barrels of oil, and fertile land has helped to establish 14 wineries.

Illegal international status and insecurity do not interfere with Israel to promote tourism in the Golan heights, including gastronomic and natural. In the space of approximately 1,800 square kilometers of tourist attractions, the ruins of ancient temples, nature reserves are intricately combined with military bases and minefields.

Syria and Israel tried several times to solve the issue of the Golan heights through diplomacy. However, the negotiations stalled because of the rigid positions of the parties: Damascus is required to make the Golan full Arab territory within Syria. Tel Aviv is strongly disagree. Israel believes that if these key positions will come under the control of Syria, they will become the “front line of Iran” against the Jewish people, as Tehran is one of the main allies of Damascus.

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