by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State, was asked recently what was the Administration’s position on the Golan Heights. A report on his answer, and what Israel must do to ensure that its claim on the Golan is never relinquished, is here: “Increasing Jewish Presence in the Golan Heights Is a Must,” by Nadav Shragai, JNS.org, February 15, 2021:
During an interview on Monday, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken expressed support for Israel’s retaining control of the Golan Heights, but only “as long as [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is in power in Syria, [and] as long as Iran is present in Syria,” for they pose a significant security threat to the Jewish state.
This was not the answer Israel had a right to expect. Blinken was saying that “for now” Israel needs to retain control, but only as long as Assad remains in power. That is not good enough. Blinken seems to forget that the Assads are not the only Syrian rulers who threatened Israel from the Golan. Hafez al-Assad came to power only in 1966, so he had only one year to attack Israeli civilians from the Golan, before losing that territory in the Six-Day War. Every previous regime in Damascus, from 1948 on, had used the Golan as a launching pad for raining rockets, artillery shells, and snipers’ bullets, down on Jewish farmers in the Hula Valley, and on Jewish fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. There is no reason to think that any post-Assad regime in Damascus, were it to recover the Golan, would not renew such activity. Israel needs the Golan, furthermore, not just to stop the fire on Israeli farmers and villages below, but also in order to prevent a possible thrust by the Syrian army, in a future war, into northern Israel.
U.N. Resolution 242 allowed Israel to retain territory it won in the Six-Day War that it needed in order to attain “secure [i.e. defensible] and recognized boundaries.” It was not only the Israeli military that deemed possession of the Golan essential for security reasons. President Johnson had the Joint Chiefs send a military delegation to Israel to study that country’s security needs; they reported back that among the territories they believed Israel must retain, the Golan and the Jordan Valley were highest on the list. Is Tony Blinken aware of that report?
Without meaning to, Blinken revealed Israel’s Achilles heel in the Golan: that Jewish communities there are sparsely populated….
As was the case with Jerusalem and parts of Judea and Samaria, where the struggle was determined by Jews settling the area, the same is true of the Golan Heights. Building Jewish communities is what will make all the difference. Actions, not words.
It is facts on the ground that will determine the durability of Israel’s hold on the Golan. By facts on the ground, we mean the numbers of Jews living there. It is no different from the situation in Judea and Samaria (a/k/a the West Bank). There are now 750,000 Jews living in east Jerusalem and the West Bank; 750,000 reasons why Israelis will not give up any of their cities and villages in both areas. Were there not 750,000 Israelis, but only 7, 500 of them, Jerusalem’s hold would be much more uncertain. Israelis still recall the national trauma of vacating 21 settlements in Gaza, when only a few thousand Israelis were uprooted; there is no appetite for repeating that episode on a far greater scale.
The Golan was deemed so important to Israel’s security that it was annexed in 1981; it has been part of Israel for forty years. As far as Israel is concerned, the status of the Golan is no longer open to discussion – but Tony Blinken has other ideas.
That is why Israel has to establish more facts on the ground, as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, for generations, the government of Israel, including that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has neglected and underestimated the importance of building Jewish communities.
Jewish people have lived in the Golan Heights throughout history. There is no demographic problem there, and the region is crucial for maintaining Israel’s security, yet it remains sparsely populated by Jews. Within the last 53 years, only 25,000 Jews moved to the area. That is less than 10 percent of liberated Jerusalem and less than 5 percent of Judea and Samaria….
The Golan Heights is an inseparable part of Israel, but as long as there is no substantial settlement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in the region, any foreign statesman will be able to take it away and hand it to Syria.
The Golan need not be, and will not be, inhabited by “hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers.” Perhaps Shagrai meant “in the region” to include parts of the Galilee next to, but not on top of, the Golan Heights. A realistic number, and a sufficiency for solidifying the Jewish state’s claim to the area, would be closer to 100,000, which would require another 77,000 Jews to move to the Golan, or to its foothills, which would amount to a bit more than 1% of Israel’s Jewish population. That is perfectly feasible, if the government makes populating the Golan a priority, and offers economic incentives, including subsidized housing, to attract more Jews to live in the area.
The author, Nadav Shragai, is too pessimistic when he claims that without such a demographic increase, “any foreign statesman will be able to take it away and hand it to Syria.” That is false. What is true is that without such a demographic increase, the pressure on Israel to yield the Golan will intensify – from the American government, from the EU, and even, perhaps, from its new Arab allies.
They [those” foreign statesmen”] will tell Israel the same thing that Blinken said on Monday: that the subject of the Golan Heights is not on the agenda at the moment, but “if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at.”
Israel’s history in the Golan Heights is glorious, from King David and the Second Temple to the heroism of Jews during the siege of Gamla and the Talmudic period.
The same applies to recent history. The Golan Heights was handed over to the French Mandate as part of a colonialist agreement, and Syria, which became independent in 1946, reigned over a tiny fraction of its territory, and even that for only two decades.
The dictators from Damascus took advantage of this to eliminate Israel from the map. With their rockets, they targeted Israeli communities along the border, attacked fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, tried to divert its waters and turned Israeli life in the Golan Heights into pure hell.
The Golan Heights was captured by Israel in the legitimate, defensive 1967 Six-Day War. Until now, Israel has failed to create an irreversible Jewish settlement in the area. It is not too late.
The Golan was originally considered for incorporation in the territory assigned to the Mandate for Palestine, but instead Great Britain agreed to hand it over to the French, who held the League of Nations’ Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. It was an important part of Jewish history, as Shragai notes, referring to the siege of Gamla, the main city on the Golan, in 66 B.C., when 9,000 Jews held off 60,000 Roman soldiers during a seven-month siege.
The historic claim of the Jews to the Golan is buttressed by the well -settled principle of public international law, that territory taken from an aggressor in a defensive war may be kept in order to prevent further aggression.
But the claim to the Golan needs to be solidified with a massive influx of Jews, creating the “facts on the ground” similar to what has been achieved, since 1967, in the West Bank. These facts on the ground consist of those Jews who will now be encouraged, through such incentives as subsidized housing, to move to the Golan. Just as in the West Bank, Israelis on the Golan should be able to obtain larger living quarters at cheaper prices than what is available within Israel’s Green Line. The government can provide cheaper mortgages, easier repayment models, and tax relief for home buyers. It can also provide tax breaks to businesses willing to move to the Golan. It could create “anchor” institutions in the Golan, such as a government research institute devoted, say, to study of the environment, and a College of the Golan, akin to that which was built in the settlement of Ariel, and then eventually became a well-respected university.
In fact, the new normal of “working from home” will likely continue for many Israelis, after the pandemic is over, and those who might have once looked askance at a commute to and from the Golan Heights will now find that the number of Golan residents who must endure such a commute has much diminished.
This should all have been done long ago, beginning as soon as Israel annexed the Golan in 1981. But there is still time, Nadav Shagrai insists (and I agree) for the Israeli government to triple or quadruple the Golan’s Jewish population and create those “facts on the ground” – that is, a significant number of Jewish inhabitants who cannot be uprooted without national trauma – that will solidify the Jewish state’s claim to the area.
At the same time, Israel should engage in a campaign of hasbara, especially in the U.S. and in the E.U., to explain the historic connection of the Jews to the Golan, citing the siege of Gamla in 66 B.C.; to underscore the use by Syria of the Golan for only one purpose, as a launching pad for attacks on Israelis far below; to explain the conclusion reached by both Israeli and American military men, that possession of the Golan is essential for Israel’s defense; to note that the Golan was annexed as a permanent part of Israel in 1981; and finally, to point out the large number of Jews who would now be flocking to live, study, and work, in the Golan, and whom the state has no intention of uprooting. It’s just possible that even Tony Blinken and Joe Biden, whose grasp of the Golan’s significance leaves much to be desired, will take notice. The Golan is not for turning.
First published in Jihad Watch.