The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance which belies its size.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War. Most of the Syrian Arab inhabitants fled the area during the conflict.
An armistice line was established and the region came under Israeli military control. Almost immediately Israel began to settle the Golan.
Syria tried to retake the Golan Heights during the 1973 Middle East war. Despite inflicting heavy losses on Israeli forces, the surprise assault was thwarted. Both countries signed an armistice in 1974 and a UN observer force has been in place on the ceasefire line since 1974.
Golan Heights facts
- Name: Golan Heights
- Status: Israeli-occupied. Captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, and annexed in 1981, a moved condemned internationally. Lebanon claims Shab'a Farms area.
- Population estimate: 20,000 Israeli settlers, 20,000 Syrians
Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. The move was not recognised internationally.
There are more than 30 Jewish settlements on the heights, with an estimated 20,000 settlers. There are some 20,000 Syrians in the area, most of them members of the Druze sect.**************
I visited the Golan Heights today. Specifically, I visited Quneitra, a city that traded hands between Israel and Syria during the 1967 and 1973 wars. Israel gained control of it during 1973 and completely destroyed it before their withdrawal in 1974. It lies in the demilitarized United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Zone between Syria and Israel, right next to the Israeli border. It's the area around the faint reddish dot below:
Syria has chosen to 'preserve' the city in its devastated state, as a sort of testament (testament for what? you can figure that out). Getting there is complicated, or at least it was for Jennifer and me this morning. Securing the necessary permissions involved a great deal of walking around and misdirection and sweating. After 3 hours, 5 service rides (services are the minivans that run around the city wildly, crammed full of people, but very cheap), 1 bus ride, 2 hours of walking, several conversations in Frenchabic, and a final long service ride to Quneitra itself, we managed to present our permissions, secure a government escort (freely provided, but required lest you stray into areas you shouldn't go, or photograph forbidden things), and see what remained of the city.
This is what war looks like:
the hospital ("destroyed by Zionists and changed it to firing target!")
Israel in the distance
the Greek Orthodox Church
buildings in town