By Taysir Mari’I, Golan for Development
In light of its colonial, racial and anti-Semitic characteristics that serve its aims of occupation and geographical domination, the Zionist movement ideologically denies Arab nationalism in the Middle East. This denial has been practically implemented through fragmenting the Arab Middle East into countries and "nations", executed by British and French colonialisms, and later carried out by the Zionist project. The Zionist enterprise depicts the Arab nation as a collection of distinct religious groups and ethnicities, seeking to break up this single nationality and form multiple independent nationalities in its place. Furthermore, in its attempt to normalize the formation of a Jewish state in the Middle East, the Zionist movement turned to transplant narrow and exclusive identities, an effort that was not limited to Palestine alone, but also stretched even to Iraq and Lebanon.
For such a goal to be fulfilled in Palestine there needed to be a massive ethnic purification, which still takes place until this day: it was first materialized during the 1948 Nakba, which included the ethnic cleansing of Palestine from its indigenous population, ensued in importing Jews from Europe and the Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s; this project continued through the displacement of the population of the Golan Heights, the Gaza strip and the West Bank in the aftermath of the 1967 war; later, Israel attempted to deport the population of south Lebanon during the occupation starting in 1982. Today, it is embodied in the forcible displacement of Palestinian Bedouins from the Naqab (Negev), building the Annexation Wall in the West Bank, the policy of home demolition in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the deportation efforts on the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
In the Golan Heights, the scattered basalt stones are definitely not omissible, and when one observes them, one notices their semi-alliance that remained for their original function: to separate the unique properties that once belonged to the original population in this region. In addition to the basalt, one notices the scattered concrete structures that once formed churches, mosques and homes. Dotted with cacti or vine trees, these remains embrace the earth that witnessed an unspoken tragedy of massive displacement. Masking this tragedy is highly modern and securely fenced Israeli settlements, colonies, that divert the observer’s attention from the history of the place. In his famous book,Ethnic cleansing in Palestine, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes:
After the holocaust, it has become almost impossible to hide horrifying crimes against humanity: currently, in our modern world that is witnessing a revolution in the field of communication specifically by the spread of electronic media, any aim to hide crimes against humanity from the public has become unattainable. Nevertheless, the crime against Palestine via which the population was deported was successfully erased from the world’s memory: this crime was and is politically and morally denied, and remains unacknowledged despite of its significance in the history of Palestine.
This success facilitated the displacement of the population of the Golan Heights in 1967. On the one hand, the experience obtained from committing the first crime enhanced the perfection of the later. On the other hand, the later came to confirm the same aim of ethnic cleansing adopted by the same oppressor in a variety of times and locations. "Ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity", Pappe proceeds, "and its executers are criminals that need to be faced with their crimes in special judicial bodies. Although determining the castigation against the 1948 oppression is judicially a hard task, at least a story delivering the true historical plot can be presented". However, was the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 a single act of cleansing in the history of the Zionist movement?
The ethnic cleansing that took place in the Golan Heights and Lebanon, and is still ongoing against Palestinians in the Naqab (Negev), the Galilee and the West Bank, prove the persistence of the Zionist policy of cleansing and its gradual growth, development and professionalization. Ironically, we observe the executers of this ideology receive Nobel Prizes for peace.
Before it was occupied in 1967, the Golan Heights consisted of 130,000 Syrians distributed between the city of Qunitra and more than 200 villages and farms. Two months after the occupation, in August 1967, a survey conducted by the Israeli military stated that 6,396 Syrian citizens remained in the Golan Heights, out of whom 206 lived in Qunitra, while the rest were distributed between seven villages in the north. Today, there are approximately 400,000 Syrian citizens who fled the Golan Heights and their descendants. They live in Damascus and other Syrian districts, while 21,000 remained in five villages.
For the past 41 years since the occupation, the Israeli narrative consistently omits the fact that what took place in the Golan Heights is forcible displacement, claiming that the region was an unpopulated area, except for a small number of Syrian soldiers who lived there due to their military service and a few Bedouin tribes. This narrative is identical to the story relating to the Palestinian Nakba, merely two decades prior to 1967. According to Nathan Shor, the population of the Golan Heights was ordered by the Syrian military to leave their villages and properties and move into Syria. Other Israeli claims state that this order was broadcasted on the Damascus radio, or that the population migrated voluntarily without any Israeli pressure.
Studying and understanding the coercive deportation of the Palestinians in 1948 is essential to approaching the depopulation of the Golan Heights in 1967. This is so because displacements that followed the Nakba – in the Golan Heights and Lebanon – were improved and complementary policies of deportation, completing a single project. There is a lot of evidence that shows that what took place in the Golan Heights in 1967 is ethnic cleansing:
Although it is true that some of the population of the Golan Heights moved to Syria, escaping the battles inside or beside their villages, most of the population lived in villages far from the front, a fact that challenges the claim that the population has moved completely voluntarily.
Rahaba’am Zie’vi said[iii] that David El-Azer has deported the population from the Golan after receiving permission form both Yitzhak Rabin, Military Chief Commander, and Moshe Dayan, Minister of Defense.
In a conversation with Israeli author David Grossman, Arnon Soffer (an Israeli historian) said that approximately 70,000 citizens were barbarically deported from the Golan Heights within two days only (Grossman 153).
In his book Victims, Israeli Historian Benny Morris mentioned the deportation of 80-90 thousand Syrian civilians as a result of the pressure generated by the Israeli military officers during the bombardments between 5 and 8 June 1967, and the military invasion between the 9th and the 10th of the same month. During a meeting of Israeli military commanders in the morning of 9 June, Rahba’am Zivi declared that when the Golan Heights is taken over, it should be unpopulated. Although the conclusion of the meeting was against the evacuation of the Golan Heights, the Israeli military commander in the north, David El-Azer, applied the evacuation policy nonetheless (Morris 309-310).
According to the pronouncements of ES-V 2252, 237-A/6797, and S/8158 (Gussing report):7, published in a report by the UN, the majority of the population in the Golan Heights fled to Syria before the occupation was fully accomplished. However, the report adds that those who remained in the occupied Golan Heights were indirectly forcibly displaced by the "war" atmosphere created by the Israeli army.
The number of Syrians who remained in the town of Qunitra decreased gradually. In July, 90 civilians crossed the Israeli-Syrian temporary borders after they were forced to sign a declaration stating that it is their own will to leave their homes (Ha’aretz (1) 16 August, 1967; (4) 12 September, 1967).
Despite the displacement resulting from the collective state of panic among the population in the Golan Heights, a great deal of the people remained in their villages after the war. However, they were triggered to leave their homes by both physical and psychological pressure generated by the Israeli military forces.
According to an argument introduced by Bashar Tarabeih during the 40thcommemoration events of occupation, the Syrian radio never urged the population of the Golan Heights to move into Syria and leave their homes.[iv] He went on to say that Muhammad Harfoosh stated in a meeting with the Syrian media authorities that the Israeli army killed about 50 people form his village, Skoofia, after gathering them in the center of the village. Additionally, in an interview held with Suleiman Ashtiwi, from the village of Isha in the centre region of the Golan Heights, Ashtiwi said that was shot by the Israeli army and lost his consciousness, waking up in a Syrian hospital, as far as he remembers.
Patrick Seal, a British journalist, wrote that the Israeli forces deported Qunitra and evacuated all the surrounding villages. In addition to the 30,000 Syrians who were deported during the war, additional 90,000 Syrians were also forced to migrate in the six months after the war.
In Yahuda Rut’s documentation of the southern villages in the Golan Heights – published by the Israeli National Museum in 1984 – post-destruction pictures of the southern villages in the Golan Heights are presented. Those pictures were taken a few months after the war, and they included a photo of an aged woman from Mitsar village preparing mud in order to make domestic tools (76), while the caption said that the woman still lived in that village.
In Military Order number 39, pronounced in 22 August 1967, the Israeli chief commander announced the existence of 101 villages in the Golan Heights:
By the power invested in me as a chief commander of the Israeli forces in the region, I declare that:
1 (a) - the area mapped in a scale of 1:50000 and containing the villages numbered from 1 to 101 is a closed area. The formulation of this order and borders of the closed area are attached to this declaration, which was exposed to civilians and is open for future exposure at the military unit in the Golan Heights to those of interest.
7 – This order shall be named "the deserted villages order" (the Golan Heights).
In the northern part of the Golan Heights, the mountaintop village of Majdal Shams formed a shelter for refugees from the neighboring villages such as Z’oora, E’in Feet and Jibatha Elzeit. According to Salman Fakhr Eldin and Mahmoud Milli – residents of Majdal Shams who witnessed these events – the refugees from the neighboring villages used the dwellings of their friends as well as the school for residence. They stayed in Majdal Shams for two weeks under the constant threats from the Israeli forces until finally they were allowed to go back to their original villages. However, their journey back was not undisturbed. Rather, the refugees were under constant danger of Israeli shootings, which forced them to escape onto south Lebanon and later to Syria, i.e. outside the Golan Heights.
Relying on the little information available, Tom Saggy built a scenario describing the first war at the Golan Heights, which can be summarized as follows:
When the Israeli army entered the Golan Heights in the margining of on 9 June 1967, its forces were attempting to expand the Israeli borders eastward, which resulted in the evacuation of the villages either near the battlefield or those standing in the path of the Israeli forces – which suffered from bombardment, as previously happened in Palestine. Furthermore, the process of occupying the Golan Heights took place rapidly in two days, a fact that did not allow the planning of an ethnic cleansing operation: thus, this explains the fact that the great majority of the evacuation happened in the few months following the war. This explanation is supported by statistics conducted by the Israeli authorities in August of the same year, and by annunciation of Area 101 as a closed area in 22 August 1967, which aimed to prevent the civilians from getting back to their homes.
The above stated facts are drawn from a great volume of evidence on what happened in the Golan Heights in 1967. The history of the Golan Heights is integral to the implementation of the Zionist ideology, serving its aim of forming a Jewish country in Palestine, through implementing the concept of ethnic purification. Nonetheless, more extensive work needs to be done in two main aspects: first, we urgently need a deep study of historical documents on the displaced population of the Golan Heights. Second, we need to closely analyze the documents regarding the conducts of the Israeli authorities, access to which is not guaranteed. To conclude, the 1967 events in the Golan Heights are definitely a crime against humanity for which Israel should be held responsible. This study is but an initiation for those of interest to study the 1967 events, and to uncover the Israeli record of crimes in the Golan Heights.