By David Isaac
“…they assigned Bezer in the wilderness upon the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh.” – Joshua 20:8
He was taken on a study tour by helicopter and, apparently for the first time in his life, he was enabled to see the full extent of Israel within the “Green Line” and to assess the significance of the Golan Heights towering over Israel’s Galilean plain. Coming away from his tour, he immediately gave voice to a confession with clearly far-reaching implications. “There is no question,” he said, “that the geography complicates the matter, and changes the situation very greatly.” (The Jerusalem Post, February 25) Christopher was manifestly surprised by what he had seen.
Christopher’s revelation was short-lived. Returning to the United States, the secretary of state was no doubt enlightened by his professional underlings at Foggy Bottom, who explained the ‘complexities’ of the matter and pulled one of their ready-made plans off the shelf and handed it to him, saving him the time and trouble of having to think up one himself, perhaps one that would have been based in reality.
Despite the fact that the Golan Heights was formally annexed by Israel in 1981 and that it has been developed beautifully by the Jews who have settled there over the past 45 years, it has been popping up in the news in worrying ways.
On Dec. 26, WorldNetDaily reported that, “The Obama administration is pressing Israel to enter into negotiations with Syria aimed at compelling an Israeli retreat from the strategic Golan Heights.” According to the report, White House envoy Dennis Ross visited Israel and Syria “to discuss specifics of a deal” that would give Syria the Golan. (For a Shmuel Katz criticism of Ross, see “Dennis Ross Confesses”)
And on Dec. 31, Ha’aretz revealed that soon-to-be-retired Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will leave the Israel Defense Forces, and “go charging after the next objective: peace with Syria. … The price of this deal is known: withdrawal from the Golan Heights in return for security arrangements and normalized relations.” Ashkenazi thus appears poised to join the ranks of other former soldiers, such as Ehud Barak, who reached their level of incompetence the moment they set foot into politics.
Matters are not helped by strong evidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to negotiate away the Golan as part of an agreement with Syria during his first term in office, making it likely he will be willing to do so again.
In a 1999 article for the New Republic, Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, wrote, “[I]t is clear that, during 1998, Netanyahu became deeply involved in a secret negotiation with Assad over the terms and conditions under which Israel would transfer the Golan Heights, taken from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, back to Syrian control.” Pipes adds: “Anyone who has followed Netanyahu’s career will instantly recognize in this episode the man’s well-established pattern of speaking loudly but carrying a small stick.”
Although one after another of Israeli prime ministers have shown an astonishing willingness to sacrifice the Golan, whether because of outside pressure, or to extricate themselves from their own political problems, to do so would be an unmitigated strategic disaster.
As Dr. Erich Isaac, Professor Emeritus of Geography at the City University of New York, writes in Outpost, the periodical of Americans for A Safe Israel (June, 1995), “[W]hile few may know this, in the course of recorded history more than 60 assaults on the Land of Israel west of the Jordan were launched from, or through, the Golan. In fact, throughout history, control of an area much larger than what is generally called ‘Golan’ today was a vital concern of those entrusted with the defense of the land west of the Jordan.”
In “Mr. Prime Minister, Do Not Abandon the Golan” (The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 9, 2008), Shmuel wrote of the history of assault in recent memory.
Here is a record of Syria’s three aggressions. No more than three years after the Syrians gained their own independence from French trusteeship, Syria in 1948 freely entered into the alliance with six other members of the Arab League to prevent by force of war the birth of the State of Israel. The towering Golan Heights were a first-class natural base for Syria’s onslaught. This was in 1948.
Miraculously, Israel survived against tremendous odds and suffering heavy casualties, but Syria retained the Golan; and then during the following 19 years, despite the armistice of 1949, playfully used the Heights as a launching-pad for lobbing shells down onto the Galilee.
It is a part of Israeli folklore that in those 19 years children in Galilee did much of their schooling in underground bunkers for protection from those shells. Partaking as targets for those attacks were also the fishermen of the Lake of Galilee.
Then in 1967, in company with Egypt and Jordan, Syria joined in a new assault on Israel. This was advertised well in advance, by Egyptian president Nasser, to be a ‘war of annihilation.’ Heavily buttressed, the Golan naturally played its part in the attack. This time however, Israel decisively won the war and was able to say ‘enough is enough.’ This time the Israeli Defense Force climbed and captured the Heights.
Israel, however, was given little respite. Six years later, and that on Yom Kippur, Syria, again in company with Egypt, made war on Israel. In hard fighting Syria failed to win back the Golan Heights and, indeed, lost an additional slice of territory to the east. Negotiations followed and, under pressure from US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Israel returned that slice, and a border was delineated between Israel and Syria.
That border, incidentally with Damascus in its sights, has ever since 1974 assured Israel of peaceful relations, such as they are, with Syria. That border emphasizes the truth, for which a heavy price in blood has been paid, that only with the Golan in Israel’s hands can peace be maintained.
The Israelis have done wonders with the Golan, in sharp contrast to the Syrians, who did virtually nothing to develop the area and merely treated it as a large artillery platform from which to shell the Israelis below. The Jews, on the other hand, have made the region flourish, building first-class wineries, as well as developing agriculture and a mineral water industry.
Such development is unfortunately no proof against a weak, opportunistic Israeli leadership. Despite accounting for 15% of Israel’s agricultural exports, Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip was evacuated and its buildings razed to the ground in eight days.
But the Golan’s Jewish population is 23,000 and growing. Recently, young Israeli families have been moving to the region. Two thousand Israelis moved into the town of Katzrin alone in the last year, swelling the town’s size from 6,000 to 8,000.
Sami Bar-Lev, the mayor of Katzrin, believes it’s the region’s Jewish history that will ensure the Golan remains a part of the State of Israel.
In “Golan: More Than Geography”, Shmuel writes of the “moving ‘Charter of the Golan’” signed by virtually all of the 4,000 pioneers who first came there after 1967. It read, in part:
“We have returned to the Golan to build and be rebuilt. Every furrow of soil has been sanctified by the blood of our sons. In the basalt rocks we have anchored the foundations of our homes, and into the fertile soil we have set our roots. Here are our homes, and this is our legacy; we shall never forsake them.”
That is the sound of Jewish settlement starting out on the right foot. If the new residents imbibe the spirit of the old, then the Golan’s best line of defense won’t be Jewish history, but the living Jewish present.