The Golan Heights

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Map of the Golan Heights

Golan Heights Map

The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights is a plateau separating Syria and Israel, and it is currently occupied by Israel as a result of several wars between Israel and Syria.  The Golan was recognized as a part of Syria upon Syria's independence from France in 1923.

In 1948, Syria participated in the first of many Arab-Israeli Wars, and upon the conclusion of that first war with Israel in 1949, the border between Israel and Syria formed at the edge of Syrian Golan. Though that first major war concluded, many instances of border warfare between Israel and Syria continued in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1967, Syria lost the Six-Day War with Israel, and at the war's conclusion, Israeli forces were in control of the Golan Heights. The UN-brokered cease-fire line was called "The Purple Line." Since 1967, various attempts at negotiation and discussion have failed to return the Golan to Syrian control. Israel cites those border conflicts in the 1950s and 1960s when Syrian artillery would fire on Israeli settlements in the lowlands (the higher elevatio of the Golan makes it a very good place from which to target northern Israel), as well as the use of Syrian territory by Palestinian forces to attack Israel, as reasons for Israel to keep the Golan.

In 1973, Syria, along with Egypt, launched a surprise attack on Israel. Syria's goal was to recapture the Golan Heights. Despite fierce tank battles on the Golan Heights, the Syrians were unable to re-capture the Golan. The war ended with another cease-fire negotiated by the United Nations, and both sides agreed to withdraw their forces back to the Purple Line. As a result of those UN negotiations, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was created in 1974 to supervise the disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, and to supervise and hold the ceasefire. The area between the Israeli and Syrian forces is known as the" UNDOF Zone." Approximately more than 1,000 UN peacekeepers are in the UNDOF Zone as a buffer between the two warring neighbors.

Since 1973, the Golan Heights has been fairly quiet. In 1981,the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed the "Golan Heights Law", under which Israeli "laws, jurisdiction and administration" applied to the occupied Golan Heights. This law created a de facto annexation of the Golan to Israel, the land is still recognized internationally as Syrian territory under Israeli occupation. Syria, of course, does not recognize any Israeli claims of authority in the Golan Heights.

The population of the Golan Heights includes 20,000 Israeli settlers and 17,000 Druze, which is a religious minority found in both Syria and Lebanon. The pre-war Syrian Arab population stood around 148,000, most of whom fled the Golan or were expelled with the Israeli conquest of the Golan Heights.

The Syrian Civil War brought new tensions to the Golan Heights, as combat between Syrian government forces and the rebels often flared within sight of Israeli positions on the Golan. On November 3, 2012, three Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone at Be’er Ajam near the UNDOF buffer in violation of the cease-fire agreement. On November 11, 2012, a Syrian mortar round landed near Israeli military positions in the Golan. Israel responded with a "warning shot" missile launch and lodged a protest with the United Nations.

IDF fires warning shot into Syria after shell hits Golan --Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2012

Three Syrian tanks enter Golan Heights buffer zone-Jerusalem Post, Nov. 3, 2012


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