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Golan Heights — taking yes for an answer

Youth has many blessings. One of them is not institutional or historical memory.
Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. President Trump recognized this annexation in 2019. The influential weekly, the Economist, does not recognize it.

In a report on the Golan Heights in its current issue, the Economist writes that Israel “seized” most of the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967.

This “seizure” was just one of four territories that Israel “grabbed” during the Six Day War. Israel justified its “seizure” of the Golan by “claiming” self-defense because “sometimes” Syria used the high ground to shell Israeli farms.

Perhaps it is necessary to refresh the historical memory of the otherwise perceptive writers at the Economist.

Start with the “claim” of self-defense on the grounds that “sometimes” Israeli farms were shelled by Syria. I visited the Golan Heights in 1968, one year after the Six Day War. I saw how it towered over Israel below. I saw the bunkers built by Syria to shell Israel below. They were in full view. There was no Israeli defense against them. There was no motivation for Syria, which was then in a state of war with Israel, not to shell Israel frequently.

It wasn’t Israeli “farms” that were shelled. It was Israeli kibbutzim. There’s a difference. A farm may be large. A kibbutz is not. When Syria shelled Israeli kibbutzim, the targets were not just crops, they were people.

So yes, Israel had every reason to see an end to the Syrian shelling of its kibbutzim — but had no way to do so. That is, unless Syria itself provided an opportunity. Syria did just this by declaring its intent to destroy Israel in 1967, in the lead-up to the Six Day War. I do not think the dictionary will sustain the definition of “seizure” or “grabbed” — the Economist’s characterization of the course of the Six Day War — to describe what actually happened in that war.

First, it was planned by Egypt and Syria, and its intent was openly and repeatedly declared by Egypt and Syria — in the words of Egypt’s President Nasser, to drive Israel into the Mediterranean Sea. Anyone who watched the televised rantings of Nasser at that time learned the meaning of another word in the dictionary: deranged.

Second, the UN cooperated in this diabolical design by withdrawing its peacekeeping troops between Israel and Egypt in May, 1967. Israel was closed in on all sides.

This was not a war that Israel stoked or wanted. True, Israel launched a preemptive strike on June 5, 1967 against Egypt; either that, or Israel would have been destroyed.

Under these conditions, it does violence to the dictionary to call Israel’s response to the genocidal design of Egypt and Syria a “seizure” of territory, or to say that Israel “grabbed” territory.

Another relevant piece of historical memory. While Israel launched a defensive preemptive strike against Egypt, Israel could not turn its attention to Syria until a few days later. Over the course of that time, Syria was actively waging war against Israel. There was no preemptive strike against Syria to take the Golan Heights. Israel responded to Syria’s active attacks, which gave the Israeli army the opportunity to drive the Syrians from the bunkers on the Golan.

Had Israel not retained the Heights after the Six Day War, Syria would simply have resumed its shelling of Israel below.

If some doubt this, keep in mind that the ruler of Syria then, with the last name Assad, was the brutal oppressor whose son, also with the last name Assad, has murdered hundreds of thousands of his own countrymen since March, 2011. Is there any doubt that the Assads would do the same to Israelis if they had the chance?

Meanwhile, the Economist (and IJN) reports, Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, together with Israel’s cabinet, visited the Golan Heights on Dec. 26 to herald a recently approved $1 billion Israeli shekel investment in the Golan. The goal is to double its current population of 52,000 by the end of the decade. Bennett is a right-winger, but remember, his government shies away from any policy that might topple it. This is the prospect that Bennett has told President Biden repeatedly by way of justifying his government’s not making moves to close down Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

But the Golan Heights?

Guess who voted for the new Israeli expansion plan there? Not only the right-parties, but the left-wing parties, too: Labor and Meretz.

There is no disagreement in Israel about the necessity of retaining the Golan Heights.

Not just Jews but many Druze Arabs live on the Golan. They can become Israeli citizens if they so choose, and in any event they receive Israeli government services. Unlike in Gaza and, to a lesser extent in the West Bank, Iran has had no success in stirring anti-Israel hatred amongst the Druze Arabs on the Golan.

Perhaps another deficit in historical memory is the inability to take yes for an answer. Even in theory, what better destiny for the Golan Heights could be wished for?

There is peace there.

There is a flourishing economy there.

There is no bombing of Israel from there.

There is a diverse population there — Israeli and non-Israeli, Jewish and Druze.

Would it be better if Israel gave the Golan Heights to Syria, and thus to become a fertile territory for more war?

“Most of the world believes that Israel’s annexation of the Golan is illegal,” writes the Economist. If this is true, then on political, economic and social grounds, the world cannot take yes for an answer.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN Executive Editor |

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