By Jeannette Gabay
In order to give our children more freedom and to enable us to enjoy the great outdoors, we recently moved from Jerusalem to a small kibbutz on the Golan Heights. At times, that decision was met with skepticism, because the legal status of the area seems complicated.
A brief history lesson: The division of the Ottoman Empire after World War I brought the Golan under French rule. When the French mandate ended, the Golan became part of the newly established Syrian Republic. Almost at the same time, the neighboring state of Israel arose from another expiring European mandate. Young Syria, however, did not recognize Israel, and Israeli Galilee was shelled for years from the strategically high Syrian Golan.
After the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973), initiated by Egypt and Syria, the Golan surprisingly came under Israeli control. In the wake of the retreating Syrian army, part of the local population fled, while others remained. Since 1981 Israel has treated the Golan as part of Israel, and regards control of the Golan as essential for its security. However, aiming on ‘land for peace’, Israel negotiated intensively with Syria. Until the Syrian civil war broke out and Israel had no one to talk to anymore.
Eleven years later. The ongoing disruption in Syria gives Iran free reign, which poses a serious security risk for Israel. To curb that danger, Israel must make agreements with the Russians, because they are currently – literally – calling the shots in Syria. All in all, reason enough for Israel to strengthen its position on the Golan by encouraging Jewish settlement. Young families like ours who take the plunge, are rewarded with a free plot of land.
A combination of ‘I’ll-have-an-affordable-detached-house-please’, a sense of community, nature, and pioneering spirit drew us to the Golan and many with us. There is little to no resistance among the Druze population, who already lived here before 1981. The successful Israeli recruitment campaign namely goes hand in hand with noticeably increasing prosperity, and the Syrian alternative is not very attractive. “Not too bad to be on this side,” a Druze handyman succinctly summed up the situation.
Despite a number of intricacies, the Golan has become a fairly good example of coexistence. Of the 50,000 inhabitants, 25,000 are Druze and 25,000 are Jews. Although everyone lives in their own villages, there is intense cooperation which is surrounded by way less fear than in e.g. Jerusalem. Exactly that is one of the reasons why I believe in a shared future on the Golan Heights.
I understand the skepticism, geopolitics is complicated. Pointing fingers at Israel, however, is too easy. The role of the West itself was and is not small, and without the Syrian declarations of war, the Golan Heights might still have been Syrian. A combination of factors led to today’s situation, in which I prefer security, stability, and coexistence over chaos. An Israeli Golan is essential for the security of Israel, and in the long run perhaps even for the rest of the Western world.
For the time being, we are enjoying the peaceful surroundings and the excellent wine while filling the wallet of our Druze contractor.
This column was previously published in Dutch in the Nederlands Dagblad.