Israel Is Practicing Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing in the Golan Heights
The active sanctions campaign against Russia stands in sharp contrast to the global silence over the Golan.
By Omar Aziz
Deep Dive’s April 6 webinar, “The Golan Heights: Occupation and Annexation Under the Spotlight,” addressed key questions concerning the often overlooked Israeli annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights. Moderator Mark Seddon, a former Al Jazeera correspondent, interviewed Aram Abu Saleh, a Syrian writer and activist born in the Golan Heights.
Saleh began by reminding the audience of the largely forgotten Syrian right of return to the Golan Heights, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequently annexed in 1981. “You hear no one talking about their right of return, their destroyed villages or what happened in ’67,” she noted.
Saleh described the seizure of the Golan as Israel’s most comprehensive act of ethnic cleansing, “even bigger than the Palestinian Nakba,” with 130,000 Syrians living in the territory before 1967, but only 13,000 remaining thereafter. (More total Palestinians—an estimated 750,000—were forcibly displaced by the Nakba in 1948, but a higher percentage of Syrians living in the Golan were expelled by Israel in 1967.)
Demonstrating the tragic effect of Israel’s ethnic cleansing on the everyday lives of locals, Saleh described the tradition of heading to Quneitra, home of the “shouting hill,” to communicate with forcibly separated loved ones. “It’s basically two hills, one on the Syrian side and one on our side. Our families would come at important ceremonies in the year, on Mother’s Day, on the Day of Syrian Independence, on Eid…we would just use shouting as communication.”
Saleh, who is currently studying in Berlin, also shined a light on the violence and trauma caused by landmines, which litter the territory. “We have a lot of people losing their hands or their legs due to accidents with these mines that Israel still refuses to remove,” she said.
Responding to a question about the duplicity of the international community, Saleh noted that the active sanctions campaign against Russia stands in sharp contrast to the global silence over the Golan. “They actually have sanctions on Syria, which are starving the Syrian people,” she said. “Our country is being sanctioned while the country occupying us is just freely doing whatever it wants.”
While Israel has been able to get away with imposing decades of hardship on the Golan’s native residents, Saleh said a determined resistance remains. “When Israel annexed the Golan, it tried to also force Israeli citizenship on the Syrians remaining there,” she noted. “There was a huge strike which went on for six months in our communities, and the Israeli army actually sieged five villages for six months and blocked food and milk for the children. At the end, they gave up and we still refused to take Israeli citizenship, so we have no right of voting or of participating as an Israeli. On paper we are defined as stateless…because by Israeli law, they also forbid us to be active Syrian citizens.”
Asked whether she believes that Israeli practices in the Golan amount to the crime of apartheid, she responded, “Of course, yes, I would say that. It’s obvious in so many aspects and details of life, in extremely basic things like electricity and water. It’s our own water, and also this is the reason that Israel wants to keep the Golan, not only because of its strategic placement, but because it’s basically their whole supply of water, their biggest supply of water. They take our water and they sell it to us for four times more. The settler buys it four times cheaper than we buy it. If that’s not apartheid, I don’t know what it is.”
Despite all the injustices, Saleh left viewers with an evocative image of what life in the Golan could be like with genuine security and liberation. “A dream—my first image is all the Syrians coming back to their villages and the Golan being full of people again, just like it was, because it had a lot of communities. We had Bedouins, we had Sunni, Shi’a. Basically, all of the Syrian mosaic was in the Golan, so my dream is for it to be alive again like that and not empty and full of settlements. That’s what it would look like.”
Originally published by the Washington Report on Mideast Affairs, 04.14.2022, republished under fair use for news reporting purposes.