As the quagmire in Syria continues, President Basher al-Assad recently indicated he wanted any peace talks to include the possible return of the Golan Heights. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resoundingly closed that door by vowing Israel would never give up the Golan.
The Golan has been part of Israel since biblical times and was assigned to the tribe of Manasseh led by Joshua. Archaeologists have found the remains of no fewer than 34 synagogues there.
The Golan, and all of what we now know as Jordan, was included in the 1917 Balfour Declaration declaring a Mandate for a national home for the Jewish People. Prior to 1917, the region had been governed by the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. The Mandate was confirmed at the 1920 San Remo Peace Conference and again, in 1922, by the League of Nations. The British, in 1923, illegally traded the Golan to France for the oil-rich Mosul in Iraq.
When the League of Nations was dissolved in 1946, its assets and duties were transferred to the United Nations. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter implicitly recognizes the Mandate for Palestine and the rights of the Jewish people, which still exists. Shortly after Syria’s creation in 1945, it took control of the Golan.
If that is not enough evidence to Israel’s right to the Golan, the International Court of Justice has concluded that international law makes a clear distinction between defensive wars and wars of aggression.
“Where the prior holder of territory has seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title.”
Israel has now held the Golan longer than Syria.
From 1946 until 1967, Syria did not use the Golan for anything constructive but as a launching pad against Israel. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syria amassed 1,400 tanks at the border of the Golan against 180 Israeli tanks. Since then there had been a truce along the border. Today, the Golan produces beef, dairy products, honey, olive oil, wine and more.
Now with Syria in absolute turmoil, U.N. peace-keepers patrolling the Syrian side of the border since 1974 no longer find it safe. In addition to violence, they are subject to kidnapping. They have uprooted and moved to the Israeli side of the border. With the brutal Assad regime killing hundreds of thousands of its own civilians and for the last couple of years fighting for its own existence, it has moved thousands of Hezbollah fighters and rockets into Syria. In addition, Iran is now sending members of the Revolutionary Guard and military hardware to Syria. Israel has to take every precaution available to protect over 14,000 Jews and 17,000 Druze living in the Golan. What better time than now for the international community to recognize Israel’s legal and historical claims to the Golan?
Stuart V. Pavilack is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America — Pittsburgh District.