A major part of Israel is the highly strategic and historically significant area known as the Golan Heights. Israel annexed the area during a war with Syria in 1981, yet Israel’s rightful possession of this land is still not fully acknowledged by the international community. In 1991, former US Secretary of State James Backer told former Syrian President Hafez Al Assad that the United States does not recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. In the past, the US used to view it as a given that Israel would return the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement with Syria. However, with Syria on the verge of collapse, as Assad is committing a democide against his own people and abusing the human rights of the Syrian people on a daily basis, international pressure for Israel to relinquish control of the Golan Heights has significantly waned. Indeed, people recognize that Israel cannot make peace with Syria at this time.

However, recently a reporter brought up the fact that an American company, of which one of its investors is former US Vice President Dick Cheney, is working with Israel to explore oil in the Golan Heights. Yet still, when pressed on the subject matter, the US State Department is not sure who owns the Golan Heights. Deputy US State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell claimed, “Look, it is a very complicated scenario we have here. I’d have to get the lawyers to give me a full readout on where we stand on the Golan Heights. ” The US State Department has this position, despite the existence of deep Jewish roots within the Golan Heights area.

Before the Tribes of Israel entered the Land of Israel following the death of Moses, the tribes of Menashe, Gad and Reuven had already liberated a land known as Bashan from the Amorites. Bashan comprises the Golan Heights of today. Thus, the Golan Heights was part of biblical Israel and the Book of Deuteronomy even refers to the City of Bashan as a place of refuge. A Jewish victory against the Army of Aram took place near the present-day location of Kibbutz Afik in the Golan Heights. Judah Maccabee is also said to have defended Jewish homes in Bashan, while during the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, some 10,000 residents of Gamla loyal to Simon Bar Kochba’s forces perished while trying to defend the Land of Israel. Indeed, ancient Jewish coins from Bar Kochba’s era were found in the Golan Heights.

During the Talmudic era, Jewish communities in the Golan Heights era flourished. Indeed, archeologists have discovered 34 synagogues in the Golan Heights dating from the late Roman period through the Byzantine era up until the Arab conquest of the Holy Land. Unfortunately, around this period of time, Jewish communities in the Golan Heights ceased and the land fell into neglect. Other peoples would not arrive until the 15th and 16th centuries, when Druze began to settle the Golan Heights area. Additional peoples would arrive following the Egyptian occupation of 1831-1840 and during the late Ottoman period, yet Jews would begin to return to the Golan Heights as well starting in 1886. Jews would remain in the area up until 1947, when they were forced out by the Syrians, even though the Golan Heights was supposed to be included as part of the Palestine Mandate, which was established with the purpose of creating a national home for the Jewish people in the area.

Yet aside from these Jewish historical ties, from 1948-1967, the Golan Heights was utilized by the Syrians in order to attack Israeli communities in the Hula Valley below, forcing Israeli children to spend many nights in bomb shelters. Thus, Israel retaining control of the Golan Heights is vital to Israeli security, especially because it is only about 60 miles from Haifa and Acre, which is the center of much Israeli industry. Israel possessing the Golan Heights gives Israel the strategic advantage of being able to prevent hostile forces from attacking Jewish communities that live below the Golan Heights. Since UN Security Council Resolution 242, according to Eugene Rostow, who helped to draft it, only required that Israel withdraw from some yet not all of the territories that she gained in 1967, the fact that Israel withdrew from Gaza and the Sinai should be considered sufficient to meet this requirement without Israel relinquishing the historic and strategic area of the Golan Heights.

By Rachel Avraham

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