24 Jul Golan Heights
The Golan Heights (Arabic: هضبة الجولان, romanized: Haḍbatu l-Jawlān or مرتفعات الجولان Murtafaʻātu l-Jawlān, Hebrew: רמת הגולן, romanized: About this soundRamat HaGolan), or simply the Golan, is a region in the Levant, spanning about 1,800 square kilometres (690 sq mi). The region defined as the Golan Heights differs between disciplines: as a geological and biogeographical region, the Golan Heights is a basaltic plateau bordered by the Yarmouk River in the south, the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley in the west, the Anti-Lebanon with Mount Hermon in the north and Wadi Raqqad in the east; and as a geopolitical region, the Golan Heights is the area captured from Syria and occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, territory which has been administered as part of Israel since 1981. This region includes the western two-thirds of the geological Golan Heights and the Israeli-occupied part of Mount Hermon.
The earliest evidence of human habitation on the Golan dates to the Upper Paleolithic period. According to the Bible, an Amorite Kingdom in Bashan was conquered by Israelites during the reign of King Og. Throughout the Old Testament period, the Golan was “the focus of a power struggle between the Kings of Israel and the Aramaeans who were based near modern-day Damascus.” The Itureans, an Arab or Aramaic people, settled there in the 2nd century BCE and remained until the end of the Byzantine period. Organized Jewish settlement in the region came to an end in 636 CE when it was conquered by Arabs under Umar ibn al-Khattāb. In the 16th century, the Golan was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and was part of the Vilayet of Damascus until it was transferred to French mandate in 1918. When the mandate terminated in 1946, it became part of the newly independent Syrian Republic.
Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel, whereas the eastern third remains under control of the Syrian Arab Republic. Following the war, Syria dismissed any negotiations with Israel as part of the Khartoum Resolution. Construction of Israeli settlements began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law in 1981, which applied Israeli law to the territory; a move that has been described as an annexation. This move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 497, which stated that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”, and Resolution 242, which emphasises “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, also citing the text of UN Resolution 242, which calls for “safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.
After the onset of the Syrian Civil War, control of the Syrian-administered part of the Golan Heights was split between the government and opposition forces, with the UNDOF maintaining a 266 km2 (103 sq mi) buffer zone in between, to implement the ceasefire of the Purple Line. From 2012 to 2018, the eastern Golan Heights became a scene of repeated battles between the Syrian Arab Army, rebel factions of the Syrian opposition including the moderate Southern Front, jihadist al-Nusra Front, and ISIL-affiliated factions. In July 2018, the Syrian government regained control of the eastern Golan Heights.
On 25 March 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump proclaimed that “the United States recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel”, making the United States the first and only country to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the effectively annexed regions of the Golan Heights. The 28 member states of the European Union declared in turn they do not recognize Israeli sovereignty, and several Israeli experts on international law stated the principle remains that land gained by defensive or offensive wars cannot be annexed under international law.
In the Bible, Golan is mentioned as a city of refuge located in Bashan: Deuteronomy 4:43, Joshua 20:8, 1 Chronicles 6:71. 19th-century authors interpreted the word “Golan” (Hebrew: גולן) as meaning “something surrounded, hence a district”.
The Greek name for the region is Gaulanitis (Greek: Γαυλανῖτις). In the Mishna the name is Gablān similar to Aramaic language names for the region: Gawlāna, Guwlana and Gublānā.
The Arabic names are Jawlān and Djolan (Arabic: جولان) and are arabized versions of the Canaanite language and Hebrew name “Golan”.
Arab cartographers of the Byzantine period referred to the area as jabal (mountain), though the region is a plateau. The Muslims took over in 7th century CE. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia refers to the region as Gaulonitis. The name Golan Heights was not used before the 19th century.
The Golan Heights borders Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. According to Israel, it has captured 1,150 square kilometres (440 sq mi). According to Syria, the Golan Heights measures 1,860 square kilometres (718 sq mi), of which 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi) are occupied by Israel. According to the CIA, Israel holds 1,300 square kilometres (500 sq mi).
The area is hilly and elevated, overlooking the Jordan Rift Valley which contains the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, and is itself dominated by the 2,814 metres (9,232 ft) tall Mount Hermon. The plateau has an average altitude of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft). It separates the remaining territories of Syria and Israel. Elevations range from 2,814 metres (9,232 ft) in the north (if one considers Mount Hermon as part of the Heights), to below sea level along the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmouk River in the south.
The plateau that Israel controls is part of a larger area of volcanic basalt fields stretching north and east that were created in the series of volcanic eruptions that began recently in geological terms, almost 4 million years ago, and continue to this day. It has distinct geographic boundaries. On the north, the Sa’ar valley (Banias) generally divides the lighter-colored limestone bedrock of the mountains from the dark-colored volcanic rocks of the Golan plateau. The western border of the plateau is truncated structurally by the Jordan Rift Valley, which falls down steeply into the lake. The southern border is lined by the Yarmouk River, which separates the plateau from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Finally, the east end of Golan Heights is carved out by the Raqqad river (Wadi Ruqqad) and areas still controlled by Syria.
The plateau’s north-south length is approximately 65 kilometres (40 mi) and its east-west width varies from 12 to 25 kilometres (7.5 to 15.5 miles). Topographically, the Golan Heights ranges in elevation from 2,814 metres (9,232 ft) on Mount Hermon in the north, to about 400 metres (1,300 ft) elevation along the Yarmouk River in the south. The Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret or Lake Tiberias, at the southwest corner of the plateau is 200 metres (660 ft) below sea level. The steeper, more rugged topography is generally limited to the northern half, including the foothills of Mount Hermon; on the south the plateau is more level.
The broader Golan plateau exhibits a more subdued topography, generally ranging between 120 and 520 metres (390 and 1,710 ft) in elevation. In Israel, the Golan plateau is divided into three regions: northern (between the Sa’ar and Jilabun valleys), central (between the Jilabun and Daliyot valleys), and southern (between the Daliyot and Yarmouk valleys). The Golan Heights is bordered on the west by a rock escarpment that drops 500 metres (1,600 ft) to the Jordan River valley and the Sea of Galilee. In the south, the incised Yarmouk River valley marks the limits of the plateau and, east of the abandoned railroad bridge upstream of Hamat Gader and Al Hammah, it marks the recognised international border between Syria and Jordan.
Geologically, the Golan plateau and the Hauran plain to the east constitute a Holocene volcanic field that also extends northeast almost to Damascus. Much of the area is scattered with dormant volcanos, as well as cinder cones, such as Majdal Shams. The plateau also contains a crater lake, called Birkat Ram (“Ram Pool”), which is fed by both surface runoff and underground springs. These volcanic areas are characterised by basalt bedrock and dark soils derived from its weathering. The basalt flows overlie older, distinctly lighter-colored limestones and marls, exposed along the Yarmouk River in the south.
The rock forming the mountainous area in the northern Golan Heights, descending from Mount Hermon, differs geologically from the volcanic rocks of the plateau and has a different physiography. The mountains are characterised by lighter-colored, Jurassic-age limestone of sedimentary origin. Locally, the limestone is broken by faults and solution channels to form a karst-like topography in which springs are common.
In addition to its strategic military importance, the Golan Heights is an important water resource, especially at the higher elevations, which are snow-covered in the winter and help sustain baseflow for rivers and springs during the dry season. The Heights receive significantly more precipitation than the surrounding, lower-elevation areas. The occupied sector of the Golan Heights provides or controls a substantial portion of the water in the Jordan River watershed, which in turn provides a portion of Israel’s water supply. The Golan Heights supply 15% of Israel’s water.