Who has possessed the Golan the longest?

The Biblical and Post-Biblical Jewish history of Israel's northwest region, the plateau called the Golan Heights. Give it up?

Victor Sharpe

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Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. In the midst of the terror wave in Israel, in November 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for Israel to return the Golan to Syria. The EU included the Golan Heights in its anti-Semitic labelling decision.

What impelled Prime Minister Netanyahu recently to ask US President Obama to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights during his recent meeting with Obama?

Surely he knew that Obama would categorically reject any Israeli claim to that territory, just as he rejects any Jewish claims to Judea and Samaria and many parts of Jerusalem. Why then did Netanyahu demean himself and, by extension, humiliate the Jewish state, still only reconstituted in parts of its ancestral and biblical homeland?

The answer would seem to be a deep concern that in the wake of the notorious Obama-Iran nuclear deal, the Iranian-Syrian alliance, Russia’s military presence in Syria, and the ever constant threat of attack by Iran’s terror proxy, Hezbollah, Israel needs an “American pledge” supporting Israeli territorial control over the strategic area. It would also seem to be Netanyahu’s attempt to at least put Israel’s concerns on record.

But Obama’s response to Netanyahu’s request was the predictable and studied silence of a man who is no friend of the Jewish state. In fact an official in the White House, in referring to Netanyahu’s request, merely stated that: “I think the president didn’t think it warranted an answer.”


Obama stated that he is in favor of the European Union’s anti-Semitic labelling of Israeli goods from Judea, Samaria, the Golan and parts of Jerusalem...
He went on to add that:

“Washington rejects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion to U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday to discuss the possibility of U.S. recognition of Israeli rule over the Golan Heights.”

To pour salt on the wound, Obama stated that he is in favor of the European Union’s anti-Semitic labelling of Israeli goods from Judea, Samaria, the Golan and parts of Jerusalem because,he says, the “settlements” are not inside Israel.

It should be remembered that Binyamin Netanyahu, as have too many Israeli leaders before him, once agreed to discuss a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for “peace” and the ending of Syria’s alliance with Iran's terror group, Hezbollah.

Just imagine the horror that would now be confronting the Jewish state if such a delusional peace deal had occurred and the Syrian border would now be lapping at the very shores of Lake Kinneret.

But modern Israel does not need approval or recognition of its deep ancestral and historical ties to the Golan Heights from Obama or from the morally compromised international chancelleries and corridors of power. Let us acknowledge the Golan’s deep millennial and irrefutable Jewish history and patrimony.

Those of us who have stood on the Golan's 1,700 foot steep escarpment, are struck by its immense strategic value overlooking Israel's fertile Hula Valley and the beautiful harp-shaped lake below (the Sea of Galilee) called in Hebrew, Kinneret.

But let us also remember that during Syria's occupation of the territory, no agriculture of any significance took place and no restoration of its terrain was ever undertaken. Instead, the Golan was a giant Syrian army artillery encampment whose sole purpose was to deliberately rain down upon Israeli farmers, fishermen and villagers an endless barrage of shells. That it did and children on the kibbutzim below grew up sleeping in shelters until 1967.

So what is the history of the Golan Heights and what is its overwhelming biblical significance to the reconstituted Jewish state? Perhaps we should return primarily to the biblical books of Joshua and Numbers.

Before the Tribes of Israel would cross the River Jordan and enter the Promised Land, the first among them had already taken possession of territory east of the River Jordan. These were the half tribes of Manasseh, Gad and Reuben who liberated the Bashan and Gilead from the Amorites.

Biblical Bashan incorporates today's Golan Heights. Gilead is the fertile land, which lies in what is the north eastern area of today's Kingdom of Jordan:

" ... a little balm, and a little honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds" (Gen 43:11.) "Is there no balm in Gilead?" (Jeremiah 8:22)

It was Canaan, west of the Jordan, (including today's so-called "West Bank") which would pose the formidable challenge to Joshua bin Nun, the general leading the Israelite tribes. So it was that Moses, the Lawgiver, spoke to the children of Gad and Reuben thus:

"Shall your brethren go to war, and shall you sit here?" (Numbers 32:6) The leaders of the two tribes replied that they would indeed send their combat men west into Canaan and fight alongside their brethren while their families would remain behind.

"We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle and cities for our little ones. But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return unto our houses until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance." (Numbers 32: 16-18)

The story of reconstituted Israel and its people is mirrored in the biblical story of those ancient ancestors. The young men and women of modern Israel have gone again and again from their homes; be they villages, towns or cities, to the borders and established communities there in times of danger and peril, just like those young men did from the biblical tribes of Gad and Reuben.

The Jewish pioneers of today in Judea and Samaria - the biblical heartland known erroneously today as the "West Bank" - are no different. But the world has chosen to demonize them as "obstacles to peace" and an impediment to the creation of a fraudulent Arab state to be called Palestine; a state that has never existed in all of recorded history.

The pioneers are now labelled as “settlers” and their villages, homes and farms derisively and pejoratively called “settlements.” In the English language, the words “settler” and “settlements” imply a foreign and alien presence in another people’s land. That is why it is self-defeating and a reversal of the truth for all who love Israel to use such illegitimate language.

It matters not to the infernal chorus that sings the international siren song of hate and ignorance that these pioneers are returned to their ancestral homesteads and seek to take up their ploughshares to sow, to plant and re-possess their homeland in peace.

But the purpose of this article is also to learn about the biblical and post biblical history of the Jewish descendants of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh.

a.The Bashan region, now known as the Golan Heights, is a part of the biblical territory promised to the Patriarch Abraham and the people of Israel for an everlasting covenant - the Covenant of the Parts - recounted in Genesis 15.

b.The city of Bashan was a refuge city (Deut. 4:43).

c. During the biblical period of the Jewish Kings, a battle high on the Golan took place between King Ahab and the army of Aram. A Jewish victory occurred at the present site of Kibbutz Afik, which lies a few miles east of Lake Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee.

d. After the end of the Babylonian Exile, and during the Second Temple Period, Jews returned to their homes on the Golan. Subsequently the returnees were attacked by gentiles, and Judah Maccabee brought his forces up to the Heights to defend them.

e. At the conclusion of the Hasmonean Period, King Alexander Yannai finally re-conquered the Golan and Jews returned yet again. They rebuilt communities in central Golan, including the major cities of Banias and Susita, which formed part of the defense of the Golan.

f. Their residents fought heroically against the Roman legions during the Great Revolt of 135 CE, known also as the Second Uprising. It was led by the charismatic Shimon Bar Kokhba, known as the "Son of a Star" and a Jewish folk hero. Some 10,000 residents of Gamla, a hilltop city in the Golan where one can still see the stones of the battering rams, perished fighting against Rome.

g. Second century Jewish coins were found on the Golan after its liberation during the last days of the June, 1967 Six Day War. These ancient coins were inscribed with the words, "For the Redemption of Holy Jerusalem."

h. In the succeeding Talmudic Period, Jewish communities flourished and expanded. Archaeologists have found the remains of 34 synagogues on the Golan. Jewish life on the Golan largely ended after the defeat of the Byzantine army by Arabs from Arabia carrying the new banner of Islam and the region descended into a long period of neglect.

i. Jewish life returned yet again in the latter years of the 19th century when members of the Bnei Yehuda society from Safed purchased land on the Golan. In 1891, Baron Rothschild purchased around 18,000 acres in what is present day Golan community of Ramat Magshimim.

The Jewish pioneers of the First Aliyah (immigration) began to farm land they had purchased in the Golan's Horan region until the Turkish Ottoman occupiers evicted them in 1898. Their land was then seized, and in 1923 the entire Golan was given away by Britain to the French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon.

Zionist leaders had earlier demanded the Golan be included within the new Jewish National Home because of its immense historical roots in biblical and post-biblical Jewish history. But Jewish liberation of the ancestral land was not possible until Israel was forced to fight for its very survival during the 1967 Six Day War.

The Golan is only 60 miles from Haifa. The slopes of Mount Hermon, the highest point in the region, are the present eyes and ears of Israel. The Golan Heights were officially annexed to Israel in 1981. But it was the left wing Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who first offered to give the Heights away in 1994.

Since then, Israelis have winced at the wrenching offers made by subsequent Israeli governments and politicians who declared publicly their desire to give the entire Heights to the Syrians in return for a delusional peace. The overwhelming majority of Israelis were and are adamantly opposed to any such suggestion.

The notorious Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group suggested that a way out for the United States from its Iraqi imbroglio would be for Israel to give the Golan Heights away to Syria. This, it was believed by the ISG, would bring Syria into "responsible nationhood"  and wean her away from support of the "insurgents" attacking Iraqi and U.S assets. Of course this was before the successes of the "Surge" instituted by General Petraus made such a suggestion moot. But Israel was yet again the sacrificial lamb. 

U.S. President Obama mistakenly renewed diplomatic relations with Syria as a way, he believed, of distancing the Arab dictatorship from its alliance with Iran. This was another delusional act by the current U.S. President whose foreign policy is now in tatters. But Obama's carrot to the Syrian dictator, should it ever be resurrected, inevitably will be the Golan Heights.

What would such pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights mean? First of all, bringing down the Israeli radar stations on the Hermon Massif to the valley floor below would seriously degrade any warning of future hostile Syrian attacks. It would further hamper Israel's ability to prevent attacks upon it by Syrian forces and by Hezbollah.

Israelis have been ill served by too many of their leaders. The fact that any Israeli politician or military leader would even contemplate throwing away both ancestral and strategic territory is a recurring blight the Jewish state can ill afford. Has the appalling lesson of Sharon’s “Gaza disengagement” not been enough? 

To put any trust in an Arab or Muslim nation, especially the Iranian backed and embattled Syrian regime, is truly mind boggling. Besides which, the so-called rebels fighting the Syrian regime have already stated that their ambition is also to take the Golan from Israel at the same time that they plan on making Syria yet another Islamic Republic and a future part of an Islamic Caliphate.

And consider this. The British colonial power gave the Golan to France’s Syrian colony in 1923. Syria attacked Israel in 1967 and lost the Golan. Syria had occupied it for 44 years. Israel’s liberation of the Golan has lasted 48 years.

Ask yourself then, who has possessed the Golan the longest?

Any thought of abandoning biblical Bashan (the Golan) to such Islamic foes as exist now in Syria would be a betrayal of those first Jewish ancestors on the Golan who long ago "built sheepfolds for their cattle and cities for their little ones." It would also be suicide. 

Victor Sharpe is a prolific freelance writer and author of several published books including the acclaimed trilogy, Politicide: The attempted murder of the Jewish state.



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