Every year when my family takes its summer vacation in the north of Israel, we visit the Golan.
On each visit, we choose a popular hiking trail or veer off the beaten track to something a little different or more challenging. We picnic near clear-running streams. We pick fruit in Golan orchards. At night, we spread out blankets and look at thousands of stars in the clear sky, farther from ambient light than we can get at home.
We have also stood on the Golan at the border with Syria. Looking down into Syria, we have seen firefights between Syrian forces and the rebels that oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad. From the top of the Golan, you can also look down on northern Israel. The drive up to the Golan from the Galilee makes it clear we will only be safe from Syria if Israel controls the strategic heights.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967, defended it in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and extended Israeli law over the territory, tantamount to annexation in 1981. To be clear, the 1967 and 1973 wars were wars Israel neither sought nor wanted and it had to take over the strategic heights to protect itself. And though about
50,000 Israeli citizens now live there, Israel has thought about, even offered, to return the Golan to Syria as part of a comprehensive peace deal – more than once.
But that was before Assad started massacring his citizens and allowing Syrian territory to be overrun with Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah as a first step toward launching terror attacks on Israel. It is unlikely Assad will want to cut any peace deal with Israel and we would be foolish to give even an inch of the Golan to him.
We Israelis consider the Golan to be part of our country. We love the Golan. We have walked in it. We have unearthed the remains of dozens of ancient synagogues built on it. We have drunk its wine. And we have rallied for it (remember the bumper stickers in the 1990s that read “Peace with the Golan”?)
The international community has continuously rejected Israel’s defacto annexation of the Golan, including at least five U.S. administrations.
So when President Donald Trump last week said in a tweet: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” – it was a cause for celebration here in Israel while setting off a firestorm of criticism around the world.
Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main opponent, former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz, praised a U.S. recognition of Israel’s control over the Golan. Trump denies the move was intended to help Netanyahu in the April 9 elections, though that seems unlikely.
Trump said following his tweet he has been mulling U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights for “a long time,” so why the announcement could not have waited three more weeks until after the Israeli election makes the timing suspect.
Trump’s announcement, which was expected to be backed up with an official executive order during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, D.C, has not changed the minds of the international community, which doubled down on its non-recognition in the hours and days after Trump’s tweet. I believe because Trump’s decisions on the international stage have been viewed as capricious since he took office, that there will be no practical effect.
My family will continue to visit the Golan, and to visit the homes of the children of some of our neighbors who have moved there with their young families, with or without U.S. recognition. To us it is part of Israel. And that’s all that matters.
ATTACK COULD IMPACT PEACE
I would be remiss if I did not mention the attack in central Israel March 25. The Code Red rocket alert siren sounded throughout the Sharon region of central Israel, rousing thousands from their beds to run to protected bomb shelters, including my 14-year-old daughter, sleeping in her high school dormitory in Kfar Saba.
A long-range rocket fired from Gaza hit a home in Moshav Mishmeret, near Netanya, injuring seven people, including two infants. This was no activity by a fringe group in Gaza because only the ruling Hamas and Islamic Jihad have rockets capable of traveling that far, about 50 miles. The rocket was aimed at a civilian community in the heart of Israel. Especially during this week when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee met in its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., many American Jews are calling on the candidates in our election here to be mindful of making peace with the Palestinians. How can we make peace with that?
Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank.