Golan Heights Has Bitter History, Uncertain Future

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Damascus, SYRIA — It is fertile ground that bears unforgettable fruit. It has vineyards. Barbed wire. Bitter history. And an uncertain future.

The Golan Heights was seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Syria and Egypt attacked Israel in 1972 to try to get the Golan back but didn’t succeed. An armistice was eventually signed in 1974 and Israel pulled out of most of the city of Quneitra, the then regional seat of the Golan Heights, but kept the rest under its control. The U.N. monitors the situation to this day.

As such, a small sliver of the Golan remains under Syrian control, but the bulk of it is under Israeli occupation.

You can’t just go to the Syrian side of the Golan. It requires permission. It is a semi-military zone, in clear sight of Israeli checkpoints up in the highest part of the Heights.

Prior to taking the Golan, Israeli farmers were often shot from Syrian gun positions, and that was always the reason Israel cited for seizing the land. But a friend who took me on a tour of the Syrian side of the Golan made much of recordings, released by an Israeli reporter 12 years ago, which quote the late Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan as saying the seizure of the Golan was actually not about self defense — Israeli kibbutzniks simply wanted the land.

In the recordings, part of an interview Dayan gave in 1976, he also claims that Israelis often provoked Syrians into shooting down from the Golan Heights at Israelis. That is the version of events it seems most Syrians give credence to. Many Israeli historians have taken issue with the recordings, some saying they were really not part of a formal or official interview, and that the quotes were not as definitive as has been suggested...

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