The area known as the Syrian Golan or Golan Heights is a mountainous region and plateau in southwest Syria that borders Lebanon to the north, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the west. The Syrian Golan’s overall land mass is 1,860 square kilometers, which is approximately 1 percent of Syria’s total area. Approximately 1,230 square kilometers of the Syrian Golan (over two-thirds) is currently under Israeli occupation.
Israel occupied the Syrian Golan during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The United Nations (UN) has issued multiple international resolutions calling for the end of the occupation and a complete Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories, including the Palestinian territories and the Syrian Golan. However, Israel refuses to implement these resolutions, which reiterate the illegality of the occupation, thereby violating numerous UN treaties and undermining efforts to achieve lasting peace and security in the region.
According to Syrian resources, the population of the entire Syrian Golan region was estimated to be 147,613 in 1966. The population of the area that would later become under occupation was approximately 140,000. Around 80 percent of the population was Arab, and the majority of those remaining were from other Caucasian ethnicities (e.g., Circassians, Daghestani, and Chechens). There were also 3,000 persons of Turkmen background and hundreds of Armenians.
Following the occupation, the overwhelming majority of the population were forcibly transferred or displaced from their homes, becoming either Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or refugees. Today, these people and their descendants amount to 500,000 people, who almost 50 years later, are still unable to return to the Occupied Syrian Golan. Five percent of the native Syrian population was able to remain in the Occupied Syrian Golan. Today, they amount to approximately 25,000 people and live in five remaining villages. They control just five percent of the land and suffer from numerous violations of their basic human rights.
Following the Israeli occupation, one city and 340 villages and farms were destroyed by Israeli occupation forces. These were replaced by Israeli agricultural settlements often using the same stones from the destroyed villages and farms. Today, there are at least 23,000 Israeli settlers in the Occupied Syrian Golan, living in 34 illegal settlements. Together with the Israeli military and authorities, they control 95% of the land.
After the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, tensions remained high in the Middle East. On 6 October 1973, Syria launched an attempt to recapture the Occupied Syrian Golan. This ultimately proved unsuccessful and in 1974, Syria and Israel signed an armistice agreement. In the negotiations that followed, Israel conceded some territory captured in the 1967 War, including the city of Quneitra, which the Israeli military destroyed as it withdrew.
In 1981, Israel enacted the Golan Heights Law which purported to annex the Occupied Syrian Golan into the state of Israel, an illegal action condemned by the UN Security Council in Resolution 497 (1981) as “null and void and without international legal effect.” Since then, every year the UN passes General Assembly resolution titled “The Occupied Syrian Golan” which reaffirms the illegality of the Israeli occupation and annexation.
Various rounds of peace talks between Syria and Israel have taken place in which the status of the Occupied Syrian Golan has been a central topic.
Additional background information about the occupation of the Syrian Golan is available below:
A brief overview of major issues affecting the native Syrian population at the current time is available below: