During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel militarily occupied over two-thirds (1230 square kilometres) of the Syrian Golan. Following the Israeli occupation, approximately 130,000 native Syrian inhabitants were forcibly transferred or displaced from their homes and forbidden from returning (only five percent of the original population was able to remain). Subsequently, the Israeli military began a widespread campaign to demolish their homes, destroying one city and 340 villages and farms.
Today, the remaining Syrian population is approximately 25,000 who live in five villages located in the extreme north of the Occupied Syrian Golan, and who control just 5% of the land. These villages are severely overcrowded and cannot cope with a growing population. In Syrian village Majdal Shams alone, there are 800 Syrian families who are in desperate need of housing.
Discriminatory land and housing policies have meant that expansion on surrounding land is rarely permitted. As a result of severe restrictions imposed by Israeli planning committees, it is close to impossible for the Syrian population to obtain building permits. Therefore, the Syrian population is forced to build homes without building permits, as this is the only way to meet their housing needs. Building without permits risks large fines – USD55 to USD85 per square metre (potentially doubling the cost of construction) – and the full or partial demolition of the building.
Indeed, in September 2016, a home in Majdal Shams was illegally demolished by the Israeli authorities. This was the first time that the Israeli authorities have demolished a home in the Occupied Syrian Golan for over thirty years. Another 80-90 Syrian home owners have been issued with demolition orders for their houses. There is serious concern that this action marks the adoption of a new systematic policy of ‘administrative’ home demolitions directed at the Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan.
Discriminatory housing and planning policies also severely inhibit the improvement of road and sewage systems; the construction of education, health and cultural institutions; and the establishment of infrastructure for industrial areas.
To further aggravate the issue, the Israeli authorities continue to confiscate land by designating it as ‘national park’, ‘abandoned property’ or for ‘military or public needs’. This is a regularly used tactic to either prevent the expansion of Syrian and Palestinian communities under occupation, or to appropriate land for settlement construction. Indeed, the Israeli authorities are currently seeking to appropriate 20,000 acres of land under the guise of the ‘Hermon National Park’ plan from around two of the remaining Syrian villages, Majdal Shams and Ein Qynia, that has been used by the native Syrian residents since Ottoman rule for agriculture and urbanization. Hermon National Park would severely restrict the available land for the expansion of Majdal Shams and Ein Qynia, which have a population growth rate of 3% per annum.
Please see the following publications for additional information about the ‘Hermon National Park’ plan and home demolition orders in the Occupied Syrian Golan: