Saturday, July 31, 2010

Haaretz reveals: population of Golan Heights also forcefully expelled and their villages destroyed

Golan 1967. In the foreground an abandoned Syrian tank.

The following is part of an article in Haaretz´ Friday supplement of 30 July 2010. A remarkable article, in that it concedes that the original population of the Golan Heights, which were captured in 1967, did not flee as most textbooks nowadays would still tell you, but in fact were driven out. The story tells us that Israel used th same tactics and methods to ´clean´ the Golan as was used in expelling the majority of the Palestinians in Israel proper in 1947-48. The year 1967 was - if we may borrow these words from Ilan Pappé - a replay of the ´ethnic cleansing of Palestine´. Haaretz:

 What happened to the 130,000 Syrian citizens living in the Golan Heights in June 1967? According to the Israeli narrative, they all fled to Syria, but official documents and testimonies tell a different story. 

The aroma of ripe figs fills your nostrils as soon as you enter the village of Ramataniya. At the height of summer, they're overripe and the smell of fermentation is oppressive. With no one to pick it, the fruit rots on the trees. With no one to trim them, the roots and branches grow wild, cracking the black basalt walls of the nearby houses, reaching through empty window frames, and destroying stone walls in the yards. Neglect and ruin are everywhere. The red tiles have vanished from the roofs. The floor tiles have been removed. Any belongings were confiscated or plundered decades ago. Bars still cover some windows, but the doors are gone. The occasional snake pokes out from beneath a heap of stones that were once part of a wall; birds peck at the rotting figs, and an enormous wild boar wanders skittishly down the path. Suddenly it stops and takes a look back, as if debating whether to stake a claim or run for its life. In the end, it flees. Of the dozens of Syrian villages that were abandoned in the Golan Heights after the Six-Day War, Ramataniya is thought to be the best preserved. Apparently thanks to the brief period of Jewish settlement here in the late 19th century - and not because of its Byzantine history - it was declared an archaeological site right after the 1967 war and thereby saved from the bulldozers. But the fate of the rest of the Syrian localities in the Golan Heights was completely different: Apart from the four Druze villages at the foot of Mount Hermon, they were all destroyed, in most cases down to their very foundations. 

However, the fires in recent weeks that wiped out the shrubs and weeds exposed their remains, which attest that more than 200 villages, towns and farms flourished in the Syrian-ruled Heights before the war. Many of the houses crumbled over the years due to the ravages of weather and time. Others were blasted by Israel Defense Forces troops during live-fire training exercises there. But most were wiped off the face of the earth in a systematic process of destruction that began right after Israel's occupation of the Golan.
Only the Syrian outposts and army camps there have remained largely untouched, their concrete-and-steel fortifications searing reminders of the terror waged in the Golan against Israelis, who suppress memories of the civilian life that flourished in the alleyways and homes of Ramataniya and the other villages.
The 1960 Syrian census in the Golan Heights listed Ramataniya as having 541 inhabitants; on the eve of the Six-Day War, there were 700. According to most estimates, in 1967, the population of the entire area conquered by Israel there ranged from 130,000-145,000. The data are based on the census and a calculation of natural growth.
In the first Israeli census of the Golan, conducted exactly three months after the end of the fighting, there were just 6,011 civilians living in the entire Golan region. For the most part, they lived in the four Druze villages that remain populated to this day. A minority lived in the city of Quneitra, which was returned to Syria following the Yom Kippur War. So, in less than three months, more than 120,000 people either left of their own accord - or were expelled.


Remains of the destroyed village Manshiya

Like Ramataniya, the other villages in the Syrian Golan Heights also had largely homogeneous populations. Five villages in the north, for example, right at the foot of Mount Hermon, were home to Druze. The Alawites lived in three villages to the west - one of which, Ghajar, still survives. Around Quneitra were 12 Circassian villages; to the south were 14 Turkmenic villages. Christians lived mostly in villages along the road that leads from the southern part of the Golan Heights to the Rafid junction. The Golan was also home to Armenian, Kurdish, Mughrabi and Hourani minorities.
Almost 80 percent of the inhabitants in the Golan were Sunni Muslims, mostly descended from nomadic tribes that tended flocks there in the 19th century and later settled there. In 1967, only 2 percent of the area's population were nomads. Also living in the Golan were 7,000 Palestinian refugees whose villages were destroyed during the War of Independence.
Most people lived in small farming villages of 200-500 residents. The main sources of livelihood for Quneitra's 20,000 inhabitants involved agricultural commerce and the processing of local raw materials. Contrary to the popular notion in Israel, and based on scholarly research, only a small minority of the population was employed by the Syrian security establishment.

In an article entitled "Hopeful truths of the new reality," published in Life Magazine on September 29, 1967, then Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan presented his version of what happened to the Golan residents. The army broke through along the entire front stretching from the Jordanian to the Lebanese borders, to a depth of 20 kilometers. The entire area, apart from seven Druze villages, was now abandoned, he added, because as the Syrian troops retreated, the civilian population took its herds and fled eastward, afraid of being caught in the cross-fire or becoming targets of bombing and shelling.
Other Israeli politicians, army personnel and spokesmen described the Syrian population's flight in similar terms. In a letter to the UN secretary general, Israel's UN representative, Gideon Rafael, responded to claims by the Syrian representative that tens of thousands of civilians had been expelled from their homes following the war. Rafael wrote that "most of the population of the Golan Heights fled prior to the Syrian forces' withdrawal. Out of a population of about 90,000, 6,404 remained."
Newspapers at the time took a similar tack. An article by Yehuda Ariel in Haaretz in late June 1967 asserted that "the villages in the Golan were all abandoned without exception. The residents all feared revenge [attacks]. No man or woman thought to remain on their property and continue working the land. They abandoned everything and fled."

The hospital of Quneitra, the main city of the Golan. Israel gave Quneitra back to Syria after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but first destroyed it by blowing up most of its buildings.  

Over the years, the Israeli narrative concerning the flight of Syrian civilians from the Golan during the war found its way into textbooks and historical literature. "In addition to the outposts, the Syrians had positions and fortifications in many of the villages in the Golan," wrote Ze'ev Schiff and Eitan Haber in their 1976 book "A Lexicon of the Israeli Army." "These villages were home mostly to Turkmens, Circassians and Druze. Most abandoned their homes during the Six-Day War. It was primarily the Druze who remained."
In his book, "History of the Golan," Nathan Schur, author of more than 20 books and 100 articles about Jewish history, quoted Israel's official response to the UN vis-a-vis Syrian claims about the expulsion of civilians: "Prior to their withdrawal, Syrian military authorities instructed the inhabitants of the villages in the Golan to abandon their homes and property, and to immediately leave their villages for exile within Syria. Only the inhabitants of the Druze villages in the northern Golan did not heed this instruction. The inhabitants disappeared from all the other villages all at once."
In a historical-geographical lexicon published by the Defense Ministry, the entry for the Golan Heights reads: "In the Six-Day War it was conquered by the IDF and a majority of its inhabitants fled."

Remains of ancient synagogue in Manshiya, in the process of being restored.

Davar reporter Idit Zertal wrote shortly after the victory of June ´67, from the Golan: "On a narrow dirt path, all of a sudden, this odd convoy appears ... Women, children, and a few old people on foot or riding on donkeys. They attached white fabric or paper to sticks as a sign of surrender. When they got to the main road, an Egged bus full of Israeli soldiers arrived. The people of the convoy, trembling with fear, crowded against the bus and reached out toward the windows. The weary and dusty soldiers who'd fought here ... [against Syrian soldiers] hiding in the homes of the villagers who were now asking for mercy, turn their heads. They cannot look at this awful sight of humiliation and surrender. An Israeli officer tells the returning villagers to go back to their homes and promises an old man riding a donkey that no harm will come to them. Only an army with a tremendous sense of power, with a sense of destiny, could treat the vanquished this way."
But the attitude of this powerful army changed: In fact, on the same day the military correspondents visited the Golan and described the Syrians' return to their villages, Col. Shmuel Admon, the IDF commander in charge of the region, issued an order declaring the entire Golan a closed area. "No one shall enter the Golan Heights region from the outside, and no one shall depart the Golan for an outside region, except with permission from the commander of IDF forces here," said the order, threatening violators with up to five years' imprisonment.
The movement of Syrian civilians was thus halted. IDF records show that dozens of local residents who tried to return home were arrested daily and brought to the courthouse in Quneitra. There, most testified that they had come to collect belongings that were left behind. Others said they'd intended to return for good. All were imprisoned and later expelled.
But those who managed to sneak through and reach home often found that nothing was left. "I don't remember exactly when it was, but a few days after the end of the fighting, maybe less than a week, we received an order to start destroying villages," says Elad Peled, commander of the IDF's 36th Division in the war. For 10 days after the end of the fighting, his division was responsible for the conquered part of the Golan Heights, at a time when local villagers apparently attempted to return to their homes.
Peled does not recall which forces demolished the homes. "It was an administrative matter, I was preoccupied with the combat aspects," he says, but adds, "With some of the homes no tractor was needed. It could be done with just a hoe."
The whole article can be found here.

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