Farrah Hassen | Writer/Grad Student United States
May 21st, 2007

Re: ‘Syria's Occupied Golan Heights


I write to you as a Syrian-American, a Muslim, a student, and for full disclosure, a practical idealist. Four years ago, in the ghost town of Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, I stood inches away from your country’s side of the border, separated only by barbed wire covered with an invisible layer of enmity‚??and a no man’s land filled with mines amongst the delicate white flowers growing on the Israeli side. I recall the forceful sound of the Golan wind and my temptation to challenge the resilience of the wire and defy the mines by jumping over it. Instead, I turned my back and continued to explore the destroyed, decaying buildings throughout Quneitra resulting from the 1967 and 1973 wars. It then dawned on me that both Israelis and Syrians share flowers and landmines.

I don’t want to discuss Israel‚??s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights. I would defer to UN Security Council Resolution 497 (December 17, 1981), which condemned Israel’s decision to “impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights” as “null and void and without international legal effect.” The acquisition of territory by force goes against the very principles of the UN Charter and international law.

From your vantage point, the presence of some 20,000 Israeli settlers in the Golan makes the return of this plateau to Syria unthinkable. But put yourself in a Syrian’s shoes. What would returning the “Occupied Syrian Golan Heights” signify to those within a stone’s throw of your country, those whose families have lived for thousands of years in the area?

Until I toured Quneitra with a Syrian filmmaker who grew up there before the town was captured in 1967, I didn’t have such thoughts. Mohammed Malas showed me the shattered mosque where he once prayed, where he used to wait for his father to finish his prayers. He pointed to the rubble that was his father‚??s store and to another pile of twisted wires and crumbling rock where he watched films as a young boy. Malas later dramatized the fate of Quneitra in his film, The Night. I still visualize the bittersweet look in his soulful eyes when he said, “The movies that I make capture the rebuilding of life‚??not the destruction of life.”

At a restaurant built on the 1974 ceasefire line, a group of somber, middle aged men shared with me their experiences of fleeing their homes after the Golan’s annexation. They mentioned other Syrian nationals who live in the Israeli controlled part of the Golan, still separated from their family members on the Syrian side. They don’t see the return of the Golan Heights as a place that symbolizes Arab-Israel or Syrian-Israeli conflict. Rather, they talk bitterly about the injustice done to people they know or members of their families.

The Golan Heights epitomizes the personal and the global. It means war or peace‚??for and between Syrians and Israelis and by extension for the rest of human kind.

40 years after the 1967 war, the Middle East remains besieged with violence and distrust. So much is at stake and government leaders quibble about words. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has suggested that Israel begin negotiations with Syria. On May 7, National Security Council Chairmen Ilan Mizrahi said that “Syria’s call for dialogue with Israel is authentic.” Others in your country still question whether Syria is interested in pursuing “peace,” or just the “peace process.”

Well, look at the International Crisis Group’s April 10, 2007 report, particularly the sentence that relates directly to lingering security concerns you have with Syria: “Officials in Damascus provided their clearest indication to date both that they would resume negotiations without any precondition and that the country’s regional posture and relationship with Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran inevitably would change following a peace deal.”

What will happen to the Israeli settlers in the Golan? What about security guarantees? One could imagine that money used for “security” in that area would instead go to help relocating the settlers. But I’ll leave those inherently complex issues for the seasoned negotiators.

I still remember flowers growing on both sides of the barbed wire. For Syrians and Israelis, they represent nature, beauty, the continuity of life, dominated by the shared demands of everyday living‚??working, breaking bread, praying, laughing, grieving, loving. As long as the military status quo remains, however, without renewed peace talks and the return of the Syrian Golan, destructive “landmines” will continue to tie your fate with that of a Syrian’s. After all, who said borders weren’t impenetrable?

Farrah Hassen

Farrah Hassen is a Seymour Melman fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at American University‚??s School of International Service.

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12 Responses to the Article




Excellent Article. It is about time for the UN to give back what was stolen from the Syrian people.

Ayman S. Says:


When you say

“I stood inches away from your country‚??s side of the border, separated only by barbed wire covered with an invisible layer of enmity‚??and a no man‚??s land filled with mines amongst the delicate white flowers growing on the Israeli side.”

You really mean that you stood inches away from the rest of Syria!! Otherwise an excellent post.

Farrah Says:

Dear Ayman,
Thanks for your comment. I think I made it clear throughout the short essay that the Golan belongs to SYRIA and should be returned. I saw no point in the opening line that you quoted to add “Syria.” After all, the point here is to ultimately appeal to others–hopefully, by inspiring a dialogue between Syrians and Israels–who don’t view the return of the Golan in the same way Syrians do.

Amir Says:

As an Israeli, I wish justice could be found for all. I wish a solution could be found for the people of Kuneitra. But the negotiations on the golan fail because Syria wants every single piece of land all the way back to the Kineret. For me, as an Israeli, that shows that it is not human justice what Syria is after, but more than that.

I can assure you that many, if not all, Israelis will support giving back half of the Golan, and see a thriving Kuneitra, but they cannot understand Syrian thirst for all the territory which would not bring justice back to the poor refugees of Kuneitra.

Danielle Says:

i agree with amir. about 99% of the israelis will *never* agree to give back the golan, all of it (esp. when there are 18,000 israelis living there for years….)-and those same 99% will be happy to give half of it (esp. the syrian inhabited part and keeping the israeli inhabited part). if syria turns that down, i’m afraid israelis will choose the golan without peace with syria. after 40 years, thinking the israelis will give it all back, is absurd, esp. when israelis know that syria also provoked them into war.

thanks for the article,


Alex Says:

Dear Danielle,

I would like to remind you of few facts

1) Late defense minister Dayan’s interview in which he admitted that Israel was the one provoking Syria most of the time in order to have an excuse to take the Golan because “land-hungry farmers” wanted it.

2) The United Nations security council resolutions 242 and 338 are not time limited. The fact Israel did not yet respect those resolutions 40 years later does not mean they become not valid.

3) a recent Israeli opinion poll showed that only 54% of Israelis did not support the return of the Golan heights, not 99% as you believe.

Yazan Says:


When you talk about morality, did you think of the thousands of syrians who were kicked out of Golan when Israel occupied it? do they not count somehow?

Is this the justice you are looking for? Occupy a land by force, live there 40 years and then its yours? are you seriously suggesting that?

SyriaComment » Archives » Introducing the Creative Forum: Commemorating the Golan Heights Says:

[…] Writer/Film maker Farrah Hassen wrote a passionate piece about the Golan’s Syrian inhabitants. […]

Michel Nahas Says:

Why even discuss with Amir? What is his logic? Would it be OK if Hitler had sent only half of the Jews to the death chambers? Woulkd it be OK if only one of the two inocent children murdered by a Palestinian terrorist had die? If you want to have (and really believe) in Peace, why are you worried with “defensable borders”? Deffend you from whom? I wonder, why do the majority of Israelis think that they are entitled to “special” justice, or “special” rights”? If you want to be able to live normally in your state , with peace, tranquility, etc., how about, as another Jew once said, treat your neighbor as yourself?

The Rev. Michel Nahas
United Church of Canada

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Francesco Sinatora (Italy) Says:

Amir, how can you call a mere 50% solution justice? We should probably start a discussion about the meaning of justice. The Golan has been (and still is being) annexed illegally (see the above mentioned UN resolutions). Justice begins with the punishment of those who break the law.

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