Tens of thousands of Arab people took to the streets this week to protest Donald Trumps recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights. The move has also been condemned by Arab governments, including U.S. allies, by all 14 other members of the United Nations Security Council, and all 38 members of the European Union. The Syrian foreign ministry called the move a “blatant aggression” on its sovereignty and said it represents the “highest level of contempt for international legitimacy.”
The U.S. government is the only one in the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty there. The Golan Heights, a strategic and vital part of Syria, was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981 — both actions in blatant violation of international law. Over the years, many United Nations resolutions have condemned this Israeli land theft as a slap in the face to international law.
Trump announced the decision on March 25 in a Washington news conference standing beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While in the United States, Netanyahu also addressed the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, where he joined in on the Islamophobic attack on Representative Ilhan Omar and promoted his hardline anti-Palestinian agenda. The Israeli head of state then shuttled back to the Middle East to direct an attack on Gaza.
The U.S. recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory not only violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 497 of 1981, which identifies the 700 square mile region as occupied territory. It is also a deliberate attempt to colonize Syria and weaken the right of Palestinians and all those displaced by Israeli aggression to return to their land. Israel’s occupation and annexation of the region decades ago reveals that imperialism and its clients have long planned to dismember Syria.
Protesters say: ‘Golan is Arab and Syrian’
In Syrian cities, major cities in the Arab world, and especially throughout the Golan Heights, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest Trump’s decision. These protests have received scant coverage in the major U.S. media.
Prensa Latina reports that in Golan, Syrian authorities, local leaders and social groups issued a joint statement expressing, “The people of the occupied Syrian Golan assert to everyone, including the U.S. government, that stability in the region will not be achieved through this continued occupation and by supporting and consolidating the racial policies of the Zionist entity.”
At one Golan demonstration, Adnan al-Safari said, “If Trump wants to give land to Israel, it is better to give it one or two of his states in America.” According to Prensa Latina.
Haeil Sharaf, another Golan protestor, said, “from here we say the Golan is Arab and Syrian, and neither Trump nor any other person can decide its fate.”
Half a century of Israeli occupation
The Golan Heights is an extremely important part of Syria. It is strategic, as Mount Herman is the highest point in the region. Now the Israeli military uses those heights to spy on the region.
In an arid area of the world, the Golan Heights is water rich and feeds the Jordan River and tributaries going to Lebanon and Jordan. This water is now stolen and redirected to Israel. Tel Aviv currently receives 15 percent of its potable water from the region, after a highly inequitable distribution of the Jordan River system, according to a study by the London School of Economics.
It has rich farmland. In its half-century of occupation, Israel has expropriated this farmland by forcing more than 130,000 Golan Syrians to leave their land, and by destroying 164 villages and 112 family farms.
It is rich in oil. Israel has granted a U.S. company, Genie Energy, the first license to explore oil and gas in the Golan. Genie Energy is advised by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who used his connections to profit off of the wars he helped start in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as for a brief moment the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela).
It is only 40 miles from Damascus, placing an Israeli military presence dangerously close to Syria’s capital. Throughout the Syrian war, Israel used the Golan Heights as its base to assist religious extremist militias trying to dismember Syria.
No matter what Netanyahu or Trump may do or say, however, the Golan Heights is really not theirs to take, or to give away. The Arab people have made clear through protest this week that it belongs to the people of the region, and is Syrian territory, and this will not change.