Thousands of Syrian residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights are expected to boycott the first municipal elections imposed by Israel on the area (as part of local elections being held throughout the country this coming October), rejecting what they call the “Israelization” of the territory.
Following a decision handed down by Israel’s Supreme Court last year to hold, for the first time ever, municipal elections in October 2018 for the occupied Golan’s 26,000 Syrian residents, local leaders and village elders are calling for a full boycott of the elections, dubbing it a “red line.”
“With regards to the Golan Heights families, we are Syrian Arabs living under Israeli occupation and there is no possible way for us to accept these elections imposed on us,” Abu Wadih, an elder from Majdal Shams, told Al Jazeera.
Israel began its occupation of the 1,800 sq km heights after capturing it from Syria in the 1967 War. It subsequently expelled over 130,000 Syrians and destroyed the majority of the 340 towns and villages in the area, leaving only the villages of Majdal Shams, Ain Qinya, Masadi and Buqatha standing. Today there are approximately 26,000 Syrians living in the area.
Bassam Safadi, a local journalist, told Al Jazeera that once the community leaders have made this decision on the elections, the entire community would follow. “When it comes out from these leaders, it will be rejected by the entire population, as it was in the 1980s when the Israeli occupation tried to impose their nationality on us.” Safadi added that “These elections are undemocratic, unrepresentative and it is part of Israel’s plan to create tensions within our community.”
Statistics provided by local NGO Al Marsad, the Arab Human Rights Centre in the Golan Heights, show that from the beginning of the occupation in 1967 up until March 2018, only 6.5% of the Syrians still residing in the occupied Golan have applied for Israeli citizenship. Furthermore, 69% of those who received citizenship did so because of birth, marriage or a change of residence.
A comprehensive 144-page report published in March 2018 by Al Marsad provides sobering details of Israel’s decades-long entrenchment of its control over the territory using education, land expropriation, expansion of settlement industries, family separation and agriculture as weapons.
In the agricultural sector today, Syrian residents only have access to 20% of the occupied Golan’s arable land, while Israeli 26,000 settlers living in 32 illegal settlements possess and are able to cultivate 80%.
On December 14, 1981 Israel passed the Golan Heights Law, that extended Israeli “laws, jurisdiction and administration” to the Golan Heights. Although the law effectively annexed the territory to Israel, it did not explicitly spell out the formal annexation. The area has since been administered as Golan sub-district part of Israel’s Northern District. The Golan Heights Law is not recognized internationally,and was immediately declared ″null and void and without international legal effect″ by United Nations Security Council Resolution 497 that was adopted a few days after the Law’s passage. The resolution demanded “that Israel, the occupying Power, should rescind forthwith its decisions.” Thus, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 that declared the Golan Heights Israeli-occupied territory continues to apply.