Residents: Gov't won't put Golan in enemy hands

Residents hold emergency meeting; Syrian tour operator tells Post of tourist plans for Golan Heights.

sign golan syria 224 (photo credit: AP)
sign golan syria 224
(photo credit: AP)
"We have many plans to improve this area. The Syrian side of the Golan is full of resorts and restaurants," Abdulkarim al-Jundi, a tour operator from Damascus and a member of the Syrian Tourism and Travel Association's board, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday in a telephone interview. Fouad Hilal, vice chairman of the Travel Association, did not sound as optimistic regarding the peace talks announced on Wednesday. "I am sure the Syrian government has many projects, and I am sure they will be implemented when the Golan Heights are returned to Syria. But for the time being we don't foresee this happening," Hilal told the Post by telephone. While the Syrians may have been looking ahead to a future with the Golan, on the Israeli side Golan residents and tour operators just seemed worried. "As a resident of the Golan Heights this news make me worry because they are talking about my home and my personal future," said Menahem Baruch, who runs Israel's only ski resort. "As manager of the Hermon ski site I am also aware of the fact that there were many talks and efforts to hold talks for many years and nothing came out of it. I hope this will be the case this time as well. We all want peace and peace is an abstract idea but anyone who wants peace also wants to keep his place and his home. I think we should speak after the dust settles," Baruch said. The Golan Regional Council called an emergency meeting in Katzrin on Wednesday evening. "The sky hasn't fallen on us yet and no one has announced a peace agreement with Syria," council head Eli Malka told the Post. "We understand that there is a [peace] process Israel must pursue and we understand that the prime minister [Ehud Olmert] is preparing to face a police investigation, but we also know that most Israeli Knesset members reject the idea of withdrawing from the Golan and that there is a strong majority in the Knesset that opposes the idea, as does most of the Israeli public. "Although it is worrisome, we can't imagine the Israeli government would dare to give important Israeli territory to the hands of the Iranians, the Syrians and Hizbullah, and thereby endanger the existence of the Israeli state," Malka said. "We [Golan residents] are depending on a significant majority among the public and in the Knesset who will act sanely and wisely and won't allow the prime minister, who is acting based on extraneous considerations, to send Israel into a tailspin. This move is bad for Israel, bad for the Americans, bad for the Arab world and bad for a future peace," Malka said at the end of the emergency meeting. But not all Israelis sounded worried. The residents of Ghajar, an Alawite town that straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border but was Syrian before the Six Day War, expressed hopes that the new diplomatic initiative will succeed. After 1978 the village started to grow northward into Lebanese territory, subsuming the Lebanese village of Wazzani. Because of this expansion, by 2000 the village was split by the UN-delinated Blue Line international border. The northern half of the village thus came under Lebanese control when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. Services and infrastructure for the 2,300 resident of Ghajar have been neglected by the government since the IDF withdrew from Lebanon and left them with an uncertain future. "We would love to see a peace agreement reached between Syria and Israel and the Golan Heights under Syrian sovereignty, the way it was up to 1967. This is a Syrian village on a Syrian land, there is no other way to look at it," Ghajar local council spoken Hatib Najib said. "Since the IDF withdrew from Lebanon there has been no one authority to turn to. No one can enter the village, not the firemen in case of a fire and not an ambulance in case of a medical emergency. If we want to cultivate our land or to go to work or to the university, we need to coordinate it with the IDF in advance. It is simply unbearable. "The Israeli authorities charge us all the compulsory taxes but they don't give us anything in return. They say they can't pay us compensation for the houses that were ruined during the Second Lebanon War because it's Lebanese land but they don't forget to take our money. The Lebanese also refuse to supply any of the basic services we need. Clearly, we will be glad to see any peace deal and the return of the Golan to Syrian control," Najib said.