By Arlene Bridges Samuels, CBN Israel—
Traveling north to Israel’s Golan Heights is an adventuresome journey of hairpin turns, vineyards, and vistas of the snow-capped 9,000-foot Mount Hermon. Yet despite an ancient history wrapped in boundless beauty, ominous warning signs about uncleared minefields from the 1967 Six-Day War still dot the landscape—and reflect ongoing controversy.
I have often visited the Golan Heights before, during, and after serving on the staff of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA. On some visits, my tour groups might see two faces of the Golan. As we rode in four-wheelers on paved and dirt roads—giving us up-close looks at the fields, wildflowers, and trees—we marveled at its beauty. But sitting on the Israel/Syria border during Syria’s horrific civil war, my groups learned firsthand from expert military briefings that were punctuated by bombs in the background. One year, following the 2018 Christian Media Summit, I navigated hairpin turns on the Jordanian side of the Golan. Gripping the steering wheel in the evening shadows, I—along with my good friend Robin—finally arrived after dark! Relieved, we each took a deep breath, stepped out of the car, and shared a Shabbat with new friends and a delicious meal. They made the harrowing drive worthwhile!
Falling in love with the scenic Golan Heights and its history is easy to do. So, when Israel made headlines about the Golan late last month—on December 26, 2021—I embraced it as good news, since the government’s plans will enhance Israel’s security and sovereignty. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his cabinet announced their goal to double the population of the Golan Heights over the next five years. The Knesset approved a $317 million plan to build 7,300 homes. Fittingly, they met in a small village, Mevo Hama (“Gateway”). Located a mile from the Sea of Galilee, the kibbutz is considered the southernmost location in the Golan.
A predictable media outcry ensued over Israel’s decision, as if Israel was the problem. In its regrettable habit of excluding key facts and context, the media conveniently ignored the 19 years of Syrian aggression against Israel before the Jewish nation captured the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War. In a December 29, 2021, article by Hadar Sela at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), she writes, “During the years between 1949 and 1967, a generation of children who came to be known as the ‘shelters generation’ grew up in Gadot and many other nearby villages and kibbutzim and it was this difficult reality which led a delegation from the area to press the Prime Minister of the time, Levi Eshkol, to capture the Golan Heights during the last day and a half of the Six-Day War.”
Also omitted by the mainstream media was Israel’s significant offer right after the war: to return the Golan in exchange for peace. The now-famous “Three No’s” entered the Arab vernacular when they met in September 1967 in Khartoum, Sudan. The Arab League announced, “No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, and No negotiations with Israel.”
Fortunately, the Abraham Accords have changed many minds about those “no’s.” Years have passed since that utterance. Today, there are 53,000 Golan Heights residents—both Jews and Arabs—who will benefit from 2,000 newly created jobs, more agricultural initiatives, and additional housing to accommodate the increase in population. Living peaceably in the area are 27,000 Jews, 24,000 Druze, and 2,000 Alawite Muslims. Also planned in the new venture are transportation systems along with educational and healthcare facilities. Continue Reading….