It came out last month that Israel has been using the cover of the war in Syria to entrench its colonial occupation of the south-west of the country by expanding the illegal settlement of Katzrin. It has now emerged that Israel is also using the tactic of “greenwashing” in the occupied Golan Heights.
The settlement of Katzrin was built on the ruins of the Syrian villages of Qasrin, Shqef and Sanawber, in the Golan Heights region. Their inhabitants were native Syrians, expelled in 1967 by the invading Israeli army. They fled from their homes and have never been allowed to return.
It was not long after the invasion that Israel moved to take advantage of the situation by building strategic colonies for Jews only on illegally-occupied Syrian land. In 1981, Israel formally annexed the region, in defiance of international law. While the Israeli state claims the Golan as “part of Israel”, the UN and international law recognise it as a Syrian region under a belligerent military occupation.
Nevertheless, after almost 50 years, Israel’s colonial military occupation of the Golan continues, but the Syrians have never given up on their indisputable claim to the area. Although the occupation began at the same time as those in the West Bank and Gaza, it tends to be forgotten.
Al-Marsad, a Syrian human rights group based in the occupied Golan, wrote to the EU and the UN Security Council this month calling for them to act against the most recent Israeli encroachment. The group drew attention to a new Israeli plot to seize 25,000 acres of Syrian land around the village of Majdal Shams, where Syrians still live under Israeli occupation.
The plan would surround the village on two sides (the north and west) with the so-called “Hermon National Park”, hemming-in the village and leaving Syrian citizens there with little option but to build homes for their growing families on agricultural land to the south (to the east lies the ceasefire fence with Syria).
The masking of such a blatant colonial land-grab as a benevolent-sounding “national park” is a classic Israeli tactic, very similar to that used against the Palestinians. “Greenwashing” is the term used to describe the cover-up of unjust practices and colonial occupation by giving it an “ecologically friendly” façade.
“The designation of land by the Israeli authorities as a ‘national park’, ‘abandoned property’ or for ‘military or public needs’ is a tactic used regularly either to prevent the expansion of Syrian and Palestinian communities under occupation, or to expropriate land for settlement construction,” explains Al-Marsad.
One year ago, the New York Times sent its ever-compliant then Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren to the Golan to write a typically gushing puff piece about how wonderful Israeli war crimes and occupation really are. However, in the article she reported an extremely telling comment by Naftali Bennett, a senior Israeli government minister from the ultra-right-wing, racist Jewish Home Party: “I think we have an opportunity here, a rare opportunity, and I think it’s vital,” he said, speaking about the context of the war raging in Syria. “Given the storm we’re in that can go on for the next five or 50 years, nobody knows, we need some constants, and one big constant is for the big mountain of the Golan to be Israeli.”
As I have reported for years now, the prime Israeli strategic goal with regards to the war in Syria has been to keep a civil war raging for as long as possible so that all sides “bleed” to death. A weaker Syria means a stronger Israel; that’s the Israelis’ sickeningly cynical logic. For this reason, Israel has been opportunistically supporting Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in the Golan.
As well as a strategic goal unto itself, though, adding fuel to the Syrian furnace gives Israel some cover to expand its colonial occupation of the Golan. Bennett’s comments are typically candid. As a war criminal himself who was involved directly in lethal Israeli atrocities against Lebanese civilians and UN peacekeepers in the war of 1996, Bennett is happy to have “killed lots of Arabs”, as he once put it.
Rudoren reported that “the aggressive development goal” of 100,000 new Israeli settlers in the Golan in five years is being promoted by Bennett, “one of many Israeli leaders and thinkers seizing on the chaos in Syria to solidify Israel’s hold on the Golan.”
It is this plan that we now see being executed. Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights must come to an immediate end.