July 19, 2018
News Press Release

ZOA’s Klein’s Congressional Testimony – U.S. Should Recognize Israeli Sovereignty Over the Golan Heights

1922 - Final territory, includes Golan Hts., assigned to the Jewish National Home (after Britain carved off the eastern portion of the Palestine Mandate, and gave it to the Hashemites to form Transjordan, later Jordan).

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) released the following statement:

ZOA National President Morton Klein’s comprehensive, compelling written and oral testimony in Congress, on Tuesday July 17, demonstrated that it is in the interest of the United States, Israel and our allies for the United States to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  Mr. Klein’s detailed written testimony is available here.  A video of the full Congressional hearing, before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on National Security, chaired by Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL), is available here. (Mr. Klein’s oral testimony begins at 50:50.) Among many other things, Mr. Klein explained that:

  • Israeli sovereignty over the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights is a key bulwark against radical regimes and affiliates that threaten the security and stability of the United States, Israel, the entire Middle East region, and beyond.  
  • There are no possible security arrangements that can substitute for the topographical advantages, early warning locations and strategic depth provided by Israel’s retention of the Golan.  (See Mr. Klein’s written testimony at pages 3 and 21-27.)
  • The Golan Heights’ strategically-located high ground provides Israel with an irreplaceable ability to monitor and take counter-measures against growing threats at and near the Syrian-Israel border.  These growing threats include the extremely dangerous hegemonic expansion of the Iranian-Syrian-North Korean axis; and the presence in Syria, close to the Israeli border, of: Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Quds forces; thousands of Iranian-armed Hezbollah fighters; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (another Iranian proxy); Syrian forces; and radical Sunni Islamist groups including the al Nusra Levantine Conquest Front (an incarnation of al Qaeda) and ISIS.  Indeed, then-candidate Donald Trump confirmed during a major speech in March 2016 that Iran is “in Syria trying to establish another front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.”  
  • The Iranian regime is also attempting to build an 800-mile land bridge to the Mediterranean, running through Iraq and Syria.  Such a land bridge would enable Iran to obtain naval ports, far from Iran’s mainland, that enhance Iran’s ability to deliver advanced weaponry and support to Hezbollah and Iran’s other proxies that wreak terror throughout the world.  This major strategic threat makes it more important than ever to shore up Israel’s position in the Golan.  
  • Alarming recent incidents confirm the presence of the Iranian front in Syria, and vividly demonstrate the necessity for assuring Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.  During the recent past (including just last week), Israel has intercepted drones and rockets launched and controlled from Syria, with the assistance of Iranian Quds forces.  In response, Israel’s air force destroyed Iranian/Quds Forces and Syrian aerial and launch facilities in Syria.  In February, surface-to-air missiles in Syria shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet.  See list and description of recent Iranian/Syrian launches of drones and rockets into Israel, at pages 18-21 of Mr. Klein’s written testimony.
  • America’s moderate Sunni Arab allies could very well be quietly pleased by U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, in that this would help to stem Iranian aggression and the very same malign actors confronting our Arab allies. Evidencing the real interests of the moderate Sunni states, this past May, after the Iranian Quds Force launched 20 rockets from Syria into the Israeli Golan Heights, and the Israeli Air Force responded by striking dozens of military targets in Syria that belonged to Iran’s Quds Force, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister tweeted that so long as Iran uses its forces and missiles to try and destabilize the region, “it is the right of any country in the region, including Israel, to defend itself by destroying sources of danger.”  (See @khalidalkhalifa– May 10, 2018 tweet; and “ZOA Praises Arab/Muslim Bahrain for Supporting Israel’s Right to Defend Itself,” May 17, 2018.)
  • The necessity for recognizing Israel’s retention of the Golan was also dramatically demonstrated during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Israel’s presence on the Golan provided Israel with the strategic depth (of 8 to 16 miles) that enabled Israeli forces to assemble and push back Syria’s initially effective surprise invasion.  Without the Golan, Syrian forces could have overrun and annihilated Israel.  
  • Strengthening Israel’s ability to retain the Golan is essential because Israel faces danger on multiple (5 major) fronts, and cannot afford to be weakened on the Syrian front when facing these multipronged dangers. The 5 fronts are:  (i) Syria; (ii) Lebanon, where Hezbollah has over 100,000 advanced rockets pointed at Israel; (iii) Gaza, where Iranian proxies Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad incessantly attack Israel with thousands of rockets (including 200 projectiles this past Friday and Saturday), terror tunnels and arson kites, and attempt to invade Israel to murder Jews; (iv) Palestinian-Arab terrorism, including knifing, shooting and car ramming attacks, emanating largely from Arab villages in the Palestinian Authority; and (v) the Egyptian Sinai border, where ISIS affiliate Ansar Bait al-Maqdis and other terrorist groups attempt to infiltrate and attack Israelis.(See The 5 Major Threats Facing Israel,” IDF News, Apr. 6, 2015 https://www.idf.il/en/minisites/terror-and-threats/the-5-major-threats-facing-israel/)
  • Because Israel is America’s front line in the war to defeat radical Islamist terror, it is surely in America’s self-interest to ensure that Israel maintains and enhances her ability to defend herself.
  • Conferring U.S. recognition is moreover “the right thing to do.”  Israel has the strongest ancient and modern historical claim, evidenced by numerous archeological finds, including dozens of ancient Jewish synagogues, villages and towns in the Golan Heights.  The Golan Heights is a part of the biblical territory promised to the Patriarch Abraham and the people of Israel for an everlasting covenant, recounted in Genesis 15.  The strong Jewish presence in the Golan dated back from Biblical times through the 8th century CE.  

The famous Jewish city of Gamla, founded in the Golan in the first century BCE, and often referred to as the “Masada of the North,” was the site of battles in 66-67 CE, reported by Josephus Flavius.  The Jews initially repelled the Roman soldiers, but the Romans returned and slaughtered thousands of Jews.  Thousands of other Jews jumped to their deaths so as not to be enslaved or murdered by the Romans.  Gamla’s ancient synagogue, mikvah (ritual bath), homes, fortifications, Hebrew coins and other artifacts were uncovered in archeological excavations since the 1970s. Today Gamla is an Israeli national park and tourist site.  In 2016, at a cabinet in the Israeli town of Ma’aleh Gamla, next to the Gamla archaeological site, PM Netanyahu vowed that the Golan will remain part of Israel forever, and that the border will not change.  The prime minister added:

Without the Golan, Syrian forces could have overrun and annihilated Israel…. Maintaining and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan is the truest route to peace and a more stable world and Middle East.

In the stormy region around us, Israel is the stabilizing factor; Israel is the solution, not the problem. . . . [A]fter 50 years it is time that the international community realized that the Golan will remain under Israeli sovereignty.  The Golan was an integral part of the Land of Israel in ancient times. That is documented by dozens of ancient synagogues around us. And the Golan is an integral part of the State of Israel in the present time.”   (See Netanyahu Vows Golan Heights Will Remain Part of Israel Forever,” by Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, Apr. 17, 2016.)

Other important Jewish historical sites in the Golan, with remains of remarkable synagogues and other Jewish antiquities, include the villages of Katzrin and Umm El-Kanatir, where Jews continued to live through the 749 CE, when an earthquake struck the area.

Jews again returned to the Golan in the 1880s, while it was under Ottoman rule (1517-1917), and purchased and farmed extensive lands in the Golan.  Jewish lands in the Golan were expropriated by Syria.  (See Mr. Klein’s written testimony at pages 5-8.)

  • Israel also has the legal right to the Golan – stemming from the Golan’s inclusion in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, agreed to by the U.S. in an internationally binding treaty.  The Mandate required Britain to hold the area in trust for the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland.  However, Britain unlawfully traded the Golan to the French for rights to Iraqi oil fields.  U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan would thus implement a treaty obligation that has been the law of the land in the United States for 93 years, and help rectify Britain’s 95-year-old wrong.  (See Mr. Klein’s written testimony at pages 8-12, including maps of the 1922 mandate area, which included the Golan Heights.)
  • In addition, Syria unlawfully seized further key areas of the Golan, abutting Lake Kinneret, during Syria’s (and 5 other Arab nations’) aggressive war against Israel in 1948-1949.  The “pre-1967 lines” were thus lines that resulted from a combination of Syrian aggression in 1948-1949, and British perfidy in 1923.  The Golan was rightfully Jewish land, designated for the Jewish State.
  • UN Resolution 242, following Israel regaining the Golan in a defensive war in 1967, did not require Israel to return to the pre-1967 lines.  Moreover, UN Resolution 242 first and foremost entitles Israel to secure and recognized borders.  (Id.)
  • There was no peace during the 21 years when Syria fully controlled the Golan (1946-1967).  Syria neglected the Golan’s civilian development.  Instead, Syria used the Golan Heights to continually harass and shoot at Israeli farmers and other Israeli civilians in the Hula Valley (Galilee) below; attempted to divert vital Israeli water sources; and used the Golan as a staging ground to wage out-and-out war against Israel in 1948-1949, 1967 and 1973.  
  • By contrast to Syria’s neglect and abuses, during the 51 years that the Golan has been under the State of Israel’s governance, Israel has developed the area into an oasis of agriculture, wineries, tourism, archeological restoration and preservation, and religious co-existence.  
  • Israel protects the lives, and religious rights and sites of all faiths in the Israeli Golan.
  • Israel’s field hospital in the Golan Heights provides vital humanitarian assistance to Syrian victims of Syria’s civil war.
  • By contrast, Bashar al-Assad Syrian regime, and other groups that would move in to the Golan in Israel’s absence, have a record of brutalizing and murdering civilians, creating massive refugee crises, and destroying the world’s religious and archeological heritage.  
  • After waiting half a century for Syria to make peace, it makes no sense to withhold recognition of Israeli sovereignty for additional decades or even centuries, in deference to the pipe dream of an imaginary, suicidal, future Israeli-Syrian “peace deal.”  Syria rejected Ehud Barak’s over-generous, foolhardy offer to cede the Golan in return for peace. Syria has not even engaged in negotiations for the past eight years.  (See Mr. Klein’s written testimony at pages 13-15.)
  • Syria has moreover fallen into such disarray that there is no reasonable actor in Syria capable of making or enforcing an agreement.  
  • In recent years, Syria and other groups operating in Syria have repeatedly breached the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria. In addition to the drone and rocket incursions into Israel, United Nations observers in the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria (members of UNDOF, the UN Disengagement Observer Force) have been attacked and kidnapped.  Thus, even if an Israeli-Syrian peace deal could be negotiated, it is virtually a certainty that it would not be kept.  (See Mr. Klein’s written testimony at pages 15-17, including the United Nations’ own reports about Syrian violations.)
  • The “land for peace” mantra has repeatedly been shown to be an abysmal failure, including on the Golan.  The same areas of the eastern Golan that Israel withdrew from, under the 1974 Israel-Syria Separation of Forces Agreement, are now staging ground for attacks on Israel. 
  • It would be a humanitarian disaster to uproot the Golan Heights’ flourishing communities of about 50,000 residents (about 30,000 Jews and 20,000 Druze).

In sum, maintaining and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan is the truest route to peace and a more stable world and Middle East.

ZOA also praises Chairman Ron DeSantis for initiating this Congressional hearing and for his excellent introductory statement (see Cong. DeSantis opening statement at video minutes 00:00 to 06:49), and Mr. Klein’s co-panelists Dr. Michael Doran, Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold, and Professor Eugene Kontorovich, who all spoke extremely well in favor of U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.  

Among many other wonderful points made by these co-panelists, Ambassador Gold mentioned the little-known fact that the uncertainty regarding the Golan Heights’ status, due to the absence of U.S. recognition, has had an adverse impact on the Golan Heights’ 20,000-person Druze community.  Although some members of the Druze community have accepted Israeli citizenship, other members of the Druze community would like to accept Israeli citizenship (which is available to them), but hesitate to do so, for fear that if the Golan is ceded to Syria, then they and their families will be persecuted by the Syrians for having accepted Israeli citizenship. U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights will help assure the stability of Israel’s loyal and important Druze community.

The only witness at the hearing who opposed U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights was former Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer. Amb. Kurtzer has a long, ignominious record of hostility towards the Jewish State, from his graduate school days onwards.  Kurtzer’s statements, policies and actions have provoked criticism from Israeli and American Jewish leaders, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir; the Labor Party’s former Israeli negotiator and ambassador Itamar Rabinovitch; and former AIPAC Executive Director Morris Amitay.  (See extensive discussion of Kurtzer’s hostile-to-Israel record at: “Five Fmr. U.S. Amb. to Israel Who Criticized Nominee Friedman Are Hostile to Israel Are Biased – Not Credible,”  Feb. 17, 2017.)

Kurtzer absurdly argued at the hearing that refusing U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan somehow leaves Israel with the “moral high ground.”  

In fact, the moral and rational course here is to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, thereby assuring Israel’s continued ability to defend herself and help protect the larger region and the entire world from Iranian, Syrian, ISIS and other terrorist groups’ malign activities.