06 June 2009

The crown of Gaulantis

This is majestic Har Kheirmon (aka Mt Heirmon) in the Golan Heights district of northern Israel, anciently called Gaulantis, and Bashan as in the home of the giant king Og. Far from being a totured, twisted, desolate land, it ranges from green and lush orchards, to grassy meadows and fields. It is very open, and there are signs of ancient vulcanism. But it is no more of a wasteland than an English moor or the Highlands of Scotland. Very rural, but productive.

It may be of interest to note that the Golan Heights was included in the British Mandate of Palestine, and slated as Jewish land. There was a long Jewish history on those heights. The British loved cartography, sensible borders and a neat arrangement of geographical features. The Golan, including the Kheirmon massif, rivers and streams running down from its slopes, the Hula valley below, and Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) all make up a tidy watershed system. In 1923 the Golan was transferred from Palestine to the French Syrian mandate for a variety of reasons and trade-offs, without consultation with all parties concerned. Something to do with French-British plans well outside of the Golan area.

In the years between 1948 and 1967, before the Golan was brought back into the natural and agreed-upon scheme of borders, how did the Syrians use their "beloved ancient Syrian" region? The shelled Israeli villiages below, and tried to cut off the natural flow of water from the high ground they controlled. What has israel done up there since 1967? It has established a valuable agricultural community, including winneries, and a prosperous tourist economy.

There are any number of ways to look at border delineation between future states by colonial powers. But one thing is certain, the Golan Heights makes much more sense inside of Israel, was intended to be inside Israel, and the Syrians have a very brief and very thin claim based on Britain making a private backroom deal with France.

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