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Golan Heights

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Golan Heights - A historic region of Israel ceded by the British to the French in 1923.  The Golan Heights are territory in the northeast of Israel or southwest of Syria. Israel occupied the Heights in the 1967 Six Day War.  The map shows the approximate areas that may be referred to as the Golan Heights. The area conquered by Israel includes part of the Golan Heights and the northwest area of the Hermon.

The Golan Heights, are composed of two geologically distinct areas divided by Nahal Sa'ar: the Golan Heights proper, about 1,070 sq. km., and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range, about 100 sq. km. The heights also include an area which is not controlled by Israel containing Quneitra and other towns.

Golan Heights

Source: Wikipedia Commons

This map is declared to be in the public domain.

In the Old Testament, the Golan Heights was referred to as "Bashan." The Bashan was promised to the Patriarch Abraham and the people of Israel in the "Brit Bein HaBetarim" (The Covenant of Abraham beteween the cattle prts) (Genesis 15). The word "Golan" derives from the biblical city of "Golan in Bashan," (Deuteronomy 4:43, Joshua 21:27). The area was assigned to the tribe of Menashe (Joshua 13:29-31). I

IIn the  first temple period (953-586 BCE), the area was contested between the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom based inn Damascus. King Ahab of Israel (reigned c. 874-852 BCE) defeated Ben-Hadad I of Damascus near the site of Kibbutz Afik in the southern Golan (I Kings 20:26-30), and the prophet Elisha prophesied that King Jehoash of Israel (reigned c. 801-785 BCE) would defeat Ben-Hadad III of Damascus, also near Kibbutz Afik (11 Kings 13:17).

In the Second Temple period, late 6th and 5th centuries BCE, the Golan heights area was settled by returning Jewish exiles from Babylonia. It is known that in the mid 2nd century BCE, Judah Maccabee and his brothers came to the support Jewish Golan towns when the latter came under attack from their non-Jewish neighbors (I Maccabees 5). The Hasmonean King Alexander Jannai (reigned 103-76 BCE) later added the Heights to his kingdom.

Jewish settlement continued for at least 700 years after that.Josephus Flavius (Ant. iv. 5. 3; Wars, ii. 6.3) enumerates four provinces of Bashan,Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Auranitis and Batanaea.  Gaulanitis probably corredpponds to the modern Golan.

The district capital was Gamla, which was the area's last Jewish stronghold to resist the Romans during the Great Revolt, falling in the year 67. Despite the failure of the revolt, Jewish communities on the Golan continued, and even flourished, during the Talmudic period. The remains of no less than 25 synagogues from the period between the revolt and the Islamic conquest in 636, when organized Jewish settlement on the Golan came to an end, have been excavated. A basalt lintel stone was found in the village of Dabura, north of Qazrin, with the engraved inscription, "This is the Beit Midrash (religious school) of Rabbi Eliezer Hakapar". This is the only archeological evidence for the existence of a "Beit Midrash" in Talmudic period.

The Tosefta of "Braitat hatehumin" includes the Golan and Transjordan in the holy borders of the land. It obligates the Golan with the Mitzvot imposed on the land: Trumot, Ma'asrot and Shevi'it. The Jerusalem Talmud lists seven Jewish towns in the Suseita region, some of whose names have been preserved to this very day: Nob, Hissafiya and Kfar Harub, all in the Suseita region. Permanent settlements in the Golan disappeared with the Arab conquest, and it became a land of nomads and brigands.

In the 19th century, the heads of the Zionist Movement and the people of the old cities of Safed and Tiberias viewed the Golan as part of the effort of resettling the land of Israel. The Jewish presence on the Golan was renewed in 1886, when the "Bnei Yehuda" society of Safed purchased a plot of land in Ramataniya village in central Golan, four kilometers north-west of the present day religious moshav of Keshet. They named their settlement "Golan BeBashan" and settled there for about a year.

In 1887, they purchased lands between the modern day Bnei Yehuda and Kibbutz Ein Gev. This community survived until 1920, when two of its last members were murdered in the anti-Jewish riots which erupted in the spring of that year. In 1891, Baron Rothschild purchased approximately 18,000 acres of land about 15 km east of Ramat Hamagshimim, in what is now Syria. First Aliyah (1881-1903) immigrants established five small communities on this land, but were forced to leave by the Turks in 1898. The lands were farmed until 1947 by the Palestine Colonization Association and the Israel Colonization Association, when they were seized by the Syrian army. Most of the Golan Heights were included within Mandatory Palestine when the Mandate was formally granted in 1922, but Britain ceded the area to France in the Franco-British Agreement of 7 March 1923. The Golan Heights became part of Syria after the termination of the French mandate in 1944.

During the 1948-49 War of Independence  the Syrians army attacked the adjacent Jewish areas and managed to advance along the border, beyond the international borderlines. After the war, the Syrians  built extensive fortifications on the Heights, which were used for shelling of civilian targets in Israel. 140 Israelis were killed and many more were injured in these attacks between 1949 and 1967, ad particularly in the spring of 1957. Because of this pounding, the IDF conquered the Golan Heights during the Six day war.

By 1970, there were 12 Jewish communities on the Golan. The Golan heights were the focus of fierce fighting during the Yom Kippur War. On 6 October 1973, Syrian forces attacked across the 1967 cease-fire line and made their greatest gains in the central Golan, almost reaching the escarpment, before being pushed back beyond the 1967 line by the main Israeli counter-attack, which began on the morning of 8 October. At present there are 33 communities on the Golan Heights, including the city of Qatzrin. Israel indicated its willingness to return the entire Golan to Syria up to the international border. But former Syrian President Hafez Assad insisted on Israeli cession of areas beyond the International border and insisted the that new border would give Syria a presence on the Sea of Galilee. Additional complications are introduced by the Lebanese claim that the Sheba farms, a tiny area in the Northwest Golan, belong to Syria. The Syrians do not officially recognize Lebanon as a separate country, bu rather, in some sense, designate Lebanon, like Palestine, a part of "greater Syria."


Ami Isseroff

March 21, 2011

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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