publisher: Security Council, Security Council Commission on Settlements

Publishing date: 1979-07-12



Visit to the Syrian Arab Republic (26-29 May 1979)


(a) Meetings with government officials


105. The Commission arrived in Damascus on 26 May 1979 and was received the following day at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Mr. Abdul Halim Khaddam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.  He was accompanied by Dr. Haitham Keylani, Director of the International Organizations Division and other officials from the Foreign Ministry.


106. The Deputy Prime Minister welcomed the Commission and assured it of the full co-operation of his Government in the implementation of its mandate.  All that Syria expected from the Commission’s efforts, he said, was that the truth be established, because truth was more powerful than military force.  In that connexion he described Israel’s policy of settlements as nothing but the continuation of the aggressive and expansionist practices which had characterized the Zionist movement since its very beginning and which remained the real obstacle to peace.  Mr. Khaddam blamed Israel for the current situation and the United States which, he said, bore a share of the responsibility for facilitating Israel’s policy of settlement.  He also deplored that the United Nations could not take a stronger stand in that regard.


107. Referring to the policies pursued by Egypt and the United States, Mr. Khaddam emphasized that they did not serve the cause of peace in the area.  The so-called autonomy envisaged for the Palestinians in the occupied territories in the peace treaty between Israel and the Egyptian régime would apply only to the inhabitants but the land and its resources would remain indefinitely under the authority of Israel.  For the Syrian Government, it was clear therefore that such an agreement which did not tackle the real problem could not serve the cause of peace in the area.  Dr. Keylani noted in that regard as a further proof of it that the number of Israeli air raids over Lebanon had increased 10 times since the signing of the treaty.


108. In his reply, the Chairman expressed the Commission’s appreciation for the welcome extended to it and assured the Deputy Prime Minister that the contents of his statement would be reflected in the Commission’s report.  He recalled the precise terms of the Commission’s mandate and, in that context, stressed the position of all three Governments represented on the Commission as to the question of settlements.  Their vote in favour of Security Council resolution 446(1979), he added, was a clear indication of that position.


109. On the same day, 27 May 1979, the Commission held an open meeting with a Syrian delegation composed of Dr. Haitham Keylani, Major-General Adnan Tayara, head of the Syrian delegation at the Mixed Armistice Commission, Mr. Taker Houssami, Mr. Bechara Kharou and Mrs. Razan Mahfouz, all from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


110. Dr. Keylani stated that, in the view of the Syrian Government, Security Council resolution 446 (1979) was a further evidence of the concern with which the international community viewed the explosive situation in the Middle East and that situation was the result of Israel’s occupation of Arab territories and its refusal to recognize the national inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.  He pointed out that his Government considered that, in a matter which was related to the maintenance of peace and security, it was imperative for the Security Council not only to express concern but to take the relevant measures provided for in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.


111. Dr. Keylani observed also that Israel’s practices in the occupied territories – in particular the Golan Heights, where towns and villages had been replaced by Israeli settlements – were consistent with the aims of zionism which involve annexation of occupied territories and the enslavement of the local population.


112. In his reply, the Chairman noted that the purpose of the Commission is coming to Syria was to fulfil to the greatest possible extent the mandate entrusted to it by the Security Council.  It had been the intention of the Commission to visit all the parties concerned in the area.  However, the possibility for the Commission to go to the occupied Arab territories had to be ruled out because of the attitude of the Government of Israel in that respect.  In order to accomplish its task, the Commission resorted to other means of obtaining information.  It was in that spirit that the Commission had come to Syria.  The information to be provided by the Syrian Government, as well as by the witnesses, would make it possible for the Commission to provide the Security Council with additional information so that the Council, in its persistent efforts to solve the problems of the Middle East, might in the future adopt appropriate measures.


113. A closed meeting was held at which Dr. Keylani presented the position of the Syrian Government with regard to Israeli policy and practices in the occupied Arab territories, in particular the Golan Heights.  Following a historical review of the occupation of Palestine by Zionist elements, Dr. Keylani pointed out that immediately after its invasion of the Golan Heights in 1967, Israel started implementing its plan to control the whole area and to expel its inhabitants.


114. The Golan Heights before the occupation had been one of the most prosperous areas in Syria, inhabited by 142,000 people, living in 163 towns and villages.  After the occupation, Israel completely destroyed all these towns and villages with the exception of five, namely Majdal-Shams, Akaata, Massaada, Al-Ghajar and Ein-kena, and with the stones from the ruins, Israel built in their place 29 settlements for military and other purposes.  The destruction of the town of Quneitra which the Commission was going to visit was an example, he said, of what had happened in the 1,770 square kilometres still occupied by Israel.


115.   Dr. Keylani pointed out that, out of a total of 142,000 Syrian inhabitants in the Golan Heights, only 8,000 had remained while 134,000 had been expelled and compelled to take refuge in other parts of Syria, where there were also approximately 250,000 Palestinian refugees.  The Golan Heights, he continued, was ruled by a military governor with unlimited authority, including the right to appoint local councils and village mayors and to dismiss them at will.  By comparison, in the West Bank, those officials were still elected by the population.  In an attempt to annex the occupied area of Israel, the occupation authorities were constantly trying to sever all links between the Syrians remaining in the Golan area and their kin elsewhere in Syria.  In fact, the freedom of movement of the remaining inhabitants was restricted even within the five villages.  To visit another village, the inhabitants had to obtain from the military Governor a special authorization, which had to be applied for a month in advance and was valid only for a few hours subjecting the holder to imprisonment and heavy fines in case of violations.  Among the measures taken by the occupation authorities which affected more specially the conditions of life in the occupied territories were the imposition of all Israeli laws, the expropriation of large areas of agricultural land for so-called reasons of security, and the refusal to respond to humanitarian appeals by the International Red Cross, among others, for the reunification of families.


116. Commenting on the education policies of the occupation authorities in the Golan Heights, Dr. Keylani said that all Arabic curricula had been replaced with Israeli curricula and the teaching of Hebrew imposed in primary schools.  Of the many primary and secondary schools which existed before, only seven primary schools and one secondary school had been allowed to continue functioning.  Syrian graduates of the secondary school were not permitted to pursue their higher education in Syrian universities because the aim of the Israeli authorities was to channel these youths into the labour force needed in Israeli factories.  Only after repeated efforts and intervention by the International Red Cross were a few students allowed to register in the Syrian universities.  Other measures taken by the occupation authorities in the field of education in the Golan Heights included the intimidation and dismissal of qualified Arab teachers; and educational courses which were compulsory for the 8,000 Syrian inhabitants and aimed at indoctrinating them to serve the aims and purposes of zionism and the Israeli policies.  Further information, said Dr. Keylani, on the educational system imposed by the Israelis in the Golan Heights could be found in the reports published by UNESCO, in particular, in documents No. 20/C/113 of 28 September 1978 and document No. 104 EX/52.


117. Turning to the question of the geographical changes that had taken place in the Golan Heights as a result of the occupation, Dr. Keylani stated that the whole area had been turned into a military fortress with 29 settlements, a synagogue, a military museum, as well as new roads which are used essentially for military purposes.  He recalled by comparison the agricultural prosperity of that area before Israel’s occupation.


118. On the question of military rule in the Golan Heights, Dr. Keylani noted that Israel had established a military court in Tiberias to administer Israeli laws over the Golan Heights.  Ninety-five per cent of the judgements, he said, delivered by the court related to so-called security matters for which the sentence was life imprisonment or hard labour for life with no possibility of appeal.


119. As to the settlements, Dr. Keylani stated that the 1979 budget of Israel showed the allocations set aside for expanding 11 of the existing 29 settlements.  In that connexion, according to a statement by the Israeli Chief of Administration of Settlements, Israel intended to establish, in 1979, 20 new settlements, 5 of which would be in the Golan Heights and it would take over all the necessary land in order to settle 58,000 families thereon over a period of five years.


120. To be able to pursue that policy Israel had succeeded in expelling most of the inhabitants of the Golan Heights through various means, including restriction of movement, threats, intimidation, burning of crops, depriving them of their means of livelihood and imposing on them heavy taxation beyond their means.  He also pointed out that those settlements were all military fortresses and that the settlers, who were from Al-Jadna, a military-agricultural organization that worked in liaison with the Israeli army, were of military age.  This, he said was an additional means of pressure on an unarmed population.


121. With regard to the nature of the Israeli settlements, he expressed the conviction of his Government that these settlements were meant to be permanent, as confirmed by statements made by various Israeli officials and by the slogan which Israel had applied to the Golan Heights since 1967, namely “Security before peace”.  Although the Golan Heights area was included in the security and defence plans of Israel, Dr. Keylani said, security was only a pretext to annex the region since all the relevant United Nations documents indicated that before 1967 the Syrian Army artillery fired only on Israeli military bulldozers entering the no-man’s land between Israel and Syria and not on any Israeli settlements.


122. Referring to the differences in the policy of Israel regarding the various Arab territories under occupation, Dr. Keylani observed that Israeli practices varied according to Israel’s goals and to the size of the population in each territory.  In the Golan Heights, Israel had achieved the following objectives: evacuation of the area by almost all its inhabitants; thwarting of any armed resistance by the remaining inhabitants; reduction to a minimum of the number of violations of human rights, given the small number of inhabitants remaining in the area; exploitation of expropriated fertile lands for Israel’s benefit; and establishment of a military zone to defend Israel against Syria.  In connexion with the evacuation of inhabitants, he recalled that in 1967 the Syrian inhabitants wanted to stay in the Golan Heights but that they had been forcibly driven out.  For example, in the town of Quneitra, Israel had compelled the inhabitants to leave the area at night through minefields, thereby causing heavy casualties.


123. In the course of the exchange of views that ensued, Dr. Keylani said, that, between 1967 and 1973, Israeli authorities had attempted to impose Israeli citizenship on the Syrian inhabitants.  Having met with categorical resistance in that regard, they had continued to deny them the attributes of Syrian citizenship and, furthermore, since 1973, they had imposed Israeli citizenship on the Syrian children born under occupation, in the belief that with time the opposition would disappear.

124. On the question of religion, Dr. Keylani noted that the deliberate destruction of the mosque, particularly in Quneitra, was meant to humiliate the inhabitants and leave them with no choice but to conduct their prayers at home.


125. As to Jerusalem, it was, he said, a sacred Arab Moslem city with the same status as that of any other part of the occupied territories.  That occupied city must be liberated and returned to the Palestinian people.  Syria would not accept that a single inch of Arab territory, including Jerusalem, would remain under Israeli occupation and, in that regard, it supported the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council on the matter.


(b) Visit to Quneitra


126. On 28 May 1979, the Commission visited the location of the town of Quneitra in the Golan Heights.


127. Major-General Adnan Tayara who led the visit recalled that Quneitra and the surrounding area had been taken over by Israel in June 1967 and were returned to Syria in 1974.


128. During the visit through the ruins of the city, the Commission was acquainted with the situation that was reported in 1977 to the General Assembly by the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories in its “Report on damage at Quneitra”.5 It was on the basis of that report, that the General Assembly, on 13 December 1977, adopted resolution 32/91 by which it condemned the “massive, deliberate destruction of Quneitra perpetrated during the Israeli occupation”.


129. During that visit, the Syrian authorities pointed out to the Commission several Israeli settlements beyond the area of separation which, they said, were established on land belonging to the city of Quneitra where agricultural work was in progress.


(c) Hearings


130. In addition to the working meeting with the Syrian delegation, the Commission held a number of hearings.  Among the witnesses who appeared before the Commission there were three members of the Palestine Liberation Organizations, whose statements are reported in part II (F) below.


131. Thirteen other witnesses testified.  Among them, a professor of geography (No. 23) briefed the Commission on the economic situation of the Golan Heights before 1967.  He pointed out that the region was one of the most prosperous of Syria.  The number of inhabitants was about 150,000 with a density of 90 per square kilometre.


132. The arable area amounted to 107,000 hectares.  The witness gave figures concerning the various kinds of soil cultivation, fruit-bearing trees and livestock to bear out his assertion that the region, despite its small size, used to produce 10 per cent of the total output of the country.


133. The other witnesses were former inhabitants of the Golan Heights, most of them from Quneitra.  Seven of them (Nos. 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 and 35) were municipal officials at the time the Israeli forces entered the region.  They concurred in saying that all sorts of pressure including threats of death had been used by the Israelis to make the inhabitants leave the area.  Villages had been destroyed, sometimes in the presence of the inhabitants (Nos. 31 and 32) and people had been taken in motor vehicles and dropped at the separation line (Nos. 31, 32 and 33) to compel them to leave.


134. A witness (No. 24) who said that he had seen Israeli bulldozers destroy Arab agglomerations, reported also that he had seen a number of Israeli settlements built on the former location of Arab villages; of which he gave the names.


135. Another witness (No. 29) said that even now, Arab students from the occupied area in the Golan Heights were prevented from pursuing their higher education in Syrian universities.  He added that those who, through the mediation of the Red Cross, had been allowed to do so had been prevented from returning to their homes.