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Occupied Golan: nurturing ties with the rest of Syria

15-02-2011 Operational Update

It is extremely difficult if not impossible for the vast majority of Syrians living in the occupied Golan to have exchanges with the rest of their country. This is an update on the many ways in which the ICRC helps them to maintain ties.

Bringing apples to market

Starting in mid-February, the ICRC will help transfer to Syria proper a record 12,000 tonnes of apples grown by Syrian farmers living in the occupied Golan. "That's three times more than in 2005, when the ICRC first organized such an operation," said Marianne Gasser, the ICRC's head of delegation in Damascus. The ICRC transported 4,000 tonnes of apples in 2005, 5,000 in 2006, and 8,000 both in 2007 and 2009. Owing to a poor harvest, no transfer took place in 2008. In 2010, it transferred more than 8,000 tonnes of apples across the demarcation line that separates the Israeli-occupied Golan from the rest of Syria.

The ICRC is carrying out this operation as a neutral intermediary at the request of the Syrian farmers living in the occupied Golan and with the approval of both the Israeli and Syrian authorities. Three ICRC trucks carrying the apple crop will pass back and forth through the Kuneitra crossing for approximately 10 weeks.

"The apples are the main source of income for Syrian farmers and their families living in the occupied Golan," said Ms Gasser. "The transfer of the fruit by the ICRC enables them to sell their crop on the Syrian market, which they could not do otherwise."

Students and pilgrims

For the Syrian residents of the Golan, travel to Syria proper is mostly limited to students enrolled at Damascus University and Druze pilgrims. The ICRC works with the Israeli and the Syrian authorities on both sides of the UN-controlled demilitarized zone to enable residents to cross back and forth for educational and religious purposes. "When Israel occupied the Golan in 1967, thousands of Syrians living in the territory found themselves cut off from their country, friends and family," said Raoul Bittel, the ICRC's deputy head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.

The ICRC has been helping students and pilgrims to travel to Syria proper for some 17 years. In 2010, the ICRC arranged for the passage of 262 students and 666 pilgrims.

Family visits

For the vast majority of Syrians living in the occupied Golan, travel to Syria proper is severely curtailed – if not impossible – because of the sealed separation zone. In the past, the ICRC ran a family visit programme which allowed family members to meet in Syria once a year for two weeks. This programme was abruptly stopped in 1992. The ICRC has repeatedly appealed for a resumption of the visits, and continues to do so, but so far to no avail. The severing of social, cultural and family ties has had a profound impact on Syrians of the Golan, who consider the suspension of the family visits the single most important consequence of the occupation. The resumption of this programme remains a priority for the ICRC.

Weddings

For more than 20 years, the ICRC has been helping with the practical arrangements required so that weddings can take place between members of the Syrian community in the Golan and people from elsewhere in Syria.

The weddings are not only a solemn event for the bride and groom but also offer a rare opportunity for family members to exchange news and greet relatives they have not seen for many years. The families from both sides meet at the ICRC office located inside the demilitarized zone. Newlyweds cross either into the Golan or into Syria proper.

Last month, three years after the last such crossing took place, a Syrian bride entered the Golan via the Kuneitra crossing to join her husband, a Syrian farmer from the Golan.

Visits to detainees

The ICRC regularly visits Syrians from the Golan held in various places of detention in Israel. In 2010, ICRC delegates visited 13 detainees from the occupied Golan and four other Syrian nationals. In accordance with its standard working procedures, the ICRC monitors conditions of detention and treatment, confidentially shares its findings with the authorities and makes sure that its recommendations are implemented.

All Syrian detainees from the Golan registered by the ICRC can receive visits from their immediate family members through the ICRC's family visit programme.

Official papers and Red Cross messages

The ICRC transfers official documents such as powers of attorney, property documents and birth, death and marriage certificates between the occupied Golan and Syria. This service constitutes an essential lifeline, reinforces family unity across the separation line and helps Syrian families living in the occupied Golan to deal with a complicated legal situation. The ICRC also collects and distributes Red Cross messages enabling Syrians living in the Golan to exchange news with their relatives.

Other humanitarian activities

In 2010, the ICRC made arrangements for the passage on humanitarian grounds of 19 people from the occupied Golan into Syria proper. Many of those concerned were granted exceptional humanitarian permits following the death of a family member or to visit an ailing parent. Others crossed the demarcation line for medical treatment.

 

For more information about ICRC activities in the occupied Golan please contact

ICRC Damascus
Abou Rummaneh - Rawda square
Masr street - PO Box 3579
Damascus - Syria
Tel:  (+ 963) 11 333 9034, 331 0476
Fax: (+ 963) 11 331 0441
e-mail

ICRC Tel Aviv
185, Hayarkon Street
Tel Aviv 63453
Phone: (++972) 35 24 52 86
Fax: (++972) 35 27 03 70
e-mail


Photos

Apples from the occupied Golan await transportation to Syria proper. 

Apples from the occupied Golan await transportation to Syria proper.
© ICRC

Kuneitra crossing. ICRC trucks transporting apples make the daily journey through the crossing under the watchful eye of UN, Syrian and Israeli soldiers. 

Kuneitra crossing. ICRC trucks transporting apples make the daily journey through the crossing under the watchful eye of UN, Syrian and Israeli soldiers.
© ICRC / L. Meierhans

Keneitra crossing point. ICRC staff register Druze pilgrims making the trip from the occupied Golan into Syria proper. 

Kuneitra crossing point. ICRC staff register Druze pilgrims making the trip from the occupied Golan into Syria proper.
© ICRC / A. Romenzi / il-e-02287