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ICRC activities in the occupied Golan

22-03-2007 Operational Update

The Golan was occupied by Israel in 1967 during the six-day war. In December 1981, Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan thus applying Israeli laws, jurisdiction and administration to anyone living in the region.

The occupied area of the Golan measures about 1,250 square kilometres and its population now includes an estimated 21,000 Syrian Arabs living in 5 main towns, as opposed to 130,000 Syrian citizens living in some 200 villages and farms before 1967. The Golan also has about 20,000 Israelis inhabitants living in some 40 settlements. 

The ICRC considers the Golan to be occupied territory and consequently the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and other customary rules as reflected in the Hague Regulations of 1907 are applicable. No government has endorsed the Israeli annexation of the Golan.

The ICRC has carried out its activities in the occupied Golan since 1967 and has maintained a full-time presence there since 1988, when it opened its office in Majd El Shams. Its activities in the area focus mainly on re-establishing and maintaining family links between the 21,000 Golanese residents and their families living on the other side of the demarcation line.


 Passage of students and pilgrims  

For the Syrian Arab residents of the occupied Golan, travel to Syria proper is severely restricted, if not impossible. The ICRC, as a neutral intermediary, works with officials in both countries to facilitate their passage for educational and religious purposes. The crossings by pilgrims (Druze sheiks) have been organized under ICRC auspices for the past twelve years. In 2005, the ICRC managed to have the length of the pilgrims'visit extended from 24 hours to   three days. In 2006, the ICR C facilitated the crossing of 506 pilgrims. The crossing of students to attend universities in Syria proper is a regular activity run by the ICRC for 15 years now. In 2006 the ICRC facilitated the crossing of 780 students in 10 crossings throughout the year.


 Exchange of official papers and Red Cross Messages (RCM)  

The ICRC exchanges official papers such as power of attorney documents and birth, death and marriage certificates as well as property documents. This service provides an essential life-line that reinforces family unity across the separation line and helps to support Syrian Arab families living in the occupied Golan to deal with a complicated legal situation. In 2006, the ICRC transmitted 101 power of attorney documents, along with numerous other official documents and certificates to Syria proper. The ICRC also received and distributed Red Cross Messages, enabling the exchange of news between the Syrian Arab residents and their family members on the other side.


 Visits to detainees  

The ICRC regularly carries out visits to Syrian Arab detainees held by the Israeli authorities. In 2006, detainees from the occupied Golan were visited by ICRC delegates in four places of detention in Israel. All Golanese detainees registered by the ICRC have the opportunity to be visited by their immediate family through the ICRC's family visit programme. In 2006, over   100 relatives of detainees have been able to visit their detained relatives. In accordance with its standard working procedures the ICRC monitors the conditions of detention which it shares confidentially with the relevant authorities an d ensures a follow up on recommendations.


 Facilitation of weddings  

The ICRC helps in the practical arrangements for weddings between Syrian Arab residents of the occupied Golan and their prospective partners from Syria proper. These marriage ceremonies are organized and conducted, under ICRC auspices, in the demilitarized zone in Kuneitra. The ICRC has been engaged in this activity for some 20 years. In 2006, arrangements were made to facilitate three   weddings in the UN-controlled demilitarized zone and four are so far planned for the first quarter of 2007.


 Family visits to Syria  

The vast majority of the 21,000 Syrian Arab residents have close relatives living in Syria proper but are unable to maintain contact or conduct family visits due to the sealed separation zone. In the past, the ICRC ran the so-called ‘family visit’ programme which enabled family members to meet together in Syria once a year for two weeks.

This programme was abruptly stopped in 1992 and, despite multiple appeals from the ICRC, has yet to resume. This inability to maintain social, cultural and family ties has an immense effect on the Syrian Arab population of the occupied Golan. Indeed, the resumption of family visits is considered by the majority of Golanese as the single most important issue connected to the occupation and one which needs to be urgently resolved. The ICRC considers the restarting of this programme as a priority and as such continues its efforts to renew this important humanitarian programme.


 Economic Initiatives  

Upon the request of both Israel and Syria, the ICRC has transported in 2005 and in 2006 a total of 8,000 tonnes of apples from the occupied Golan through the 1974 separation line to Syrian markets. A similar operation is being carried out this year and is expected to transport 10,000 tonnes of apples. This represents an important boost to the local economy as well as a significant economic and humanitarian channel between the Syrian Arab farmers of the occupied Golan and Syrian markets. The programme is feasible due to the recognition by all parties of the trusted neutral intermediary role of the ICRC.