ICRC activities in the occupied Golan during 2007
24-04-2008 Operational Update
The ICRC has been working 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. Activities focus on re-establishing and maintaining contact between the 21,000 people living in the Golan and their families on the other side of the demarcation line.
Passage of students and pilgrims
In the ICRC's view, the Golan is an occupied territory, and thus subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and other customary rules as reflected in the Hague Regulations of 1907.
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. Pilgrims (Druze Sheiks) have been crossing under ICRC auspices for 13 years and in 2007, during the annual Druze pilgrimage in the month of September, the ICRC facilitated the crossing of 500 pilgrims.
For over 15 years, the ICRC has been facilitating the crossing of students, so that they can attend university in Syria. In 2007 the ICRC facilitated the crossing of 672 students in 11 operations.
Visits to detainees
The ICRC regularly visits Syrian Arab detainees held by the Israeli authorities. In 2007, ICRC delegates visited 19 detainees from the occupied Golan in nine different places of detention in Israel. They also registered seven newly detained persons from the Golan. There are reported to be 23 detainees from the occupied Golan in Israeli prisons.
All Golanese detainees registered by the ICRC can receive visits from their immediate families through the ICRC's family visit programme. In 2007, over 100 persons made 1176 visits to their detained relatives. In accordance with its standard working procedures, the ICRC monitors conditions of detention, shares its findings with the relevant authorities in confidence and follows up on implementation of its recommendations.
The ICRC helps with the practical arrangements for weddings between Syrian Arab residents of the occupied Golan and their fiancé(e)s living in Syria proper. This includes obtaining security clearance for named wedding guests. The wedding ceremonies – which also present a rare occasion for separated family members to meet up, if only for an hour – take place under ICRC auspices in the demilitarized zone at Kuneitra crossing point. In 2007, the ICRC facilitated two weddings in the UN-controlled demilitarized zone. Both weddings involved brides from the occupied Golan crossing to Syria, on 1 2 March and 19 September respectively. The ICRC has been providing this service for more than 20 years.
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 visit or even contact them because of the sealed separation zone. In the past, the ICRC ran what was known as the ‘family visit’ programme, which allowed families to meet in Syria once a year for two weeks.
This programme was abruptly stopped in 1992. The ICRC has made several appeals, and continues to do so. However, the visits have yet to resume. Being unable to maintain social, cultural and family ties has an immense effect on the Syrian Arab population of the occupied Golan. Indeed, the majority of Golanese see resumption of family visits as the single most important occupation-related issue, and one that demands a prompt solution. The ICRC also views restarting the programme as a priority and is continuing its efforts at the highest levels. In 2007, the organization stepped up its efforts to raise awareness of this important humanitarian issue in diplomatic and media circles.
The consequences of suspending the family visits programme are illustrated by a newly-established group of some 50 women who, over the years, have moved to the occupied Golan from Syria proper to get married, and have taken up residence there. This has left them and their children unable to return to their places of origin within Syria proper. The group approached the ICRC on several occasions during 2007 and made strong appeals for resumption of the family visits to Syria.
In September 2007, the ICRC facilitated the passage of four residents from the occupied Golan so that they could attend the funerals of close relatives. Exceptionally, the Israeli authorities issued permits for these visits.
Official papers and Red Cross messages
The ICRC transfers official papers such as powers of attorney, birth, marriage and death certificates, and property documents, between the occupied Golan and Syria proper. This forms a life-line, maintaining family unity across the separation line and helping Syrian Arab families living in the occupied Golan to deal with a complicated legal situation. In 2007, the ICRC transferred 126 power of attorney documents, along with numerous other official documents and certificates, from the occupied Golan to Syria proper. The ICRC also received and distributed Red Cross messages, enabling Syrian Arab residents of the occupied Golan to exchange news with their families on the other side.
In 2005 and 2006, acting at the request of both Israel and Syria, the ICRC moved 8,000 tonnes of apples from the occupied Golan through the 1974 separation line to Syrian markets. A similar operation in 2007 involved transporting a record quantity; 8,000 tonnes of apples in a single year. The sale of apples represents an import ant boost to the local economy and a significant economic and humanitarian channel between the Syrian Arab farmers of the occupied Golan and Syrian markets. The programme works because all parties recognize the role of the ICRC as a trusted neutral intermediary.