Occupied Golan: ICRC mitigates some effects of occupation
02-03-2010 Operational Update
Life is complicated for Syrian Arabs in the occupied Golan. Even something as basic as getting apples to Syrian markets requires the intervention of the ICRC in its capacity as a neutral intermediary. In addition to maintaining this vital logistical link, the ICRC helps families either side of the separation line to keep in touch by facilitating weddings and humanitarian visits, and by acting as a courier for essential legal documents.
Kuneitra crossing. Transporting apples from occupied Golan to Syria
Support to apple growers
At the request of farmers from the occupied Golan, and following the approval of both Israel and Syria, the ICRC is transporting a record quantity of 10,000 tonnes of apples from the Golan through the 1974 separation line into Syria proper. The eight-week operation starts on 2 March.
This will be the fifth time that the ICRC has transferred apples from the Golan through the Kuneitra crossing, having started by transporting 4,000 tonnes in 2005.
The sale of apples gives the local economy a major boost. They also provide an important economic and humanitarian link between Syrian Arab farmers in the occupied Golan and markets elsewhere in Syria. The programme is only possible because all parties recognize the ICRC’s role as a neutral intermediary.
What else is the ICRC doing in the occupied Golan?
Family visits to Syria
The vast majority of Syrian Arabs in the occupied Golan have close relatives living elsewhere in Syria but are unable to visit or even contact them 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 made several appea ls for the resumption of the visits, and continues to do so, but they have yet to restart. The severing of social, cultural and family ties has had an immense effect on Syrian Arabs in the Golan. Indeed, the majority see the resumption of family visits as the single most important issue related to the occupation, one that urgently needs to be resolved. The ICRC considers the resumption of this programme a priority.
On ten occasions during 2009, the ICRC helped people to cross from the Golan into Syria proper on humanitarian grounds; following the death of a close relative, to visit an ailing parent or to obtain medical treatment.
Students and pilgrims
Israel took control over the Golan in 1967, during the six-day war, and has occupied the territory ever since. In December 1981, Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan, thus applying Israeli laws, jurisdiction and administration to anyone living there.
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.
No government has endorsed the Israeli annexation of the Golan.
The occupied area of the Golan measures about 1,200 square kilometres and its population includes an estimated 22,000 Syrian Arabs living in five main towns. The Golan also has about 19,000 Israeli inhabitants, who live in some 33 settlements.
For the Syrian Arab residents of the Golan, travel to Syria proper is severely curtailed, if not impossible. As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC works with officials on both sides of the UN-controlled demilitarized zone to enable residents to cross back and forth for educational and religious purposes. The ICRC has been helping students and Druze pilgrims cross into Syria since 1994, with 303 students and 524 pilgrims making the trip during 2009.
For more than 20 years, the ICRC has been helping with the practical arrangements for weddings between Syrian Arab residents of the occupied Golan and their future partners from elsewhere in Syria. The wedding ceremonies take place under ICRC auspices in the demilitarized zone at Kuneitra crossing point and present a rare opportunity for families to meet up, if only for an hour. The ICRC’s role includes obtaining security clearance for the wedding guests.
After the ceremony, the newly-weds return to the groom's home, either in the Golan or elsewhere in Syria. Whichever side of the line she ends up on, the bride relinquishes her right to return – and that of her future children.
Official papers and Red Cross messages
The ICRC transfers official papers such as powers of attorney, birth, death and marriage certificates and property documents between the Golan and the rest of Syri a. This service constitutes an essential lifeline, reinforcing family unity across the separation line and helping Syrian Arab families living in the occupied Golan to deal with a complicated legal situation. The ICRC also receives and distributes Red Cross messages, enabling Syrian Arabs to exchange news with their relatives on the other side.
Visits to detainees
The ICRC regularly visits Syrian Arabs in Israeli custody. As of February 2010, ICRC delegates were visiting 13 detainees from the occupied Golan in different places of detention in Israel. In accordance with its standard working procedures, the ICRC monitors conditions of detention, shares its findings with the authorities in confidence and follows up on implementation of its recommendations.
All Golanese detainees registered by the ICRC can receive visits from their immediate families through the ICRC's family visit programme.
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.
See also: occupied Golan: ICRC starts transfer of apples into Syria , News release, 02.03.2010.