Israeli settlers outnumber Syrian population in Golan Heights: UN

Israeli settlers outnumber Syrian population in Golan Heights: UN
Israel has vowed to increase the number settlers in the territory it captured from Syria in 1967, where the native population is now a minority, according to a UN report.
3 min read
19 June, 2023
Katzrin is one of Israel's main Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights [Getty]

The number of Israeli settlers in the occupied Golan Heights has surpassed that of the Syrian native population for the first time since 1967, the United Nations has said, without presenting a figure.

"Israeli policies and practices on the Golan isolate the population from their familial and cultural links to Syria and enforce integration into the Israeli economy and education system, for lack of any alternative," the UN said.

This came in a statement issued by the UN’s Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, established in 1968.

Israel captured the Golan Heights region of Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It illegally annexed the area in 1981, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Residents of the Golan Heights can claim Israeli citizenship and are subject to Israeli civil law.

Former US president Donald Trump signed a proclamation in 2019 recognising Israel's annexation of the territory, which was denounced by the rest of the international community.

The UN committee said in its statement that at the start of 2023, the Israeli army transferred the "notoriously violent" Netzah Yehuda Battalion to the Golan Heights, where they will remain for 11 months.

The battalion was disciplined for causing the death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar Abdalmajeed Asaad in the occupied West Bank in January 2022.

Last week, Israel's Military Advocate General said that soldiers who left Asaad to die after detaining him will not be criminally prosecuted, but will face disciplinary measures.

The UN committee investigating Israeli practices, which was established in 1968, also noted that Israel has prevented its officers from entering Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights, and "does not respond to annual requests for consultations with the Israeli authorities."

The committee is scheduled to deliver its report to the United Nations General Assembly in October.

Israel has vowed to eventually quadruple the Israeli settler population in the Golan Heights to around 100,000. There are plans to build new housing units in Katzrin, Israel's main settlement in the area.

On the eve of the 1967 war, the plateau contained an ethnically diverse population of just under 150,000, distributed among 163 villages. Most were Arab Sunni Muslims but there were also Druze and Alawi minorities, as well as 9,000 Palestinian refugees who fled to the region after the 1948 Nakba.

Of the 163 villages, only four remain today - all of which are Druze majority.