star-BBCFull face on Golan Heights profile

The mistakes, omissions, over simplifications, editorialising and blatant agenda in the BBC’s profile of the Golan Heights  are not as egregious as they are in the profile of the Palestinian Territories, exhaustively profiled in Comes with the territory. That could be because the BBC profile is much shorter.

Be thankful for small mercies. The Golan Heights profile doesn’t start with a blatant falsehood as does the Palestinian Territories profile.

Three examples of BBC omissions that cloud understanding

1) However, when the BBC writes, Almost immediately Israel began to settle the Golan the agenda enters in force.

Actually the Six Day War ended on June 10, 1967. Almost immediately (June 19, 1967), the Israeli cabinet voted to return the Golan to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement. This was rejected by the Arab world with the famous ‘Three Nos‘† of the Khartoum Resolution on September 1, 1967. The BBC not so subtly suggests a land grab.

2) It’s a common mistake but Israel did not unilaterally annex the Golan Heights in 1981. 

Once again, the profile is not techniquely accurate. The Golan Heights Law of December 14, 1981 extended Israeli law to that part of the Golan Heights in Israeli hands. It doesn’t use the word annex nor does it impose Israeli citizenship on its residents. Over the years Israel has frequently announced her willingness to negotiate the future of the Heights with Syria. That should be compared with Israel’s Jerusalem Law. Even though expressed in similar language no one doubts that Israel has no intention of ever handing Jerusalem, complete and united, (is) the capital of Israel over, while the Golan‡ is negotiable.

Israel did annex those parts of the British Mandate for (establishing a Jewish homeland) in Palestine such as Eilat and parts of the Northern Negev that it captured in 1948.

3) It’s when they give easily checked population figures that the BBC is simply and unambiguously false. There are more than 30 Jewish settlements on the heights, with an estimated 20,000 settlers. There are some 20,000 Syrians in the area, most of them members of the Druze sect.

The BBC, true to form, treats every Israeli statement as open to doubt. Estimated? Israel conducted a census in 2008.

Nor is it true that anyone in the Golan is either a settler or a Syrian. Repeating this under the laughably inadequate Facts tag only amplifies the offense. Approximately 10% of Syrian Golan Druze have accepted Israeli citizenship since it was offered in the 1970s. That number may be undergoing a dramatic increase due to the fighting in Syria.

One might wonder, after 45 years how many really see themselves as Syrians and how many of this sect, persecuted by Sunni and Shiite alike, with relatives across the border are protecting their behinds in the off-chance that Israel and Syria do a deal?

Wherever they live the Druse are loyal to the administration of that place. For example, Israeli Druse men do compulsory service in the IDF. Should Israel actually annex the Golan and drop the policy of offering it back to Syria in return for a land-f0r-peace deal I wouldn’t be surprised if the Druse community joined their Israeli relatives and opted for full citizenship. Some report that this is already happening.

Alawi village Ghajar petitioned the Golan’s Israeli governor to be attached to Israel, as part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, rather than Lebanon. Most Alawi villagers accepted Israeli citizenship under the Golan Heights Law. Due to border demarcation the village was split in two. Half the village became Lebanese.

Unresolved border?

Golan Heights

Most of the border is hardly unresolved. Look at the map. On June 12, 2000 the United Nations received confirmation from UNIFIL of the full withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon in  full compliance with Security Council resolution 425 (1978). Sounds like at least the Lebanese border is resolved to me. It is true that Lebanon or at least the Hizbullah part of it claims the even tinier Shab’a Farms area but the United Nations, Israel AND somewhat ambiguously Syria consider it to be part of the Syrian state.

Even the Israel-Syria border is not unresolved. Come peace, there almost certainly will be some disputes about placing of markers but the bottom line is clear. Everyone knows what was part of the state of Syria in 1967. The uninhabited 22 km² (8 sq mi) of Shab’a Farm is hardly enough to label the entire Israel-Lebanon and Israel-Syria border as unresolved.

Missing historical background

When it suits the BBC it piles on historical and geographical background. At other times relevant background simply doesn’t appear. For example, what is Syria when they write of the Golan Heights as located in South West Syria? The natural boundaries of Syria are themselves disputed. Some analysts think the lack of a Syrian identity is a great part of its current problems.

The Levant, the eastern Mediterranean region between Anatolia and Egypt, has historically been synonymous with Syria. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus and parts of southern Turkey. Iraq and the Sinai Peninsula are also sometimes included. has in the past claimed that Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel are part of Syria. At the San Remo Peace conference (April 1920), the Zionist movement secured international recognition for the incorporation of the Golan Heights into the boundaries of British Mandate Palestine. However, when this agreement was ratified in March 1923, the Golan Heights were arbitrarily allocated to the French Mandate of Syria, while the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) was entirely taken by the British Mandate of Palestine

A less ambiguous description would be south-west of the modern state of Syria. 

Why bother?

The Heights has a political and strategic significance which belies its size. Or not.

The Israeli part of the Golan Heights is 15 miles (24 kilometres) at its widest point. That’s less than 1% of the Syrian state. That doesn’t include the one-third of the geographical Golan Heights still in Syrian hands. Surely that is the sort of information that should be part of a useful profile? Perhaps we should just have to guess size relationships. As small as Brooklyn? New Hampshire? Japan?

Until recently, the Israel/Syrian border has been quiet for forty years. Even now the tension is more to do with Syria’s civil war than any strain in the Israel-Syrian status quo. Syria apparently asked Israel not to fire on their tanks in the Disengagement Zone because they are “solely for the purpose of fighting the armed members of opposition”. That said, for an organisation which traditionally prioritises the conflict when discussing Israel, Syrian/Iranian/Hizbullah threats to open a new front against Israel in the Heights, presumably to unify Syria against the external foe, deserves a mention.

I must admit I wasn’t aware that most of the Syrian Arab inhabitants fled the area during the conflict. That is clearly because unlike their Palestinian counterparts this group of ‘refugees’* receive zero publicity and were absorbed by their home country. How many of these residents were Syrian military personnel is not even hinted at.

A picture is worth a thousand

Former army base

Spot the difference

Five Minutes for Israel caught the mislabeling but BBC Watch publicised it first so they get the bragging rights. Still wouldn’t a more neutral label have been on the lines of the Mount Bental lookout, during the Yom Kippur War 1973, the site the site of one of the largest tank battles in history, provides stunning views of Mount Hermon and the Golan?

Just how large can be seen by these figures. The Syrians attacked the Golan with 1,500 tanks and 1,000 artillery pieces. Israel countered with only 160 tanks and 60 artillery pieces. The long stretch of valley in between Mount Bental and Mount Hermon became known as the Valley of Tears. The Israeli tanks were reduced to seven under extreme enemy fire. However, the Israelis managed to take down 600 Syrian tanks in the process. The Syrians eventually retreated, but not without inflicting heavy casualties on Israel.

The BBC is obsessed with war to the exclusion of anything else. Their choice of illustrative photographs only confirms this. The logo of the excellent Yarden wine company was 5MFI’s attempt to add some balance.

Negotiate or not negotiate

The BBC buys into Syrian claims. Syria wants to secure the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal. In late 2003, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was ready to revive peace talks with Israel.

Actually Syria wants the return of the Golan Heights before it will enter negotiations. Bashar al-Assad is well-known for implying engagement during one phase only to retreat into intransigence and extremism the next. Both Bashar and his father Hafiz knew that by posing as the champions of war against Israel (even though conducted by proxy) they could accuse any opponents of being traitors to the Arab nationalist/Muslim cause and hold onto power. How much that will change when and if the current civil war is resolved is anyone’s guess.


Although Syrian shelling of Israel from the Golan is reported at length the timeline still begins 1967 June – Israel captures Golan Heights during Six-Day War. it should begin 1948 After failing to destroy the new state of Israel Syria uses the heights to attack it from a distance.

Extra credit

† No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.
‡ Let there be no doubt I regard handing the Golan to the Assads as insanity.
* Not being ‘blessed’ with their own unique definition of refugee as are the Palestinians (see  Why ROR sounds like ROAR) the Golan Arabs were not legally refugees but rather displaced persons. As they were quickly resettled in Syria, they, by the UNHCR definition that governs every refugee other than the Palestinians, they are not legally refugees, today, either.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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