March 26, 2019

“The only ones who can define a land are its indigenous people”

Aram Abu-Saleh reflects on Trump's decision to recognize the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory, her Syrian identity, and the history of resistance in the Golan Heights.

My name is Aram Abu-Saleh. I’m from Majdal Shams, a village in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

The craziest thing about our modern world today is that a man sitting on the other side of the globe can decide my fate and the fate of my people and my land. I only have one thing to say to the President of the United States. The only ones who can define a land are its indigenous people. We fought against the occupation for 52 years and we will keep on fighting, and as long as we exist the Golan Heights will remain Syrian.

In 1967, Israel occupied the Golan Heights, committing many human rights violations. I  grew up as a Syrian girl under that occupation. A lot of people don’t know but Israel was responsible for the forced displacement of 130,000 Syrians from 169 villages in the Golan in 1967. 6,000 Syrians remained in the area, and today they live in five villages. My village, Majdal Shams, is one of them. Nowadays, illegal Israeli settlements stand on the ruins of Syrian villages.

Being one of the few Syrians to remain in the Golan means having to fight for your identity on a daily basis. I grew up with a lot of love for my land, the Golan, and my homeland, Syria. Our Syrian identity was very important under the Israeli occupation because it defined the identity of the Golan. Today, 26,000 Syrians live in the area, while thousands of refugees from the Golan are scattered across the world. They were displaced twice: once by the Israeli occupation and again for their participation in the 2011 Syrian revolution against Bashar al-Assad.   

Half of my family was displaced in 1967 by the Israeli army. I have never met my grandfather, nor my uncles, aunts and cousins due to the cruel border between the Golan and the rest of Syria that cut off my village from its normal, natural environment. The strongest and hardest memories of my childhood were at the Shouting Hill (Tallat al Sayhat تلة الصيحات), the hill closest to the border with Syria where families would gather and shout to each other as the closest, and sometimes the only way to communicate.

In 1981, Israel announced the annexation of the Golan Heights to its lands. After the annexation, it tried to force Israeli citizenship onto the remaining Syrians in the Golan, as a means to “forever” define the Golan as Israeli land.

Syrians in the Golan started a peaceful strike, which went on for six months. During the long strike, the occupation army violently oppressed the peaceful protesters (just like Assad did after 2011), arresting them and laying siege to our little villages, which caused starvation and a shortage in medical resources. The people of the Golan faced them with their bare hands — and eventually won. The occupation backed down and gave up on forcing the Israeli citizenship on us.

When the Syrian Revolution started, I participated in the protests that were held in Majdal Shams. We knew that the Golan will not be free if Syria isn’t free. We needed to be free from two oppressors: the Israeli occupation and the dictatorship that rules our country. Now, we have to wait, a doubled wait, for freedom.