Israel approves massive settlement expansion in occupied Syrian Golan Heights

The Israeli cabinet voted to approve the expansion of the Mevo Hama settlement in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights with the aim of doubling the Jewish population in the area in the next five years

December 27, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
(Photo: Tasnim News)

On Sunday, December 26, Israel announced approved plans for the massive expansion of an illegal Jewish settlement in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, in a move to further cement its occupation of the territory in violation of international law. The proposed plan at an estimated cost of USD 317 million (one billion Israeli Shekels) aims to build 7,300 new settler homes in the illegal Mevo Hama settlement over the next five years. 

The plan was first announced in October. It is reportedly designed to double the Israeli settler population by an additional 23,000 Jewish residents in order to drastically change the demographic balance of the area in Israel’s favor. Around 25,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the area, along with 23,000 Syrians from the Druze community in the last four remaining Syrian villages still under occupation. 

The Israeli cabinet under prime minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday voted in favor of the plan at a meeting that took place in the Mevo Hama settlement. During the meeting, Bennett said, “this is our moment. This is the moment of the Golan Heights. After long and static years in terms of the scope of settlement, our goal today is to double settlement in the Golan Heights.” He also gave credit to former US president Donald Trump for opening the floodgates for further Israeli expansion in the occupied Golan Heights after he recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the territory in 2019 against international law and consensus which drew widespread criticism.

The silence of the current US government under president Joe Biden regarding the status of the territory has also contributed to the Israeli government’s current approval of the settlement expansion plan. Bennett also noted that the Biden administration has not made any clear indication of any policy change in regard to the Golan Heights. Notably, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently told US media outlets that the region is of “real importance to Israel’s security” and mentioned “threats” posed to Israel by “Iran-backed militant groups” in Syria.

Two new settlements are also in the pipeline, consisting of an additional 4,000 settler homes. According to reports, approximately 570 million Israeli Shekels would also be earmarked for other settlement-related infrastructure and renewable energy projects on more than six thousand acres of land.

Israel captured the Golan Heights, an area of 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles), along with West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza after defeating neighboring Arab countries in the 1967 six-day war. It formally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a move which was never recognized by the international community. In the decades since, Israel has expelled more than 131,000 Syrians from the cities of Quneitra and Fiq and from 137 villages and 112 farms, as per Syrian government figures. The 23,000 Syrian Druze who still live in the area continue to face threats of displacement and expulsion due to Israeli settlement construction and other energy-related projects that Israel intends to build in the region. 

The occupied Palestinian territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem have also suffered from encroachment and illegal confiscation of land by Israel, as well as threats and attacks by Israeli settlers backed by the Israeli government and military. By building new settlement projects, Israel intends to displace the Palestinian residents and create an artificial Jewish majority in order to ultimately to annex the territories.

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