Displaced Syrians still hope to return to Golan Heights after 40 years

Ismael Queider, a Syrian farmer from Btyhet Ghzayyel village in the Golan Heights, had to leave his home at the age of 25 during the Six Day War, 40 years ago, but remains hopeful that he will return.

Displaced Syrians still hope to return to Golan Heights after 40 years
Ismael Queider, a Syrian farmer from Btyhet Ghzayyel village in the Golan Heights, had to leave his home at the age of 25 during the Six Day War, 40 years ago, but remains hopeful that he will return.

The 65-year-old, who lives with his family in the Wafedeen refugee camp, 20 kilometres north of the Syrian capital Damascus, and runs a sweet shop, still remembers the day he left his village.

Queider had been gathering wheat in the fields when Israeli planes began bombing villages near Lake Tiberias in June 1967.

'We left the harvest. We couldn't return to our home and we went to the Fiq hills near Lake Tiberias and stayed there for five days before leaving to Daraa (in southern Syria) on foot. Then we came here,' he said.

Israel defeated three Arab countries - Syria, Egypt and Jordan - after six days of fighting - and occupied the West Bank and Sinai and the Golan Heights.

Around 131,000 Syrians were forced from their homes in the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in the far west of Syria that overlooks northern Israel.

In 1981, the Jewish state officially annexed the Golan Heights, though the move was not recognized by the rest of the world. Five villages, where some 17,000 Syrians live, remained under Israeli occupation.

Queider is among an estimated 22,000 who were settled at Wafedeen after the Six Day War. Like many, he still dreams of returning to the place of his birth.

'We are here now and I vowed to go back to my home in Btyhet Ghzayyel on a bike due to my poor health. We implore to God to go back to our village,' he says.

Young and old, those who born in the Golan or outside it, share the common dream of returning to their villages.

Mohammed Shibli, 28, was born in Damascus and knows nothing about the village of Btehah near Lake Tiberias where his family is from, except what his father has told him or what he has read and seen in the media. Yet, he also hopes to go back there.

'I hope we go back to our land, it is a paradise on the planet. My father is ready to leave everything behind here to go to the village,' says Shibli.

Abla al-Abdallah, 63, from Naaran village, west of Quneitra, says she was at home when the Israeli bombardment of her village began.

'We went out due to the unrelenting Israeli bombing, I left with my children. My husband was in the national guard. I hope to get back, we love our land,' she said.

Al-Abdallah is optimistic Syrian President Bashar Assad will help in this regard.

Talks between Syria and Israel broke down in 2000 amid disagreements over Israel's withdrawal from Golan. Syria wanted Israel to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights, extending down to the Sea of Galilee on the western side.

Assad has since regularly signalled a desire to resume peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also said to be considering renewed contacts, according to recent reports.

A total of 450 students from the Golan have enrolled this year in Syrian universities, where tuition is free. Israel has permitted Golan students to study in Syria since 1981.

Medhat Saleh, the head of Syria's Golan Affairs Office, has said ensuring the return of Syrian refugees displaced in the war is the 'duty of the international community.'
Last Mod: 05 Haziran 2007, 19:04
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