Behind the Headlines: in Golan, Moshavniks Dread Outcome of the Peace Negotiations with Syria

It is grape-harvesting season in the Golan Heights, and the members of Moshav Yonatan, located just 2### miles from the Syrian border, barely have time for a moment’s rest.

Yet when they do finally step down from their giant grape-pickers, their minds turn to the peace talks in Washington, where teams of negotiators are discussing their future.

“Sure I’m concerned,” said moshav member Benny Lieberman. “I’ve made my home here. I earn my living by harvesting these grapes, which are turned into the best wine in the whole country. What will happen if the government decides to give up this land?”

Lieberman is not alone in his fears. Since August, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to discuss territorial compromise with Syria, many of the area’s 12,000 Jewish residents have been dreading the outcome.

While the “Golan Question” may take years to resolve, those who live here are not taking any chances. Concerned that the government will return part or all of the Golan to Syria within the foreseeable future, the settlers have turned their concern into political action.

Following a series of local demonstrations during the past month, they took their cause to the government on Monday.

A protest rally, which took place in the rose-filled park opposite the Knesset, was the culmination of a three-day march by dozens of residents. Hundreds of other protesters hired buses for the 2### hour trip to Jerusalem.

Carrying placards that read “Today the Golan, tomorrow the Galil,” and “Israel must retain sovereignty over the Heights,” the protesters expressed the hope that they could influence their elected officials.

“We decided to come today because the Knesset is inside debating the Golan,” said Udi Margalit, head of the Golan Settlement Committee. “We are confident that the Knesset members will realize that the Golan is not an obstacle to peace, but an obstacle to war.”

He expressed bitterness over Rabin’s decision to include the area in peace discussions. “Before the elections, Rabin came to the Golan and told us that the territory is needed for security reasons.

More than 50 percent of us voted for him, and some are starting to regret it.”

The demonstrations, Margalit said, “were just the beginning. We intend to take every means that this democracy allows to fight for our struggle. We must influence our (Knesset members), talk to the media, contact people in the U.S. It isn’t going to be easy, but we’re prepared for a fight.”

“The government can’t just sign away our future,” said Nachum Seltzer, a farmer from Moshav Avnei Eitan. At the rally with his wife and three children, who were skipping school for the day, Seltzer also expressed dismay over what he terms the prime minister’s “turnaround” on the Golan issue.

“In June, just a few days before the elections, we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Rabin came up and promised that he would help us to improve housing, industry, jobs. Now he’s talking about giving the Golan back.

“I don’t think Rabin is a traitor,” he added, “but I still don’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish. The Golan was annexed way back in 1980, so this is a 180-degree turnaround. You have to remember that the government sent us here to begin with.”

While he is concerned about the future, Seltzer is also hopeful. “I’m convinced that most Israelis feel that the area is vital to the country’s security interests. They will support us. I think we have a good chance to keep the Golan. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here.”

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