HERITAGE UNVEILED: GOLAN’S STORY

Vincent Lyn
13 min readSep 23, 2023

By Vincent Lyn with Teresa Nacli

Standing unwavering in the Quneitra Governorate Golan Heights, a territory presently held by Palestine occupied Israel but historically linked to Syria and Teresa Nacli’s family history.

Israel’s establishment as a nation has been a subject of controversy, with critics arguing that it was founded as a settler colony by European Jews who arrived in Palestine, changed the region’s name to Israel, and displaced the Palestinian Arabs who were its original inhabitants. This has led to questions about the legality and morality of the Zionist movement’s actions, drawing parallels to other historical situations, such as the Moors in Spain or hypothetical scenarios involving African Americans or Native Americans reclaiming their ancestral lands.

“Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves? Just based on the “religious” claims that their forefathers lived their thousands of years ago? Only a thousand years ago the Moors lived in Spain. Would this give the Moors of today the legal and moral right to invade the Iberian Peninsula, drive out its Spanish citizens, and then set up a “new Moroccan nation” where Spain “used to be” as the Zionists have done to our Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine?”

– Malcolm X (1964)

It brings to question whether or not it would be legal and moral for African Americans in the Western Hemisphere to do likewise and return to Africa, dispossess the Africans currently living there, and establish a nation for themselves, or for Native Americans to retake their lands and evict white settlers. It only brings us back to the original point made by Malcolm X that the Zionist argument to justify Israel’s present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history, not even in their own religion.

I have spent the last eight years in much of East, West and North Africa as well as most of the Middle East including, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and yes what is presently known as Israel. What I find horrifying is the current way the Palestinian people are subjected and sadly have been for over five generations exactly 75 years. As if to say yes, we understand the plight of the Jewish people and the suffering that was imposed on them by the Nazis during WWII. But at the end of the war why didn’t they take a nice chunk of German territory for their own and carve out a new home? But instead travel 2,500 miles and take a territory that wasn’t theirs to begin with. The Jewish people were living extensively all over Europe. I know many of you will argue this point but it surely raises an important question. Yet the heinous barbarity that was inflicted on them by the Nazis, they in turn subjected the same awful suffering on another people, the Palestinian Arabs. That I find completely intolerable.

In the West especially since 9–11 the anti-Muslim sentiment took to an all-time high as if to say they were barbaric murderers living in squalor and running around in bed sheets yet Zionists were no better. The crimes they inflicted on the Palestinians and still do to this day are just as barbaric. Yet their land was stripped from them just like the Native Americans land was taken piece by piece, until whomever was not dead were all rounded up and given a little ‘reservation’ to survive on. The Palestinian’s fate is no better except their lives are even worse.

The Israeli policy is “a system of control” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including the ID system; Israeli settlements; separate roads for Israeli and Palestinian citizens around many of these settlements; Israeli military checkpoints; marriage law; the West Bank Barrier; use of Palestinians as cheaper labor; Palestinian West Bank enclaves and inequities in infrastructure, legal rights, and access to land and resources between Palestinians and Israeli residents in the Israeli occupied territories, resemble some aspects of the South African apartheid regime, and that elements of Israel’s occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, contrary to international law. The Gaza Strip is home to a population of approximately 1.9 million people, including some 1.4 million Palestine refugees.

For the last decade, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. The blockade on land, air and sea imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 entered its 17th year in June 2023 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain severely restricted. The U.N. Secretary-General has found that the blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed.

Years of conflict and blockade have left 80% of the population dependent on international assistance while the continuing intra-Palestinian divisions serve to exacerbate the humanitarian and service delivery crisis on the ground. The economy and its capacity to create jobs have been devastated, resulting in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society. In 2023, the average unemployment rate has reached over 55% — one of the highest in the world according to the World Bank. The number of Palestine refugees relying on food aid has increased from fewer than 80,000 in the year 2000 to almost one million today.

Access to clean water and electricity remains at crisis level and impacts nearly every aspect of life in Gaza. Clean water is unavailable for 95% of the population, and current availability of electricity is only 4–5 hours per day. However, ongoing power shortages have severely impacted the availability of essential services, particularly health, water and sanitation services, and continues to undermine Gaza’s fragile economy, particularly the manufacturing and agriculture sectors. As a result of the continued deteriorating socio-economic situation in Gaza from the blockade, there is increasing and widespread hopelessness among Gaza’s population.

The shocking scale and horrific nature of the debilitating injuries inflicted by Israeli forces on Palestinians in Gaza suggests Israel has pursued a deliberate strategy to maim civilians. Many of those shot by Israeli forces are suffering life-changing injuries with profound physical and psychological scars for years to come. These devastating injuries, and the ongoing shooting of innocent Palestinians, highlight the urgent need for a worldwide arms embargo to be imposed on Israel. The plight of the Palestinian diaspora is by far one of the worst crimes in our present history.

I have spoken with many Palestinian families in Gaza and met many families in the Palestinian refugee camps. Families don’t have any salary and so cannot meet the needs of their children. Life is merely a means of survival, a daily routine of whether you live or die and see the sun come up. Parents stand helpless in front of their children. In Gaza there is no longer humanity, it’s as if the gates of heaven have been shut in the faces of this once beautiful and thriving land. The sound of children crying heard across the land waking up trembling in the night so terrified that all the parents can do is to try and console them.

The people of Gaza are angry at anything and everything. The factions, troops, politicians and all those killed are angry at themselves and their electoral choices and angry at their inability to change their reality, their inability to take to the streets, their inability to pressure the forces, and their inability to be the power of influence after everyone has been let down. Gaza seems to be a laboratory for political amateurs trying their fortune. Their blood is still in the battles of tomorrow as if people realize that there is no stability for this region that does not stop the fighting. The frustration has never been so great, even in the worst moments of war, grief and pain reign.

Israel has been described as an “apartheid” state by some scholars, United Nations investigators, human rights groups all critical of Israeli policy; this description has also been used by several Israeli former politicians. On November 19, 2019 former President Trump declared Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land are now ‘legal’ — upending 50 years of U.S. policy toward Israel and most likely has shattered any hope of peace in the Middle East. Announcing that the U.S. would no longer view Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as “inconsistent with international law”. Also, on that day Canada reversed course and voted in favor of a United Nations resolution condemning Israel for its “occupation” of Palestinian Territories, prompting a backlash of anger from Jewish groups.

The move marks a further departure between the U.S. and Canada on their posture toward Israel and a potential reversal of long-standing Canadian foreign policy. The Trudeau government supported a resolution put forward by “the state of Palestine”, for a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and explicitly refers to contested lands between the two countries as “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” It also cites a 2004 International Court of Justice decision that said Israel’s construction of a protective wall in the West Bank “severely impedes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” The U.S. was among five countries that rejected the resolution, while Australia abstained. A total of 164 countries voted in favor, including the U.K., Germany and others. However, the fact remains that the Fourth Geneva Convention — of which the U.S. is a signatory — states that an occupying power cannot move its civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Here with Teresa Nacli in Dan a kibbutz in northern Israel. Located in the north of the Hula Valley, at the foot of Mount Hermon, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Upper Galilee Regional Council.

In February 2016, my initial journey took me to the Golan Heights in Israel as part of a vacation that included travels to Jordan and Israel. With a few friends in the region, I had the opportunity to visit Majdal Shams, primarily a Druze community. The Druze, who refer to themselves as al-Muwaḥḥidūn, constitute an Arabic-speaking, esoteric ethnoreligious group originating from Western Asia. They adhere to the Druze faith, which is an Abrahamic, monotheistic, syncretic, and ethnic religion, characterized by its beliefs in the unity of God, reincarnation, and the eternal nature of the soul. This visit proved to be a profoundly enlightening experience for me.

During my time there, I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful local family. At first glance, everything appeared idyllic, but as I will explain shortly, appearances can be deceiving.

Here with Teresa Nacli in Dafna a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel, 7 km east of Kiryat Shmona. It was founded on 3 May 1939 as a Tower and Stockade settlement, and was the first Tower and Stockade-type settlement in the northern Hula Valley

Later that same year, in August 2016, I had the opportunity to return to Israel with Teresa Nacli, whom I had met through Leong Ying a U.N. colleague in New York City. Teresa shared with me the rich history of her family, and we embarked on a detailed tour of her family’s extensive land, spanning approximately 500 acres, which extended into what is now occupied by Israel in Syria. This land encompassed the entire Majdal Shams community, situated on the border between Syria and Israel on both sides.

Our presence in the area had drawn the disapproval of the local Druze community, and we constantly felt their watchful gaze upon us. The situation escalated to the point where Teresa’s beautiful home was subjected to a break-in, resulting in the theft of various computers and damage to her property. To make matters worse, a few days later, we found ourselves targeted for assassination by elements associated with the Druze mafia. They wrongly believed that I had affiliations with Mossad or the CIA, a baseless accusation.

Given the growing danger, we concluded that it was unsafe to remain in the area. We swiftly gathered our belongings, secured the house, and departed early one morning, hoping to slip away unnoticed. Regrettably, since that time, it has remained far too perilous for Teresa to return to the enchanting home she had built, which overlooks the magnificent Golan Heights, a region rich in her family’s history and heritage.

For many years, I had been striving to find a means of reaching Syria. I attempted to secure a visa for trips to both Beirut, Lebanon, and Havana, Cuba, but without success. It wasn’t until I conducted extensive research and established an online connection with Mohammad Khair Al Khousi that my fortunes began to change. In March 2018, he embarked on an extraordinary journey from Syria to meet me in Beirut. His unwavering determination and efforts paved the way for me to finally obtain a visa to travel to Syria 18 months later, in October 2019.

Here, alongside Mohammad Khair Al-Khousi, unwavering in the Quneitra Governorate Syria we gaze out upon Majdal Shams, which lies just beyond the electrified barrier in Palestine occupied Israel.

My third mission to Syria took place in July 2023, and I was fortunate to find myself in the Quneitra Governorate, a highly sensitive area deep within Syrian territory, one typically off-limits even for Syrian citizens. Mohammad, a seasoned guide with three decades of experience, now at 50 years old, had never set foot in this location before. The process of acquiring the necessary paperwork and permissions from the Syrian Government proved to be incredibly grueling, and we were accompanied by the Syrian Army, who dictated what we could document through video and photography. Despite the myriad challenges, I was there, navigating this intricate and delicate situation.

It is apparent that my journeys to Syria have been marked by obstacles and hardships, but they have also yielded profound connections and experiences. Mohammad’s resolute determination and support have played a pivotal role in making these trips possible. His unwavering strength and resilience, set against the backdrop of the Syrian Conflict, are truly commendable.

When navigating these sensitive and restricted areas, one must continue to approach the situation with utmost care and respect. The experiences I gain and the stories I witness offer invaluable insights into the complexities of the Syrian situation. My travels in Syria persist in promoting understanding and compassion, even amidst challenging circumstances.

The Quneitra Governorate, commonly known as the Golan Heights, has been a hotbed of conflict and contention between Syria and Israel for decades. This region holds immense strategic and historical significance for both countries, and its status remains a prominent issue in the Middle East conflict. The history of the Golan Heights, the U.N. Fourth Geneva Convention, and the implications of Israel’s occupation of this territory, which is considered sovereign Syrian land.

Historical Background

The Golan Heights is a plateau located in southwestern Syria, covering an area of approximately 1,800 square kilometers. Historically, it has been inhabited by various communities, including Jews, Druze, and Arabs. The region has a rich history, with archaeological evidence dating back thousands of years. In modern times, it was part of Syria when the state of Israel was established in 1948.

After the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, a ceasefire line was established, and the Golan Heights came under Syrian control. However, tensions persisted, leading to further conflict in 1967 when Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War. Since then, the territory has remained under Israeli control, despite repeated demands by Syria and the international community for its return.

The U.N. Fourth Geneva Convention

The United Nations Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949, is a key international humanitarian treaty that established the rights and protections for civilians in times of armed conflict. It is particularly relevant to the Golan Heights situation as it pertains to the treatment of civilians and the responsibilities of occupying powers.

Under the convention, occupying powers are prohibited from transferring their own civilians into the occupied territory, altering the demographic composition of the region, or confiscating private property. These provisions aim to protect the rights, security, and well-being of the local population during occupation.

Israel’s Occupation of the Golan Heights

Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights has been a matter of international controversy and has raised concerns regarding its compliance with the U.N. Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel’s actions in the Golan Heights include the construction of settlements, the imposition of Israeli law and jurisdiction, and the displacement of Syrian civilians. These actions have been widely criticized as violations of international law.

The construction of Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights is a clear breach of the convention. Israel has established numerous settlements in the region, which has resulted in the transfer of its civilian population into the occupied territory. This is a direct violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such transfers.

Furthermore, Israel’s imposition of its laws and jurisdiction in the Golan Heights is contrary to the principle that an occupying power should maintain the laws and institutions of the occupied territory. This has led to a situation where Syrian residents of the Golan Heights are subject to Israeli law, which many consider a violation of their rights.

The displacement of Syrian civilians from the Golan Heights during and after the 1967 war also raises concerns. While some Syrians were able to remain in the territory, others were forced to flee. The Geneva Convention prohibits the forced displacement of civilians during an occupation.

The Golan Heights remains a deeply contentious issue in the Israeli-Syrian conflict, with Israel’s occupation of the territory raising questions about its compliance with the U.N. Fourth Geneva Convention. The construction of settlements, the imposition of Israeli law, and the displacement of Syrian civilians in the Golan Heights all raise concerns about violations of international law.

The international community, including the United Nations, has repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty. However, the situation remains unresolved, and the region continues to be a source of tension and instability in the Middle East.

A just and lasting solution to the Golan Heights issue should involve respect for international law, including the principles of the U.N. Fourth Geneva Convention, and a commitment to a negotiated settlement that addresses the legitimate concerns and aspirations of both Israel and Syria while ensuring the rights and security of the local population. Until such a resolution is achieved, the Golan Heights will remain a symbol of the unresolved conflicts in the Middle East.

Throughout history, individuals like Mohammad and Teresa have proven to be indispensable allies and friends in times of adversity, bridging cultural divides and fostering understanding. The bond we have formed transcends borders and has evolved into a familial connection. It is a testament to the enduring power of human connections and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

https://museudofuturo.org.br/english/database/golan-heights/?fbclid=IwAR1OL7cEIUjyX3MVkQgomQ9cnRUSkYEZiU9IsZHz-ARTcJCkViRG-j5PQgc

Vincent Lyn

CEO & Founder of We Can Save Children

Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations (ECOSOC)

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

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Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)