“We have always been clear that Israel is not returning the Golan Heights to Syria. But now, when the brutal civil war in the neighboring country continues to rage, it has become clear to everyone,” Katzrin mayor Dmitry Apartsev told Walla. “The government decided in June 2014 to boost Katzrin as capital of the Golan, and budgeted $17 million, to be invested, among other things, in the absorption of new residents.”
Over the next five years, Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights is expected to double itself, according to the expansion plans of Katzrin Local Council and the Golan Regional Council. “In the past we needed campaigns to encourage settlement in the Golan, today we are struggling to keep up with demand,” Golan Council sources told Walla. According to those sources, “If we were not limited by the bureaucracy — we could double the number of residents in one year, not in five.” They stressed that “the demand started even before the Knesset approved tax benefits for local residents.”
Jewish settlement in the Golan region ended in 636 CE, after the Arab conquest. In the 16th century, the Golan was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and was part of the Damascus province until it was taken by the French in 1918. When the French mandate ended in 1946 the Golan became part of the newly independent Syrian Arab Republic, which used it to launch attacks against the new Jewish State starting in 1948 and continuing for the 19 years that followed. The Golan Heights were captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, and in 1981 Israel passed the Golan Heights Law, applying Israeli “laws, jurisdiction and administration” to the Golan Heights. Although the law annexed the territory to Israel de facto, it did not explicitly mention a formal annexation. The area is being administered as part of Israel’s North District.
According to the new plan, Katzrin, the capital of the Golan Heights, with 8,000 residents, will grow to 20,000 by 2020.
Golan Regional Council officials noted that they recently began to implement a huge plan for an Eastern Galilee cluster. They hope to create a regional municipal corporation, to promote strategic cooperation between 17 local and regional authorities in the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee. The revolutionary program seeks to turn traditional farming into a knowledge-intensive industry, and serve as a central engine of economic growth.
According to forecasts, development, upgrading and construction of agricultural research institutes in the Golan Heights will eventually encourage local farmers to turn to medicinal farming, an upgrading that will open new areas of medicinal plant growing for sale worldwide. Today, the Golan’s Field of Happiness farm is one of the largest growers of medicinal marijuana in Israel.
Since 2012, several incidents have taken place on the Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line during the Syrian Civil War, a spillover of the clashes between the Syrian Army and the rebels, as well as with offshoots of Al Qaeda and ISIS and between each of these forces, which have been ongoing on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan. As of 2014, one Israeli civilian was killed and at least 4 soldiers wounded. The IDF retaliated shortly after each spillover incident.
Mayor Apartsev noted that “in the last two years we’ve sold about 500 new housing units and invested huge efforts to upgrade the educational and cultural systems. All this was done in order to be prepared for a land marketing campaign, planned for the first quarter of 2016, when we will be able to sell 800 new housing units.” Down the road, according to Apartsev, Katzrin will prepare “3,800 housing units for marketing, planning, sale or construction.” Katzrin today has about 2,500 housing units altogether.
Some 16,000 Israelis live in settlements in the Golan Regional Council, which covers virtually the entire Golan area apart from Katzrin and the Golan Druze communities. The council is also currently preparing to absorb about 2,000 new families in local communities, bringing on a population increase of approximately 8,000 additional residents. The plots in Katzrin Council and the Golan settlements are given to Israeli citizens for free, and the settlers are expected to foot the costs of the development and construction of their homes.