RAMAT HA-GOLAN (Heb. רָמַת הַגּוֹלָן; the "Golan Heights" or "Plateau"), comprises practically the whole Golan region of N. Transjordan which forms the western section of the *Bashan. Ramat ha-Golan borders on the upper Jordan Rift Valley and Lake Kinneret in the west, on the Yarmuk Valley in the south, on the Ruqqād stream in the east, and on the Hermon Massif in the north. In the last stage of the Six-Day War (1967), nearly the entire region was occupied by the Israeli army and came under Israeli administration. Together with the southeast portion of Mount Hermon – also occupied by Israeli forces – it measures about 480 sq. mi. (1,250 sq. km.). The origin of the name Golan is not clear; A.J. Brawer proposes that it is derived from golah ("exile") as the biblical "Golan in Bashan" (Deut. 4:43; i Chron. 6:56) was a city of refuge for expatriates (see below History and Archaeology).
Three subregions are distinguished: the southern Golan, a plain area with land suitable for farming, characterized by a hot, dry climate and an average annual rainfall of 10 in. (250 mm.); the central Golan, moderate slope with altitudes of up to 3,000 ft. (700 m.), with rocky lands and deep gulleys; and the northern Golan, rising to altitudes of 2,000–3,000 ft. (600–900 m.), with a number of hilltops attaining 3,600–4,040 ft. (1,100–1,226 m.). This last area is characterized by low temperatures and large amounts of rain (about 40 in. or 1,000 mm. a year). The dominant characteristics of the Golan's topography were created through volcanism, which continued into the Middle Pleistocene period, i.e., until approximately 500,000 years ago, with lava pouring out from fissures and craters and covering the plateau with a continuous layer of basalt and strings of volcanic cones, the largest being Tel Avital (Tell Abu al-Nadāʾ, 1,204 m.). The plateau rises gently from south to north and dominates the rift valley to the west and south with abrupt escarpments. Stream courses, mainly in the southern section, have cut deep ravines, laid bare light-colored chalks, marls, and limestones underneath the black basalt, and separated small portions of the plateau from each other. Soils are mostly dark, fertile, and deep grumusols and are covered with basalt boulders in the north.
The Lower Golan has been farming country throughout most of its historic past, with grain crops as the principal branch; the ample rainfall and resulting stronger erosion make the Upper Golan a region of brush, forest, and pastures, rather than tilled fields, and biblical expressions such as the "cows" or "cattle of Bashan" (Amos 4:1; Ezek. 39:18) and "oaks of Bashan" (Isa. 2:13; Ezek. 27:6) seem to refer to this section. Deforestation by man has left only stunted remnants of ancient forests in the northern Golan; flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, however, continued to be the region's economic mainstay until the recent past.
History and Archaeology
The name "Golan" is first mentioned in the Bible as a settlement in the region of the Bashan (Deut. 4:43; Josh. 20:8), within the territory allocated to the tribe of Manasseh (Deut.4:43). It is referred to as a free city (Josh. 20:8) and later as a Levitical city (i Chron.6:7), thought to be Sahem ed-Djolan (Eusebius, Onom. 64:7), beyond the eastern border formed by the river Rukkad. The name of the entire region appears to have derived from this site. In the Persian period the region was included in the satrapy of *Karnaim, which encompassed the Golan and the *Bashan.
In the early Hellenistic period, the Golan formed a separate district under the name of Gaulanitis. The writings of *Josephus help to trace the history of the entire area (Antiq. 4:5, 3; 8: 2, 3; 13:15, 4; Wars 2:20, 6; 3:3, 1–5; 3:10, 10; 4:1,1). Early in the reign of the Hasmonean Alexander Jannaeus, the cities of Golan, Gamala and Seleucia were conquered (83–81 b.c.e., and the Golan was annexed to the Hasmonean kingdom (Antiq. 16:9, 2). After the conquest of Palestine by Pompey (63 b.c.e.) the Golan was populated by the *Itureans, but when Herod the Great came to the throne it came into his possession (23 b.c.e.). It remained part of his descendants' kingdom until the death of Agrippa ii. It was then annexed to the Roman Provincia Judaea and later in the Roman period it formed part of Palaestina Secunda. The more important large villages were Seleucia, Sogane, Bethsaida, and Gamla, and these were fortified by Josephus who had been proclaimed Jewish rebel commander of the Galilee (Wars 2:20, 6). The revolt was crushed by the Romans in 67 c.e. During the Roman and Byzantine periods the Gaulanitis was a prosperous rural area but devoid of large towns. At the end of the 5th century c.e., the emperor Anastasius made use of the Ghassanids, a Monophysite Christian Arab tribe from the Yemen that had moved into Syria, as frontier guards, particularly against the Lakhimids who were nomads in the Upper Euphrates. The Golan in the sixth century was populated by two groups: a well-established community of Jews and the Christian Ghassanids. Following the Arab invasion of 636 c.e., the region was slowly depopulated. The Mamluk and Ottoman authorities initiated enforced resettlement.
L. Oliphant was one of the first to record the archaeological sites in the Golan during his visits to the region between 1879 and 1886. At Khirbat Kānif Oliphant found the remains of a synagogue with a lintel bearing an incomplete Aramaic inscription: "… remembered be for good Yose son of Ḥalfu son of Ḥana[n]."
A large number of sites were recorded and described by G. Schumacher following his work in the area between 1883 and 1885, and until 1914. Schumacher also prepared the first proper map of the region. He investigated at least a dozen sites with stones bearing Jewish symbols, such as the seven-branched menorah and other motifs, and attributed these to the remains of ancient synagogues. These sites include Fī̇q, Umm al-Qanāṭir, Khan-Bandaq, Lawiyya, al-Dikkī (Dikke), al-Rafīd, al-Aḥmadiyya, al-Burayka – most of them in southwestern Golan near the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In the village of Fī̇q a basalt column was found incised with a seven-branched menorah and under it an Aramaic inscription: "I, Judah, the cantor."
Since 1967 numerous surveys and excavations have been carried out in the region, notably a general survey of the region by S. Gutman and C. Epstein in 1967–1968, a more methodical general survey by D. Urman in 1968–1972, surveys of Chalcolithic sites and of dolmen fields by C. Epstein in 1973–2000, various investigations by Z. Maoz since 1977, a study of settlements and their landscapes by C. Dauphin in 1978–1988, and a study of "Iturean" settlements by M. Hartal since 1983. Since the late 1970s surveys and excavations have been undertaken on Mount Hermon by S. Dar.
Prehistoric evidence (Upper Paleolithic) comes mostly from Berkehat Ram with flints and basalt implements, and from Biq'at Kuneitra. A site from the southern Golan, Mjhiyyeh, has been dated to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. At least 30 Chalcolithic unwalled settlements from the first half of the 4th millennium b.c.e. have been investigated. Houses were broad rooms built in chain formation. The settlers engaged in agriculture and stock breeding and placed basalt pillar-shaped house gods in their houses and courtyards. Their material culture was quite distinctive. The Early Bronze i is barely represented in the Golan, but more than 40 sites from the Early Bronze Age ii have been identified, including settlements (e.g., Gamla) and enclosures (e.g., Mitham Leviah). The enigmatic megalithic structure at Rujm el-Hiri with concentric circles and a tumulus at its center is also dated to this period.
Early Bronze Age iv settlements have only been identified in the southern Golan. Elsewhere there are very extensive fields of dolmens and tumuli/cairns. The earliest material found in the dolmens is dated to the Early Bronze iv. However, it is likely that these finds represent the final use of these structures, which may date back to the Early Bronze ii. In the Middle Bronze Age iib, settlement was concentrated mainly in the southern and northern parts of the region. Many of the sites controlled roads and were probably built for strategic purposes. Fewer settlements of the Late Bronze Age were found. Settlement was renewed in the Iron Age i, especially above earlier Middle Bronze ii sites. A lion's head carved on an orthostat, discovered not in situ, was dated on stylistic grounds to the 9th century b.c.e. It was probably originally placed at the entrance of a citadel of a local ruler. Numerous Iron Age ii sites are known from the Golan and particularly at sites along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (see *En-Gev; Tel Hadar).
From the Hellenistic period there are agricultural villages and fortified towers. Two sites (Ḥorvat Zemel and Ḥorvat Namra) are identified as "Iturean" on the basis of the discovery of a distinctive pottery ("Golan Ware") within these settlements. Early Roman sites were scattered throughout the Golan. One major site was Gamla which fell to the Romans in 67 c.e. Numerous sites from the Late Roman period are known (2nd–early 4th centuries c.e.), with exceptional remains at the site identified as Hippos (Sussita) and Banias. Villages were built in the Golan, many of which were of pagan character, judging by the discovery of statue fragments and altars. Roads were built criss-crossing the region, linking the land of Israel with Damascus.
The Byzantine period saw an enormous increase of sites in the Golan to close to one hundred. Numerous large villages are known but the region did not have towns or cities. A project led by C. Dauphin has traced the growth of four settlements (Kafr Naffakh, Na'aran, Farj, and Er-Ramthaniyyeh) between the Hellenistic and Ottoman periods, focusing particularly on the Byzantine period. Olive oil production (but not exclusively) was undertaken in the western parts of the Golan. Viticulture was also practiced. The agricultural landscapes surrounding the four above settlements were also investigated. Remains of numerous churches and synagogues have been found. An ongoing debate exists among scholars as to whether the ethnic divide between the Jewish and Christian populations in the Golan in this period was sharply defined or whether some or many of the settlements had mixed populations as well as to the extent of the Jewish-Christian element in the population between the 1st and 5th centuries c.e. Some agricultural villages were abandoned prior to the Umayyad period (7th century), but others survived, notably Kaẓrin, until the earthquake of 749 c.e.
[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]
One of Syria's backward provinces, Golan entered modern history in the 1880s, when the Turkish authorities settled Circassians there to ward off Bedouin robbers. The regional center, *al-Qunaytira, came into being at that time. Shortly afterward, Jews made attempts to found settlements in the Golan, initially at Rumsaniyya, south of al-Qunaytira; then at Benei Yehudah east of Lake Kinneret; and finally, in 1908, in the Bet Ẓayyada (al-Buṭayḥa) Valley (a much larger enterprise, at Benei Binyamin and Jilīn, was undertaken with Baron E. de Rothschild's aid in the Bashan, further east). Prior to 1967, the Golan's population included Sunnite Muslims, as well as Circassians, Druze, Alawids (Nusayris), a small Christian minority, and others. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Syrians covered the Golan with a network of artillery positions and fortifications to harass Israeli settlements in Upper Galilee and the Lake Kinneret area, and geared the region's entire economy to military needs. In the last two days of the Six-Day War (June 9–10), almost the entire population took to flight together with the Syrian army, with the exception of the Druze who stayed on in six villages in the north (in the September 1967 census they numbered over 6,000). The remaining Druze villagers in the area quickly made contact with their kinsmen in Israel and developed friendly relations with the Israeli administration and their new Jewish neighbors.
The first initiative for new Jewish settlement in the region was taken in July 1967 by a group of Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad, which founded Kibbutz Merom Golan. By 1970 the number of Golan settlements had increased to 12, including Ramat Banias (Senir; of Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir), Merom Golan and Ein Zivan (Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad) in the north; Naḥal Geshur (Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir) in the center; Ramot Magshimim (moshav shittufi of Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi), Givat Yo'av (Tenu'at ha-Moshavim), Ne'ot Golan (moshav shittufi of Ha-Oved ha-Ẓiyyoni), El Al (Tenu'at ha-Moshavim), Mevo Ḥammah (Iḥud ha-Kibbutzim), Naḥal Golan, and Ramot (Tenu'at ha-Moshavim) in the south Hermon. In 1977 *Kaẓrin, an urban community, was established. Subsequently, other settlements were founded, bringing the total up to 33 at the beginning of the new millennium, with a total population of 37,000, including 18,300 Druze (see *Israel, State of, under Religious Life). After 1967, land reclamation was carried out on a large scale and the first storage ponds were installed to retain runoff and ease the problem of water shortage, which is serious despite the relatively ample rainfall. The main economic branches in the area are agriculture, tourism, and industry. Farming is based on citrus groves, orchards, vineyards, and vegetables crops. Tourism includes 1,000 guest rooms and other tourist attractions. Ramat ha-Golan industry is located in three industrial zones, in Katzrin, Benei Yehudah, and the Technological Center. It includes the Golan Heights Wineries and the Eden natural mineral water bottling plants.
Since the 1990s there have been sporadic negotiations between Israel and Syria about the future of the area in a political settlement, and various Israeli prime ministers have reportedly expressed a willingness to return most of it to Syria. In 1999 the Knesset passed the Golan Law, requiring an absolute majority of 61 Knesset votes to confirm the return of any Golan land.
[Efraim Orni /
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]
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