The area in the north which came under Israeli control as a result of the 1967 Six Day War, and popularly referred to as the ‘Golan Heights’, is actually composed of two geologically distinct areas (divided by Nahal Sa’ar): the Golan Heights proper (1,070 sq. km.) and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range (approx. 100 sq. km.).
After the War of Independence (1948), the Syrians built extensive fortifications on the Heights. They used these to systematically shell civilian targets in Israel and to launch terrorist attacks; 140 Israelis were killed and many more injured as a result of these actions between 1948 and 1967.
In the 1967 Six Day War, in response to Syrian attacks, the IDF captured the Golan Heights in just over 24 hours of hard fighting on June 9-10. Nearly all of the Golan’s Arab inhabitants fled as a result of the war; four Druze villages remain three on the slopes of Mt. Hermon and one in the northern Golan. There is also a small Sunni Muslim village at Wassif.
The renewal of Jewish settlement on the Golan Heights began almost immediately after the war. The kibbutz of Merom Golan was founded in July 1967, and by 1970, there were 12 Jewish communities on the Golan.
On 6 October 1973, Syrian forces attacked across the 1967 cease-fire line, and made their greatest gains in the central Golan, almost reaching the escarpment, before being pushed back beyond the 1967 line by the main Israeli counterattack that began on the morning of 8 October.
A Separation of Forces Agreement was signed between Israel and Syria on 31 May 1974 and remains in force.
There are approximately 17,700 Druze and Muslim inhabitants on the Golan Heights today. In contrast to 1948-1967, when civilian infrastructure and services were almost completely neglected by successive Syrian governments, Israel has invested substantial sums in either installing or upgrading electric and water systems, in agricultural improvements and job training, and in building health clinics, where none had existed previously.
The inhabitants also enjoy the benefits of Israel’s welfare and social security systems. Israel has built or refurbished schools and classrooms and extended compulsory education from seven years to ten and has made secondary education available to girls for the first time.
The Golan’s Druze and Muslim residents enjoy complete freedom of worship; the Israeli authorities have made financial contributions, tax and customs rebates, etc. to the local religious establishments.
Today there over 20,000 Jewish residents in 31 communities on the Golan Heights and the slopes of Mt. Hermon. These include kibbutzim, moshavim, and the town of Katzrin.