Monday, March 25, 2019

Kurds: Golan 'must remain Israeli' - Rachel Avraham

by Rachel Avraham

U.S. President Trump is not alone in viewing Israel's presence on the Golan positively. A Kurdish delegation that recently visited Israel said they too support Israel's permanent control of the territory.

People across Israel were greatly pleased with U.S. President Donald Trump's declaration of support for Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. For Israelis across the political spectrum, it was a dream come true to have a U.S. president making such bold pro-Israel gestures that work to undermine Iran and its proxies. However, Israelis should be aware that Trump is not the only one who views positively the idea of Israel controlling the Golan. Due in large part to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's outreach to the Muslim world, there are others who view the idea favorably.

It is no secret that there is a historic bond between the Kurdish and Jewish peoples. Following Kurdistan's independence referendum, only one country recognized the right of the Kurds to declare a state; that country was Israel. As it turned out, Netanyahu's brave gesture toward the Kurds paid off. The Kurds appreciated Israel's historic gesture toward them. They are one of the few Muslim peoples who proudly wave Israeli flags at rallies. Due to the history of persecution that they experienced under Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Kurds more than anyone else in the Muslim world support Israel and are open to recognizing Israel's claim to the Golan, especially following Trump's historic declaration on the subject.

In recent days, this sentiment among the Kurds has been highlighted. A Kurdish delegation from Iraq and Syria visited Israel as guests of the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights and the Kurdistan-Israel Friendship Association, which seeks to strengthen the bond between the Kurdish and Jewish peoples. In the framework of their visit, the delegation visited Jerusalem, the Golan, Judea and Samaria and Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where the pediatric department is presently treating over 15 children from Kurdistan. And now, some figures in the delegation are speaking out in favor of recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan.

The visiting Kurdish delegation was very moved about everything that Israel has done to advance the health of the peoples in the Middle East region. Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, believes that this can serve as an olive branch for peace in this part of the world: "There is no country in the world that receives and treats sick children from countries where they hold no diplomatic relations with them. There are children from Kurdistan, Syria, Gaza and other countries that are treated free of charge in hospitals in Israel out of Israel's unique humanitarian conscious."

Safadi noted that for years he has been working to advance an independent Kurdistan and stronger Kurdish-Israeli relations. He viewed the visit of this delegation, which consisted of members of the Kurdistan-Israel Friendship Association, an adviser to Kurdistan's former President Masoud Barzani and other activists, as the culmination of years of work promoting Kurdish-Israeli relations: "The visit to the hospital gave them a glimpse of Israel's humanitarianism, the visit to the Druze villages gave them a picture of the coexistence between different faiths in the Holy Land and the equality enjoyed by Israel's minority groups, etc. They saw the Israel that is not witnessed in the Arab and international media. I think that doing one visit like this is more effective than dozens of hasbara [public diplomacy] lectures."

Dr. Hussein Saudo from Afrin, Syria said about his visit to Sheba Medical Center: "We had a very exciting visit where we saw Israeli humanitarianism in action, how they treat children from a foreign country free of charge, how Israel invests in technology to save children who would otherwise die and what I was impressed the most by that most of the team, who were Jewish, were treating children from Kurdistan, Gaza, Syria and other countries, which caused me to cry tears of joy."

He added that in light of his visit to the Golan, he understands why Israel holds onto the territory: "The Golan Heights is a pearl of stability in the region only because it is controlled by Israel and there is no reason for Israel to give up those territories. The Golan Heights must remain under Israeli control in order to preserve regional security."

The head of the delegation, Kardox Cankurd, added: "An Israeli hospital that takes care of Kurdish, Syrian and Palestinian children with the same level of devotion as they take care of Israeli children deserves every consideration. We, the Kurdish nation, recognize Israel's autonomy over the Golan Heights. Even before the American declaration on the Golan Heights, it is an inseparable part of Israel's security and the Israeli livelihood. I know from conversations with those born on the other end of the Golan Heights that they wish for a situation where Israel will liberate them from Syrian tyranny and will unite them with the free and liberated part under Israeli control."

In the wake of this, it appears that Israel's humanitarian missions, whether through IsraAid or Save A Child's Heart or the program at Sheba Medical Center, are serving the long-term strategic objective of changing hearts and minds across the Middle East region. Following this development, the time has come both for the creation of an independent Kurdistan and international recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. This is especially the case in the wake of Trump's historic declaration on the subject. If a Muslim nation follows Trump's lead and recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, even more legitimacy will be given to Israel's claim to the area.

International recognition of Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan with an extension of Israeli citizenship to all residents in the area would be the most humane thing that the world can offer to the Druze living in that region. The fringe protesters in the Golan don't represent most Druze. Once the international community recognizes Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, Safadi believes that most Druze living in the area will accept Israeli citizenship. The 2018 attacks in As-Suwayda, Syria, just 70 kilometers (40 miles) from the Israeli Golan, in which ISIS massacred 258 Druze and abducted 14 Druze women and girls, demonstrate the critical importance to the Druze of Israel keeping control of the Golan. In present-day Syria, the Druze don't have much of a future. It would be inhumane to hand over the Druze to be ruled by a ruthless tyrant who butchers his own people.

Israel's annexation of the Golan has been important for preserving the heritage of an ancient faith whose ancestors have lived on this land since the days of Jethro. If Israel takes such a bold gesture, the Kurds and countless other persecuted peoples will rise up and support the Jewish state, thus granting Israel international legitimacy to rule the area. In light of Iran's support for the Assad regime and the bloodshed that occurred during the Syrian civil war, not only the Kurds but many other peoples across the region are unlikely to blink an eye at the thought of permanent Israeli rule on the Golan. The people here understand that the Iranian regime and its proxies, rather than Israel, are their true enemies.

Rachel Avraham is the president of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights and a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research and Public Relations.


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