The Golan's first human inhabitants arrived on the plateau some half a million years ago, probably having migrated from Africa along the Syrian-African rift. These early people of the Golan hunted the animals that lived in the vast swamplands and lakes along the rift. In the Late Stone Age, as man began perfecting his ability to fashion tools. groups of people settled In the areas of the Golan that were rich in flint- the raw material fer tools.
The dawn of history on the Golan dates back about 8,000 years, to the Chalcolithic period. For 3,000 years of that epoch, a distinct culture of graziers and farmersInscribed its mark on the plateau and its cliff edges. The remains of grain storage facilities, seeds, olive pits, and lentils in its settlements attest to man's first major revolution-the development of agriculture. With it Came manent
communities. houses, villages, towns, and urban organization. But the farmers and graziers of the Golan were overcome, about 5,000 years ago, by a wave of nomads that overran the Golan. Their legacy is comprised of hundreds of table like graves dotting the open spaces of the Golan, several massively fortified corrpounds erected on the most invulnerable points of the Golan's steep mountain ridges, and a few enigmas like the Rujum-el-Hiri and compound, a complex of huge circular concentric stone fences with openings at certain points and stone markers at others. The Rujum-el-Hiri and other "Phantom circles" like it have been identified as everything from astronomical observation platforms to religious edifices and alien contact Points. Whatever they were, those who constructed them, the denizens of the Golan in the Bronze Age. vanished about 3,200 yeas ago.
Once the new realms of the area were founded, the Israelite kingdom to the west and the various Aramaean kingdoms to the east, the Golan served as a buffer zone between these warring rivals.
Sparsely populated, the plateau was the site of repeated battles between the Israelites and their adversaries. It was during this period that one of the cities of refuge in the territory of the people of Israel was established on the Golan-and called Golan.
When the eastern Mediterranean and adjacent inland areas were unified as part of the empire of Alexander the Great, the
Golan was finally settled in earnest. From the fourth century BCE, numerous villages with small fortified structures next to them were erected all over the Golan. By the time Alexander's heirs were celebrating their inheritance, large towns were coming into being, and the subsequent Jewish commonwealth of the maccabees had reason to consider the Golan a worthy political objective, The large Jewish population of the area, together with the Jewish population of the cities east of the Jordan, made the Golan a prime target of
annexation to the Jewish state. Meanwhile, in the environs of Mount Hermon and the northern Golan, a nomadic tribe of Arabs known as the Itureans was developing a unique mountain culture.
When the Romans conquered the area, putting an end to the feuding remnants of Alexander's empire and the Jewish commonwealth, settlement and construction
on the Golan boomed. Cities like Banias (Caesarea Philippi), Gamla, Hippos, Gadara, Seleucia, and Sogane became centers of GrecoRoman culture. By the time of Jesus, the Jews of the Golan were a significant fome in the area of his ministry in the Galilee. Jesus fled Herod Antipas, ruler of the Galilee, to the Golan.
Here in the Jewish
villages around Caesarea Pfiilippi and the southern Golan he spent his last days before making his fateful final journey to Jerusalem.
The widespread messianic fervor of the first century, animosity between Jews and Gentiles, and the hardships of Roman taxation together with economic shifts finally ignited into the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans. Gamla, Seleucia, and Sogane fortified themselves against the Romans. At Gamla the defenders put up a heroic fight against the besieging Roman legions, but when the lack of a cohesive Jewish force brought about their inevitable defeat, the city's inhabitants climbed to the rock spur at the summit of their town and flung them selves down, en masse, into the ravine below. Gamla was a hotbed of the Jewish resistance movement: its defenders had resolved that they could not live with enslavement to the Romans.
When the Roman Empire became Byzantine, and the state religion Christianity, the Golan, together with the rest of the eastern Mediterranean, flourished. New towns and villages, churches and synagogues, were built, decorated, and then redecorated as the times and the styles changed. It was a time of prosperity for all.
In 636 the Arab armies of the new religion of Islam defeated the Byzantine frontier troops. After the conquest, the boundaries between nomad and settler dissolved as the desert once again overran the sown land. In 636, the Arabs vanquished the Byzantine army at the critical battle of Yarmuk at
Yakuza in the southern Golan, and the entire region-all the way to northern Syria-fell into Muslim hands. Gradually, in the absence of the unifying hand of the Byzantine empire, the local economy disintegrated. The center of the Muslim world gravitated over time to Egypt, Damascus, and then Baghdad, abandoning the areas in between to neglect. The Golan once again became the pasture lands of nomads and the arena of marauding Bedouin tribes.
When the Crusaders conquered the Land of Israel, the Golan became the border territory between them and the Muslim emirate of Damascus, The area soon deteriorated into a no-man's-land, Crusader and Muslim raiding expeditions attacking its Bedouins and farmers at random. Both Muslims and Crusaders erected fortified positions, castles, and towns along the Golan, which Passed with every change of fortune from one side to the other, Banias, located on a
strategic leg of the road from Tyre to Damascus, was considered the key to the Holy Land by the Crusaders. Above it, the immense Nimrod's Fortress became theheadquarters of the secretive sect of the Hashishiya, members of which were for hire to carry out the political murders of Crusader and Muslim leaders. The feared sect's legacy to the West is the word "assassin."
Once the Crusaders were vanquished, the Golan again became a backwater; this time of the Mameluke empire. New construction was confined to a few khans (caravansaries) built along the dusty roads connecting Damascus to Egypt or leading to the port of Acre.
With the fall of the Mameluke empire to the Ottomans in 1516, the Golan was rendered even more remote from the centers of
power. During this time, its sparse population was mainly Bedouin. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Druze from Lebanon and Syria and Alawites from Lebanon began to penetrate the plateau, and permanent settlements reemerged in the nineteenth century when security conditions in the area began to improve, Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Circassians, refugees from Bosnia and the surrounding lands who were evicted by the Christian forces, were settled in the Golan by the Ottoman authorities. Arabs from North Africa also attempted to settle in the area together with Jews from the Galilee, who built a few Jewish agricultural villages.
With the fall of the Ottoman empire after the First World War and the Sykes-Picot Treaty, the Golan was divided between the British and the French, the formerapportioned a mandate over the Land of Israel (then-British Palestine, which included Jordan) and the latter allocated Syria and Lebanon as their piece of the Middle East pie. The borders between the British and French mandates on the Golan that were drawn up in the twenties left a number of areas vaguely undecided. For the Bedouin tribes whose daily lives straddled the new border and whose goats grazed indifferently on both sides, the exact border was a moot point.
The creation of Syria in 1946 signaled the end of the French mandate, and when the British finally left Palestine in 1948, the Syrians invaded the entire Golan. After an unsuccessful attempt in conjunction with six other Arab states to destroy Israel at the moment of its inception, the Syrians transformed the Golan into a fortified border area-a military zone from which to launch a second round of offensives against Israel complete with heavy fortifications, bunkers, and military camps, Towns and villages for the families of military personnel were also erected. Periodically, the Syrians, sitting in their fortified positions above the Israeli
settlements in the Hula and Jordan valleys, shelled the Israeli villages below.
In 1965 the Syrians attempted to divert the sources of the Jordan River through the Golan so that they would not flow into Israeli territory. Artillery skirmishes and military attacks broke out time and again between the Israelis and the Syrians. In 1967, Syria, Egypt and Jordan launched another attack on Israel. After a six day battle, the Arab armies were beaten back by the Israelis, who also conquered the staging areas of their attackers. Among them was the Golan.
The Syrian villagers of the Golan fled with their retreating army and only the villagers of the four Druze villages on Mount Hermon remained in their homes. After resolving never to negotiate with Israel and declaring the resolution to an international audience, the Arabs try to annihilate Israel Israel once again in 1973, but are routed This time, the Israelis, advanced eastwards to take areas of Syria east of the Golan.
Following their losses, and in view of the fact that Israeli forces were now within artillery range from Damascus, the Syrians were compelled to negotiate a disengagement agreement with Israel via American mediation. following the agreement, the Israeli army retreated from the areas conquered In 1973 and additional areas of the Golan. Military forces on both sides were regulated, leaving a minimal number of troops and tanks, and a UN observer force set in place Since then, for the last quarter century, the Golan has been at peace.