Construction Projects & Billions in Investments: Israel is Making Over Golan Heights

© AFP 2022 / AHMAD GHARABLIThis picture shows a general view of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on December 28, 2021. - Israel's government approved on November 26, a one-billion-shekel plan ($320 million, 280 million euro) five-year plan to double the Jewish settler population on the Golan Heights, a strategic area that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
This picture shows a general view of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on December 28, 2021. - Israel's government approved on November 26, a one-billion-shekel plan ($320 million, 280 million euro) five-year plan to double the Jewish settler population on the Golan Heights, a strategic area that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
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The Jewish state's government has recently decided to double the amount of residents in the disputed plateau. It also announced that a great deal of money will be injected into infrastructure projects, the expansion of current towns, and the creation of new settlements.
In 1981, when Israel applied its sovereignty over the Golan Heights - captured from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967 - the idea was that pretty soon the disputed plateau would turn into a buzzing area filled with people.

Largely Uninhabited

In reality, however, that hasn't happened and even today, 40 years after the Golan law, the area is largely uninhabited. Only 53,000 people live there. Some 27,000 of them are Jews, 24,000 are Druze, and the rest are Alawites.
Haim Rokach, the head of the Golan Regional Council, says he understands what has kept the general public from the area.
© AFP 2022 / THOMAS COEXA sculpture of an Israeli soldier standing guard is seen next to a sign for tourists showing the distance to Damascus and Baghdad at an army post on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on June 23, 2015.
A sculpture of an Israeli soldier standing guard is seen next to a sign for tourists showing the distance to Damascus and Baghdad at an army post on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on June 23, 2015. - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
A sculpture of an Israeli soldier standing guard is seen next to a sign for tourists showing the distance to Damascus and Baghdad at an army post on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on June 23, 2015.
It is not just the proximity to the Syrian and Lebanese borders that have been problematic in the past decade. It is also the absence of basic infrastructure, proper education, and medical services. It is limited access to the internet, the lack of job opportunities, and very few shopping and entertainment options.
Over the years, successive Israeli governments have tried to encourage people to settle in the Golan. In 2014, for example, they poured millions of dollars into the development of agriculture in the area and assisted in relocating hundreds farmers, who would cultivate the land of the plateau.

Major Investments

That, however, wasn't enough and when Rokach took charge in 2018, he decided to step up efforts and push the government to invest even more.

"We came up with a plan aimed at doubling the area's population over the next ten years. And those efforts have finally borne fruit".

At the end of December, it was reported that the current government had proposed an initiative that would see a dramatic increase in the amount of Golan residents. It has also agreed to invest millions of dollars in the area's infrastructure, the provision of services, the boosting of the education system, the expansion of current towns and cities and the creation of new ones, in a bid to cater to the needs of the new residents.
Although Rokach says that decision was "well received" by the residents and the leadership of the area, it has also raised multiple concerns.
© AP Photo / Ariel SchalitOct. 11, 2018, an Israeli flag in front of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Syria slammed President Donald Trump's abrupt declaration that Washington will recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, saying Friday March 22, 2019, the statement was "irresponsible" and a threat to international peace and stability
Oct. 11, 2018, an Israeli flag in front of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Syria slammed President Donald Trump's abrupt declaration that Washington will recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, saying Friday March 22, 2019, the statement was irresponsible and a threat to international peace and stability - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
Oct. 11, 2018, an Israeli flag in front of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Syria slammed President Donald Trump's abrupt declaration that Washington will recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, saying Friday March 22, 2019, the statement was "irresponsible" and a threat to international peace and stability

"One such concern is the potential harm such an expansion could do to the cohesion of the community. Another is the damage that could be dealt to the area's environment. But I can assure you we are making all the necessary arrangements to make sure that these problems are avoided".

Attractive Destination

While the plan is still in the works, thousands have already started flocking to the area. Partially, due to prices in the region still being affordable compared to the rest of Israel.
And because of the coronavirus pandemic, which showed people they could work from the comfort of their homes, even if that home was located in the periphery away from the centre. And partially, due to the nice vistas, clean air, and open spaces considered a commodity in the centre.

"Before COVID-19 we had some 200 applications a month. Now we are boasting over two thousand and we are struggling to cater to them all", said Rokach.

This trend might continue, especially if the government keeps its word to inject billions into a region that has largely been neglected. And Rokach believes that this time around there won't be any setbacks.

"We tried to work with the previous government too. But it couldn't promote the plans because of its political problems. With this coalition, I am sure things will go differently. Of course, there are no 100 percent guarantees but I am optimistic that we will get the much-needed support".

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