With thanks: Hadar and Yisrael
President Trump's endorsement of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights has led to much comment assuming the territory has always been Syrian. But Jews did own land prior to 1948 in the Golan, and the JNF still own acres of land in the Houran, south-west Syria today. While ownership is a separate issue from sovereignty, the matter, like much else in the Middle East, is not as clear-cut as some would have us believe.
The Jews had a farming community at Ramtania at the turn of the century. The Beit Yehuda Society on the western slopes of the Golan had 2 ,000 dunams of land (One dunam equals one English acre or 1,000 sq. metres). Originally called Bir a Shagum, the community was established by Jews from Safed. The original Bir a Shagum community suffered terribly from attacks by Bedouin who used to arrive in the Golan every summer with their livestock. Families left because of the attacks and eventually just one family remained. They held out for a while but eventually left too.
Between 1891-4, 150,000 dunams were owned by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and 100,000 dunams bought by Agudat Haim Society in Fiq & Daraa. Land was also owned by the Shavei Zion Association. Land in the Horan area of what is today south west Syria technically belongs to the Jewish National Fund like the rest of Rothschild's purchases now.
The Golan Heights, looking towards Lake Kinneret (Photo: Roman Sulla)
Here is an extract from Manfred Lehmann's blog about the Baron Rothschild's purchases:
There followed intensive discussions among various Jewish groups interested in the offer, among them groups in Russia, New York and London. The Baron agreed to cover the whole cost of the purchase.
Since the Baron was always keen to preserve his anonymity, he arranged for the deeds to be registered in the name of Emile Frank, the Representative of Alliance Israelite in Beirut.
The plan called for the Russian group, under Ekaterinoslav, to take 25,000 dunam and the Americans also 25,000, with other holders taking the balance. But since these groups did not come up with the money, it fell to the Baron to become the owner of the major part of the Golan Purchase.
When the Baron died in 1934, 80,000 dunam on the Golan were owned by the Rothschild company, PICA (Palestine Jewish Colonization Association). The land had been registered in the name of PICA in 1929.
The Syrian government - Syria was then practically a French colony - tried in the 1940s to confiscate the land but failed.
In 1957, the son of Baron Edmond, Baron James de Rothschild (1878 - 1957), as one of his last acts in his life, transferred the deeds to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) and from there to the Land Office of Israel. All deeds and other documents were transferred to Israel's Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
Books referring to Baron Rothschild's purchases on the Golan