The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Gallilee, the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret, and to the south to the Yarmouk River. The Golan is usually divided into three regions: northern (between Nahals Sa'ar and Gilabon), central (between Nahals Gilabon and Dilayot), and southern (between Nahal Dilayot and the Yarmouk Valley).
Like a number of other regions, this area has been contested for thousands of years. Originally known as Bashan, the area was contested between Israel (the northern of the two Jewish kingdoms extant at that time) and the Aramean kingdom since the 800s BCE. King Ahab of Israel (reigned 874-852 BCE) defeated Ben-Hadad I in the southern Golan. In the 5th C BCE, the region was settled by returning Jewish exiles from Babylonia (modern Iraq). In the mid 2nd C BCE, Judah Maccabee aided the local Jewish communities when they came under attack. Jewish expansion on the Heights continued until the Islamic conquest in 636.
The area was named Golan following the Roman occupation - The Greeks referred to the area as "Gaulanitis", the term used by the Romans, which led to the word "Golan".
For various political and economic reasons, Jews were unable to return to the Golan until the 1880s, when a community called Ramataniya was started; it failed within a year. In 1891, Baron Rothschild purchased approximately 18,000 acres of land in what is now Syria. This area were farmed by Jews until 1947 when the land was seized by the Syrian army.
After the 1948-49 Israeli War of Independence, the Syrians fortified on the Heights, from which they shelled civilian targets in Israel and launched other attacks for the next eighteen years. 140 Israelis were killed and many more were injured in these attacks from 1949 to 1967.
During the Six-Day War (1967), the IDF captured the Golan Heights on 9-10 June. Nearly all of the Golan's Arab inhabitants fled. The area which came under Israeli control as a result of the war is two geologically distinct areas: the Golan Heights proper (1,070 km2) and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range (100 km2).The Israelis began resettling almost immediately followed the war. Kibbutz Merom Golan was founded in July 1967. By 1970 there were 12 Jewish communities on the Golan and by 2000 there were 33 settlements holding around 14,000 people. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Syrian forces captured parts of the Heights, before being pushed back beyond the border by a Israeli counterattack. Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire agreement in 1974 that left the Heights in Israeli hands. A UN force - UNDOF (Disengagement Observer Force) was established in 1974 to supervise the implementation of the agreement and maintain the ceasefire with an area of separation. The rest of the Heights were controlled by the Israeli army until 1981 when the Knesset annexed the land with the The Golan Heights Law. Following the passage of this law, the military administration was replaced by civilian authorities.
The Syrian and Israeli governments are still contesting the ownership of the Heights but have not used overt military force since 1974. The strategic value of the Heights both militarily and as a source of water means that a deal is uncertain.