Online tutorial creates new country: Golan Heights

This past summer, I blogged about the fact that the Marin YMCA had created a brand new country called East Jerusalem.  That was foolish but, in terms of reach, relatively innocuous.  The Marin County Fair, while well attended, is not quite big enough to change the way people think.

But what about a company that freely offers myriad online tutorials that pop up at the top of any Go0gle or Bing search?  That might have an effect.

My son had to memorize the Middle Eastern countries for a geography class at school.  I searched for “interactive maps Middle East” and found myself here, at the Sheppard Software website, which promises to “make learning fun.”  It does, too.  My son was able, after a few minutes of play, to master the geography of Middle Eastern nations that had been bedeviling him for the last hour when he was just pouring over a piece of paper.

I cannot fault Sheppard for the quality of its work.  I was troubled, however, to learn about a couple of new countries in the Middle East.  If you look at the left sidebar on the linked page, you’ll see that it adds two countries:  the Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights.  I can actually understand the impulse to create the Palestinian Territories, since those two places have independent governments, although neither is an officially recognized nation.

Sheppard’s creation of a nation-state called the Golan Heights, however, is utterly inexplicable.  Israel seized the Golan Heights in 1967.  The Heights are a lightly inhabited area, with the approximately 40,000 occupants on the Israeli side consisting primarily of Jews and Druze (who are not radically hostile to Israel).  What’s extremely important about the Heights is the fact that, as the name implies, they are a high ground overlooking northern Israel.  When Syria occupied those heights, it used them to turn northern Israeli towns into turkey shoots, with every resident, young and old, an easy target for even the most incompetent gunner. (John Kerry thought it would be a great idea to turn the Heights back over to Syria.)

The Heights are not currently a hot spot, although they are certainly yet another bone of contention between Israel and her genocidally inclined neighbors.  They do not house an angry, disaffected population; they are not a breeding ground for terrorists; and they are not even part of a demand from the Obama administration.  The people within the Heights are not pushing (or, at least, not pushing with the loudness and violence the Palestinians are) for sovereignty or for a re-alliance  with Syria.

None of these seems to matter to Sheppards, which has created a nation out of whole cloth, the nation of “Golan Heights.”  Even under the most optimistic anti-Israeli view, the best that the Golan Heights could be is Syria.  The only reason to include it in a map as the Sheppards people did is to score a political point against Israel.

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  • Don Quixote

    The detailed description of the territory fully acknowledges its disputed status.  Granted, the description appears to have some bias against Israel, but it certainly does not suggest that the Golan Heights is a country.

    True, in the game itself they refer to everything as “countries” but I’m not sure how else they could refer to them. Trying to separate true countries from disputed territories would over-complicate things I think.

  • Bookworm

    You’re right, DQ, that if you actually click on the link, there is a narrative explaining the Golan Height’s disputed status.  But that’s not how the kids learn.  They go to the interactive maps, which purport to show all the countries in the region.  Their goal is to memorize names and locations, so they treat the Golan Heights as if it is a separate country.  That’s how they learn it.  Few, certainly at my son’s age, click through.

    The more honest way to have handled this would be to include in both the Israel and Syria narratives a separate statement about the Heights’ annexation and the dispute.  To treat the Heights as a free-standing nation, and then to hide a complicated description behind it, one that children won’t understand, is at best disingenuous.

  • Spartacus

    If nothing else, it’s a good, concrete opportunity for your son to learn about biased information.  Seeing your reaction to something that seemed authoritative is much more instructive than simply being admonished in an abstract way to weigh the accuracy of information presented to him.  One fact right or wrong is less important than how we collect and vet “facts” as we go through life.


    The arbitrary decision to list the Golan Heights as a separate country is outrageous. I did not search the entire site for ‘disputed land’. Since the site gathers historical information or lack thereof from wikipedia, it’s already tainted and so will the minds of the students.

    Not once did I ever have to present a passport or identification traveling north in Israel. Isn’t this something you have to do when exiting one country and entering another.

    What is the capital of the Golan Heights?

    If I get an answer from the site, I’ll let you know. I emailed them already.

  • Ymarsakar

    These people would be at the bottom of the list I draw up for strategic personnel in a war.

  • Don Quixote

    BW,  I agree, but in the game part, how do you designate the territory in dispute, or do you grey it out or something?

  • Ymarsakar

    DQ, you simply affiliate it with the nation that currently controls it. Only making a note that the control has not been all that long.

  • suek
  • Ymarsakar

    End game, but for whom suek?
    Aren’t they relying on Obama’s touch to force the issue in their favor.


    I read somewhere in recent days that Rabin told Netanyahu that Oslo was a mistake.


    DQ – Dispute is a subjective term. Israelis (not the lefty types) don’t dispute that the Golan Heights are part of Israel. It’s not like the global king pins or Sheppard software came to the aid and assistance of Israel during any of her wars.
    Arab neighbors attacked, they lost, end of story.

  • Gringo

    I would give independence to the Golan Heights, if we could in return grant San Francisco independence and set up border controls that keep the San Franciscans confined to the City.  :)