Posted by David
We spent a beautiful morning in the Golan Heights on Thursday. It was a relief to get out of the heat and amazing to see the lush valleys with apple, cherry, and pear orchards as well as grape vineyards, olive groves, fish ponds, wind farms, and so much more. The soil is very rich stemming from the volcanic activity that formed the area millions of years ago. Itzik (formerly known as Yitzhak in the most recent post) talked to us about both the ancient and modern history of the area as well as the geology. Here’s a brief synopsis….
The area consists of less than 500 square miles and there are approximately 40,000 thousand Israelis living in the area and a number of Druze. Israel has had control of the Golan Heights since it captured the area (along with the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai Desert) in the 1967 Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The area is strategically significant for many reasons including its long border with Syria which is officially at war with Israel and would like to see its destruction (this is and has been a stated goal of the Syrian Government), it’s only about 60KM from the northern part of the Golan Heights to Damascus. In fact, the Israelis made it within 30 miles of Damascus during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 before the Syrians surrendered. Water run-off from Mount Hermon, the highest peak in Israel (about 9K feet above sea level) provides nearly 15% of the fresh water supply to Israel through run-off into the Jordan River, which feeds the Kinnerit or Sea of Galilee.
We went to a beautiful look out point , Mt. Bental, and were able to see the border with Syria including the U.N. Peacekeeping troops. The lookout point was filled with bunkers from which the Israelis fought the Syrians.
We heard about the famous Israeli spy, Elie Cohen, and his brilliant and tragic career infiltrating the highest ranks of the Syrian government including being appointed, but declining, a post as the Secretary of Defense for Syria. His story is told in the book, Our Man in Damascus, which Nison (Amy’s father) has often talked about. Elie Cohen continuously fed strategic information back to the Israeli military, which helped them immensely in 1967 and 1973. In one great move, he encouraged the Syrians to plant eucalyptus trees on the army bunkers where the soldiers were stationed to help keep them cool during hot training sessions. The trees were planted and allowed Israel to easily find the Syrian army bases by looking for the only eucalyptus trees in the Golan.
Itzik also took us to some places like a new gourmet chocolate making factory started by an Argentine immigrant whose family has been in the chocolate making business for generations. The place was great and the chocolate was amazing. We also went to a very nice food court for lunch where we had, you guessed it, falafel, bought from an exceedingly friendly Israeli of Moroccan decent who told us he had “The Best” falafel in Israel (it was really good but it is funny how hyperbole is used here SOOOOOO much….get it? It’s common to hear people talk about the first, the only, the best even if the discussion is simply about something as mundane as toilet paper) and insisted that we should buy a small farm in The Golan with about 10 acres and a house for approximately $400,000 U.S. He also happened to need some eye care, which Greg very graciously helped him with and now he can see much better. It wasn’t like Greg performed cataract surgery right there at the falafel stand but he did help the guy get some reading glasses which helped him much better than the $800 glasses he had just bought.
In the same area as the falafel stand there was a great micro-brewery and some other very interesting shops that are examples of Israeli creativity.
Because Syria is so consumed with what appears to be a general uprising (more than 2,000 protesters have been killed) against the brutal and corrupt government of Bashar al Asaad, the border has been relatively quiet.
It’s hard to say what will become of The Golan, but I don’t think it will go the way of The Sinai or Gaza. As our prophetic bus driver, Eitan Recthman, said, “Look, two things are possible, Israel will keep The Golan, or they will give it back.” At the moment, it’s not the biggest issue on the agenda for Israel.