Golan Heights: Controversial Land
On the map of Israel, the Golan Heights (Ramat ha-Golan) is a narrow strip bounded by Lake Kinneret in the west and the Yarmuk River in the southeast. This is a volcanic plateau, Israel owns 1,150 square km with a length of 60 km and an average width of 25 km. The mountains Bental and Avital – extinct volcanoes, hot springs are beaten out of the ground into Hamat Gader.
In the east there are no boundaries designated by nature itself. But there is a purple line between Eretz Israel and Syria. This is a ceasefire line – but Syria periodically forgets about it.
It is very beautiful here. Luxurious nature in some places has been blooming for half a century without a human presence, these lands are fenced and marked with yellow warning signs: old Syrian mines are sleeping in the ground like dragon teeth from Greek myth. Therefore, people here have nothing to do. But on its territory, Israel guards a peaceful life – therefore, from Mount Hermon they ski, in the water complex Hamat Gader you can hear music and children’s laughter. The well-fed wild boars roam around the Yar Yehudia reserve, who were never frightened by shots, and tourist groups walk along Banias.
This is the land where grapes grow well. Wine-making is one of the most important sectors of the economy of the Golan Heights. Here, more than 12 wineries, some of them eventually turned into factories. The Ramat ha-Golan winery, Katzrin, Keren, Kidmat Zvi, Yonatan, Meydan, Ramat Magshimim, Geshur – everywhere you can buy a bottle of excellent red wine.
From hand to hand.
The Jews lived in the Golan from deep antiquity. From 953 BC these lands belonged to the kingdom of Israel, from 586 – Aramaic. In 332 BC here came the empire of Alexander of Macedon, and then – the Romans. Golan Heights attracted conquerors. And what about the Jewish population? Jews fought for independence with the Macedonians and the Romans.
But the First Jewish War ended with the destruction of the Second Temple. Do not blame the Jews – they always fought heroically! But against Rome, as against scrap, there was no reception: the whole world belonged to him. Then the dominion of Rome over the Golan was inherited by Byzantium. And after the collapse of this empire, Syrians ruled here. Subsequently, the Crusaders, who marched from the Holy Land to Damascus, greatly hampered them.
In the XVI century, the Golan Heights became the property of the Ottoman Empire. And they remained so until the end of World War I. Then the countries of the Entente divided among themselves domination over the Turkish “splinters”.
As early as 1917, Britain, through the mouth of Lord Balfour, informed the whole world that it was benevolently looking at the fact that the Jews wanted to find a homeland in Palestine. However, in 1923 the English government conveyed the Golan Heights to France.
Mistress of the Syrian-Lebanese Mandate. And Syria, feeling French support behind her, began to drive the Jews from “her” land. In 1944, Syria declared its independence and included the Golan in its borders. No other Jew could feel safe on this earth. After the War of Independence Israel, the Syrians turned the Golan into a solid military base. Shelling Upper Galilee and the neighborhood of Kinneret. From the height, it is convenient!
The war for the Golan Heights.
During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel lasted 24 hours, so that the 23-year-old Syrian rule in the Golan was over. But hoping that Syria will not try to regain such an important strategic point is too naive. Together with Egypt, which lost the Sinai Peninsula during the Six Day War, Syria attacked the Golan. It happened on October 6, 1973. For Muslims – the 10th day of the month of Ramadan.
For the Jews – Yom Kippur. Day of forgiveness, redemption, cleansing from sins. But what kind of forgiveness is here when 1,300 Syrian tanks and 28,000 soldiers reached the Golan Heights. Syria was hoping for a quick breakthrough of Israel’s defense. Here they are, the bridges across the Jordan. If this happened, very soon enemy tanks would drive through the streets of Tel Aviv.
But by 8 am the Israeli tank crews in the Golan knew that they needed to prepare for battle. And by noon the tanks were ready to meet the enemy. On the side of Syria there was numerical superiority, the effect of surprise, night vision devices, and strong support from artillery and aviation.
Israel has only 200 tanks (6 times less than the Syrians) and 4,500 soldiers (7 times less than the enemy). And on the side of Israel there was an ardent desire to protect the Country. And no “one-day breakthrough” from Syria has happened.
Valley of Tears.
Israeli reservists arrived too fast, and Syria’s losses were surprisingly large. As if Syria was fighting not with the border garrison, but with all the power of the Israel Defense Forces. And where were the Syrian night vision devices?
When 30 tanks at midnight were attacked by a single Israeli, led by Lieutenant Zvi Gringold? He drove up close to the enemy (he had nothing with night vision!), Shot and changed position. It seemed to the Syrians that it was a whole compound! And they retreated under fire from the Zwicki Detachment of two tankers — Gringold and his mechanic.
The struggle was for every meter of land. Especially there were fierce battles under the mountain of Bental. The village of Kuneitra, where Syrian forces were concentrated, was completely destroyed.
October 8, the invaders attack choked. Already on October 10, they were knocked out for the Purple Line, held during the Six Day War.
After the incident, the valley under the mountain was called the Valley of Tears. There, near the village of El Rum, and now there are dead tanks. On the ground of fighting: semi-covered moats, anti-hedgehogs, coils of barbed wire. On Mount Bental is a war memorial. The surviving defenses and the observation deck. On the way uphill you are met by funny iron cranks. These sculptures are made from the wreckage of combat vehicles left after the fighting. The author is a Dutchman Jupp de Jong from a kibbutz Merom Golan.
Merom Golan – the first kibbutz, based on the Golan after the Six Day War. Now it is a peaceful and picturesque tourist center in a rustic style with a swimming pool, walks in jeeps and all-terrain vehicles and a meat restaurant.
After the fight.
Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Peninsula. But he refused to give the Golan flatly. Citizens of the country have suffered enough, living under Syrian shelling. Israel itself needed this wonderful strategic and defensive point. And in 1981 he announced the annexation of these lands and their inclusion in the state.
But the United Nations did not like it, and according to the resolution of the UN Security Council from the same 1981, the Golan is a Syrian territory occupied by Israel.
Since 2011, Israel had to re-mine the border strip, build a wall, strengthen electronic intelligence. Syrians too often “rush to their homeland.” Armed to the teeth and hung with explosives.
Sights of the south of the Golan Heights.
In addition to the Kibbutz Merom Golan and the famous resort of hot springs Hamat Gader. Known since Roman rule over Judea. The southern part of the Golan Heights is rich in the reserve Yahar Yehudia and the charming village of Ramot. The capital of the Israeli Golan, Katzrin, is also located here.
Yar Yehudia is a natural park with rivers and pristine lakes Meshumim, valleys and waterfalls. The lakes are surrounded by natural pentagonal “columns” of stone. Here is the realm of wildlife. Vultures soar in the sky, red foxes and jackals briskly run among the bushes, wild boars travel through the thickets with a crunch. At the same time, there are excellent hiking trails in the reserve, and it is a pleasure to walk along it.
This is a village with a beautiful view of the Kinneret Lake. There are many restaurants with delicious and healthy country food and family pensions. You can ride horses, bicycles and jeeps. From here it is easy to get to Yahar Yehudia and the Kursi National Park with the ruins of a Byzantine monastery.
The main attraction of Katsrin is the Golan Museum of Archeology. There you can see four expositions devoted to the history of the Golan Heights from prehistoric times to the period of the Second Temple. There is a room dedicated to the history of the city of Gamla. Heroically fought against Rome in the First Jewish War. There are also architectural fragments of ancient synagogues found in the Golan – there is even a stone menorah.
The archaeological park is a reconstruction of the ancient Jewish city with streets, houses and a synagogue.
By purchasing a ticket to the museum, you pay and inspection of the archaeological park.
Golan Heights: what to see in the north.
The south of the Golan Heights seems to be more habitable, peaceful, rustic. The north is a completely different matter. It looks wilder with its cliffs, turbulent mountain streams, eagles circling at a huge height and Hermon’s snowy summit.
Mount Hermon is mentioned in the Old Testament. Its height is 2814 m. It houses the only ski resort in the Country and the “eyes of Israel” – a military base. Here you can make spectacular photos. Both the mountain and the views from it are very picturesque. Public transport does not go. We’ll have to climb on foot or by car.
Druze settlements settled closer to the foot on the mountain slopes: Majdal Shams, Bukata, Ein-Kiniya and Masada (as a fortress over the Dead Sea). Friends are hospitable. They have excellent cuisine, interesting customs. After the Six-Day War, those whose relatives remained on the other side of the Purple Line were forced to report important family events (weddings, funerals) with shouts from a hill near Majdal Shams. Literally!
On the hill was a family with a megaphone and carefully screamed. To be heard by relatives on the other side of the border. Of course, this was before the era of cellular communications and the Internet. But the Druze is not offended by Israel and after 1981 many of them became citizens of the country and even serve in the IDF.
The fortress lies in ruins. She was built by the nephew of the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Salah ad-Din Osman al-Aziz, to prevent Frederick II of Hohenstaufen and his knights, the participants of the VI crusade, on the way from Acre to Damascus. Subsequently, the castle, conveniently located on the trade route, attracted Sultan Beibars, and he significantly expanded it and strengthened it. But after the defeat of the crusaders, the fortress was not needed and gradually fell into decay.
This natural reserve is located at the foot of the Hermon. Banias Stream flowing out of the cave is one of the sources of the famous Jordan River. Before the confluence with the creek Dan forms a beautiful waterfall.
Once there was an ancient city, built in the IV or III centuries. BC. The Ptolemies and the Seleucids fought for him. And after the Roman conquest of Judea, Octavian Augustus bestowed Banias upon his friend Herod. We know him as the Great. He in gratitude built here the sanctuary of the Divine Augustus. Herod’s son Philip went even further in servility towards the Roman masters.
He reassigned the city to Caesarea Filippova. No, not out of vanity, of course, but so as not to be confused with other Caesarea! But all surpassed Herod Agrippa. Who Caesarea, as if dedicated to all the Roman Caesars at once, turned into Neronias, dedicated personally to Nero!
From ancient times there are fragments of the sanctuary of the forest deity Pan. The city was inhabited by two Jewish communities – Karaite and Babylonian. From the Romans there remained stone arches and parts of streets and houses. From the ancient Jews – the ruins of a synagogue.
In the Golan, it is better to travel in a personal or rented car. And where it is undesirable – pedestrian routes.
Golan Heights: useful information
How to get to the capital of the Golan Heights.
- From the central bus station of Jerusalem – by bus number 966. Every day except Saturday and holidays – two flights there and two back.
- From Tiberius – buses number 15, number 19. Every day except Saturday and holidays – three flights there and two back.
By car personal Rent a car in Israel.
Archaeological Park in Katsrin
Museum and Park Hours:
- Tuesday – Thursday: from 09:00 to 16:00.
- Friday and pre-holidays: from 09:00 to 14:00.
- Saturday, holidays: closed.