Riding a Jeep in the Golan Heights
There is not one big vacation that comes to mind that I didn’t suffer from some kind of motion sickness.
I do not do well with motion. When I asked my friends back home who had been on one of these jeep rides in Israel how it was, they described it like being on a roller coaster.
I do not do roller coasters. Even stop-and-go traffic makes me ill.
But I am still glad I embarked on a two-hour jeep ride through the Golan Heights. Like anything else in Israel, every tourist activity, even a seemingly carefree jeep ride, is an opportunity to learn and further reinforce the fact that land, water and security are never things taken for granted.
The scenery along the ride was beautiful. The recent winter rains keep pastures and fields green.
Cows graze along the pastures. The rainfall in the winter provides grass for the cows, which then provides milk, butter and other dairy products for the Israelis.
But, within that beauty is a constant reminder that it wasn’t too long ago that the people below lived in constant fear when the Syrians controlled the Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights are high bluffs that were captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War.
Fact: Israel is not hungry for more land. They are hungry for safe, defensible borders. So, why then, does Israel not give it back? First of all, what country in the history of the world has ever been put upon to give back land it won in a war? Where are the Golan Heights and why are they strategically important to Israel?
According to JewishVirtualLibrary, from 1948-67, when Syria controlled the Golan Heights, it used the area as a military stronghold from which its troops randomly sniped at Israeli civilians in the Hulah Valley below, forcing children living in villages to sleep in bomb shelters. In addition, many roads in northern Israel could be crossed only after probing by mine-detection vehicles. In late 1966, a youth was blown to pieces by a mine while playing football near the Lebanon border. In some cases, attacks were carried out by Yasir Arafat’s Fatah, which Syria allowed to operate from its territory. For more on the Golan Heights, go to JewishVirtualLibrary
If you need a visual to get oriented to this region, here is a map that shows you just why the Golan is important to Israel’s security. Our jeep toured through the tiny green area. With the current situation in Syria and a Lebanese government that is controlled by Iranian backed Hizbullah, the map shows that Israel is set within one very rough neighborhood:
If you still don’t understand why the Golan Heights are essential to Israel’s security, I’ll let our jeep driver, Avihu Hardy Yessod-Hamala speak for himself.
Avihu is a stout, strong man in his mid-50s with the ruddy complexion of a man who farms for a living. A retired pilot from Israel’s Air Force, Avihu is a fourth generation Israeli. In the early 1900’s, philanthropist Baron Edmond James de Rothschild commissioned Avihu’s great-grandfather to come to Israel because of his expertise as an agriculturist. Once in Israel, he helped pre-state Israel’s first wave pioneers learn how to turn northern swampland into farmland as part of Rothschild’s Jewish Colinization Association.
Avihu still lives in the same village in the fertile Hula Valley that his great-grandfather helped found. The region serves as resting point for 500 million birds that migrate each year from Europe to Africa. Avihu’s family grows fruit like peaches, plums, pears and pomegranates that are sold locally in Israel and exported to Europe.
Avihu remembers as a child the dangers his villagers faced every day they went into the fields. Syrians had a stronghold and fortresses in the hills we drove along. From that vantage point, the farmers in the fields were like fish in a barrel. Very easy to shoot.
When Avihu was 14, the Six-Day War broke out. Avihu remembers sleeping in those bunkers mentioned above. He remembers his village being shelled.
In some of the fields, there are still active mines though the war ended over 40 years ago. The Syrians refuse to tell Israel where the mines are in these fields, so vast parts of land are wired off with warning signs in Hebrew, English and Arabic. As we took a break sipping freshly prepared mint and honey tea that Avihu made for us in a portable kettle, we could not help but reflect on the beauty – and the still lingering danger – that surrounded us.