When you stand anywhere in the western side of the Golan Heights, you understand why these Heights gave the Syrians such a great view with which to target Israeli towns and kibbutzim in the Galille’s Hula Valley below (despite the summer haze).
This view is from Nimrod Fortress, a remarkable Crusader-era Muslim defensive position (see more Nimrod photos at the Flickr site). From various hillsides around this region, one can see remnants of positions from which Syrian forces regularly shelled northern Israel between 1948, when the modern state of Israel was founded, and 1967, when Israeli forces captured the Heights.
Given the view from up here, and the relentless attacks of the period of Syrian control, it is easy to see why there is limited enthusiasm within Israel for returning this territory in any future “land for peace” deal with Syria. This is not the Sinai–distant from either side’s population centers. The Golan is not only close to the Galilee region; there is also a distance of a mere 60 km from the current eastern border to Damascus. So even if controlling the high ground is less important in an era of missile warfare than it once was, being able to threaten a quick counterattack on Damascus in the event of a future conflict remains strategically valuable for Israel. Besides, the Golan has water. And skiing. And apples and cherries. Israelis love it, for good reason, even if relatively few have settled it–it is striking how empty of people the region is–and even if it has comparatively little Biblical value to the religious Zionists* (in stark contrast to other territories seized in 1967).
Unfortunately, aside from the photos of Nimrod, I took relatively few photos as we drove through this region in late July. We were too rushed to get to the Witch’s Cauldron and the Milkman for what proved to be, even without photo-op stops, a very late lunch (and a sumptuous one, by the way, with great local goat cheeses). So I am thankful to Michael Totten for his recent post, “Above the Killing Fields of the Galilee,” which includes photos of abandoned Syrian positions and a bombed-out mosque, of the big boulder piles that the Israeli segments of the road from Damascus detour around, of the minefield warning signs, and of a memorial to war dead from 1973. All sights that impressed us as we drove by, yet we did not stop to photograph. We did, however, stop by another disused mosque near Banias. That was after lunch.
In addition to the photos, Totten relays some interesting interviews he had with Golan settlers, and they most certainly are not anything like the Judea and Samaria/West Bank settlers in their political views! The few Israeli settlers of the Golan have more in common with the early, secular and leftist, kibbutzniks than with the dominant strands of the settler movement of the other territories.
All in all, the Golan Heights are a fascinating and beautiful region. A trip there provides real insights into one aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I see the Shugards–quite a similar name!–also have posted photos of the Golan, including the Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant.
And, while we are on the topic of other bloggers posting photos of places I have recently been, Yaacov Lozowick was as taken by the Che store in East Jerusalem as I was. His post runs a good deal deeper than that, however (pun very much intended).
* Even if there are several ruined ancient synagogues in the area, attesting to past Jewish settlement (from the post-Second Temple period).