Touring the Golan Heights
A short guide to the history and strategic value of Golan Heights. One of the most contentious places on the planet.
Spanning about 1800 kms, this basaltic plateau is bordered by the Mount Hermon in the North, Wadi Raqqad in the East, Sea of Galilee in the West and Yarmouk river in the South. This area was captured from Syria by Israel during the 1967- Six Day War.
Jewish history in the Golan dates back to Biblical times with the existence of Jewish life in this region, as recorded in various texts. Back then the region was known as Bashan. The name Golan itself derives from a city of the same name in the Bashan region.
For Israel it is a crucial strategic & security asset and an important water resource. A special UN force is posted along the Israel- Syria border. After the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Israel and Syria signed a new ceasefire agreement which left almost the entirety of the Golan under Israel control. However the agreement also saw a buffer zone amounting to 5% of the disputed land transferred to Syria. It was incorporated into a demilitarized zone governed by United Nations Disengagement Observer Force ( UNDOF).
In the middle of this plateau there is an ancient megalithic monument consisting of concentric circles of over 42,000 stones with a tumulus at center. This site is called Rujm El Hiri in Arabic meaning Cats foot. In Hebrew it is called Galgal Refaim meaning Giant’s Circles.
The largest Syrian town in the Golan Heights until 1967-Six Day War is Quneitra. During the Six Day War the Israeli government decided not to attack it, for the fear of Soviet intervention on the Arab’s behalf. However on the last day of the fighting, the Syrian radio announced that Israeli soldiers had moved in and conquered this town. Syrian authorities hoped this falsified broadcast would result in immediate intervention and thereby save the town. But the announcement had quite the opposite effect on the local residents who fled in fear. When the Israeli forces arrived they found the town abandoned. After the war, this town was returned to Syria but left abandoned as a propaganda site against Israel.
Lake Ram is an amazing natural wonder located close to Mt Hermon. The sources of water to this volcanic crater are from rain water and underground spring. The Lake has no outlet. It is known in Hebrew as ‘Brekhat Ram’ meaning high pool.
It is home to about 50,000 people and majority of them are Dzure Arabs. The Dzure residents consider themselves to be Syrians and continue to decline the option of taking the Israeli citizenship, preferring to hold Israeli permanent resident status. Nevertheless they enjoy civil rights including education, welfare, insurance, free to travel, study and work all over Israel.
Hippos is an amazing ancient archaeological site located on a hill over looking the Sea of Galilee. This fortified Greco-Roman city was once a prosperous city but declined during the Muslim rule and eventually abandoned after an earth quake in 749 AD. It is also known as Sussita in Aramaic and Qal at al Hisn in Arabic. The precise reason why this city received this name is unknown.
Another interesting archaeological site in this region is Kursi. It contains ruins of the Byzantine monastery. The ruins were discovered accidently. They were first unearthed during a road construction 1970 which then led to a major excavation from 1971-74. The artifcats and objects found, are housed in Golan Archaeological museum. It is identified by the tradition as the site of Jesus- ‘Miracle of the Swine’.
Gamala is another ancient and important Jewish city. During the Great Revolt: First Jewish- Roman War, it became an important strong hold for rebels and because of this, Gamala is a symbol for the modern state of Israel. Gamala Nature is a prominent tourist attractions known for its flora & fauna and several ancient sites.
“We don’t thrive on military acts. We do them because we have to, and thank god we are efficient”.- Golda Meir