Israel – Golan Heights

Driving in an open air Jeep over more than 800,00 active landmines to the front lines of the Israeli defense line along the Syrian border. Stop in an Israeli bunker right near the border to see inside and understand about the civil/religious conflict going on in Syria. Look out to the near city of Quneitra the pre ’67 capital city of the Syrian Golan, today a ghost town. Get to the border crossing, Israeli soldiers on one side and Syrian rebels on the other. Cross the crater of Mount Avital to head back. Be careful where you step and stick to the guide! Sound interesting? Read on!

I’d been to the Golan Heights before and was blown away by Mount Bental, and the Golan Winery, overlooking Syria and learning about all of the history and conflict past and present. Going back to Israel, I sought out something less touristy and more authentic to really understand the history and present day situation and I found “No Other Land” jeep tours. This tour may sound scary but believe me when I tell you, it’s a must!

The drive from Jaffa/Tel Aviv to the Golan is 2.5-3 hours each way, we did the drive both ways and tour in a day and didn’t feel too tired for it. You could also opt to stay overnight in the region.

We met our tour guide on the kibbutz, Merom Golan where he has lived his entire life. We got in his jeep and began to drive through Orchards that as a Canadian, felt reminiscent of Niagara Falls. Our guide explained that the region is the only one to figure out how to grow summer fruits and vegetables in the winter and are the only supplier during these months, which brings profit to the kibbutz. We drove past apple and cherry orchards and into an area that said “military access only.” Luckily, our guide is in the military on reserve and we got access by proxy. We drove through some very hilly terrain up hills to lookouts with abandoned tanks from the 6-day war. We passed numerous signs that said beware of land mines as our guide told us there were 800,000 active landmines just from Syria still to be deactivated from the 6-day war! Of course, what goes up, must come down and instead of turning and going back the way we came, we drove almost vertically down one hill back to normal road, which was a thrill! As we drove, we learned. Our guide was a source of knowledge that you will never get from any news source and while we were only being given an Israeli perspective on the conflict, we all clung to every word. His knowledge and the stories he told us were remarkable! We reached our final destination before heading back, an abandoned bunker not far from the Syrian border. The border is a fence that you can see right in front of you from this vantage point… not much between you and them. Our guide said you can usually hear shelling’s from here, but luckily we avoided hearing that on this particular day. It was wild to walk through the bunker and see where real, terrible conflict took place currently abandoned and strangely full of porcupines. It was even more surreal to look out over Syria and see what looked to us like a normal town, Quneitra, which is the mostly destroyed and abandoned capital. Our guide told us only rebel fighters remain there and all of the windows have been blown out. He pulled out a map and showed us where Aleppo was from where we were as well as pointed out regions where terrorist organizations have taken control. It’s something of a mental disconnect to look at plush green-land that doesn’t appear war torn to our untrained eyes and to know what’s really going on there. Sad and surreal. This was a tour that was right off the beaten path, literally and is a real life experience!

I’ve been to Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany on a European bus tour and hated the experience and I barely got through the movie Inglorious Basterds, it made my stomach churn. I know what my family lived through and seeing any dramatized or worse yet, real representations of that is something that I will never again seek out. The same feelings were evoked at Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Israel. The reality of the history almost makes me wish to continue being ignorant to it, as I can’t understand how the world could have let this happen.

Ironically, as I accompanied our guide, a former paratrooper to the front lines of the Syrian border, we looked out into the vastness of Syria and I thought, “How could the world let this happen?” Speaking to the civil war and multiple terrorist organizations that feed on the poor circumstances of 50% of the population being under the age of 19, 30% unemployed and 4,000,000 farmers who were displaced due to drought. All the perfect breeding grounds for one to seek purpose, in the name of joining an extremist group. The newest and arguably scariest form of terror to date, where they are not afraid to die. Don’t go on a tour such as this if you are not prepared to hear and learn about the things we are not seeing on the news in our safe first-world countries.

We drove up to Mount Bental after the tour, it’s only a 10 minute drive from Merom Golan and worth the pit stop for the spectacular views.

http://www.no-other-land.com/

Tour cost: $200USD for up to 8 people

Mount Bental: free entry

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