After many years guiding in holy places like Jerusalem and Nazareth and other cities in Israel, to my great surprise, I discovered an amazing and not touristy area — the Golan Heights.
I want to start by telling you about the amazing trip that I made and experienced with SUVs in the Golan Heights but before, I will start with an overview of this amazing area and its history. The Golan Heights area is in the territory of Israel on its northeastern side, in the west is the Sea of Galilee, in the northern part is Lebanon and on the east Syria and Jordan.
The area is mentioned in the Bible several times and it was the ancient name of the city Golan.
Book of Joshua: “Hebron in Judea against Betzer “in the desert; Nablus on Mount Ephraim against Ramot in Gilad; Kadesh in the Galilee against Golan in Bashan ”
Probably the meaning of the name Golan is from the Hebrew word – exile.
The tour begins from a magical Kibbutz which is located in the Golan Heights near Mount Bentel and is called Merom Golan.
The Kibbutz was established in 1967 and was the first Israeli settlement established in the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War, about a month after the end of the war. The settlement of the kibbutz began in a place called “Elika” and the locals had to move several times following the bombings of the Syrians after 1967 but finally settled here.
The kibbutz also suffered from heavy bombings from the Syrian side during the Yom Kippur War – 1973 and even evacuated, but the residents have returned to the area to this day. The kibbutz grows apples, plums, peaches, kiwis, mangoes, lychees, and cherries and is considered the pioneer of crops in the Golan Heights.
The most famous packing house of the Golan Heights is called “Bereshit” and from there the fruits are transported to all parts of the country. Inside the kibbutz, there is a luxurious hotel that provides accommodations for visitors and where you can enjoy the fruits of the Golan Heights.
Another famous attraction of Merom Golan is the local sculpture Yup De Yong who Immigrated to Israel at the end of the Yom Kippur War and arrived in the Golan Heights to understand the meaning of the term “kibbutz”, there are many surprises in life and our friend fell in love with one of the kibbutz girls and finally married her and started a family! The artist has begun sculpturing as a hobby and after the privatization of the kibbutz, he made sculpture his main profession. His sculptures are made of metals and scrap and his studio is located in the heart of the kibbutz.
From Kibbutz Merom Golan I leave with my SUV and pass the locals who are smiling at me, an unfamiliar but pleasant feeling compared to the center of the country … I pass the entrance gate which is closed on days of tension but today it is wide open, next to the gate there is a beautiful Rainpool, during the winter this reservoir is filled with rainwater and can be used to irrigate the fruits on summer months, sometimes you can see fishermen who put live fish into the pond and try to develop their hobby, the fish, by the way, is a creative solution to clean the water from bacteria and pests!
From there I continue towards Mount Bentel and the “Kofi Anan” observation point, Mount Bentel is a volcano that has not been active for many years and from here you can see the highest mountain in Israel, Mount Hermon.
In the spring, at the tops of the mountain, you can see beautiful white snow that hasn’t melted for several good months, on my right you can see Mount Avital on the top of which is a military base of 8200 unit whose job is to gather information about the Syrians. The summit of the mountain is actually a Syrian bunker that was abandoned in the battles of the Yom Kippur War and has remained in Israeli territory ever since.
Today you can enter and be impressed by the bunker that was used until a few years ago and you can sometimes see UN soldiers looking in the direction of Syria and Quneitra.
The city of Quneitra in the Syrian territory was occupied during the Six-Day War by the IDF and returned to Syria who chose not to settle it ever since. This is actually the closest city to the Israeli border today.
“Valley of tears”
This is one of the great sites of heroism in the Israeli wars. Here – is a four-kilometer-wide valley that interrupts the volcano sequence in the eastern Golan Heights – one of the two containment battles was held with the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War that stopped Syrian forces from flooding the Golan Heights and descending into the Galilee.
150 tanks of the IDF’s 7th Armored Brigade fought for three days and four nights against 450 Syrian tanks reinforced in four infantry and artillery brigades, an Iraqi brigade, a Jordanian brigade, and with the addition of Saudi forces.
The main task fell on the shoulders of the 77th Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. Avigdor Kahalani. While the Israeli tanks were hit one by one, and others followed in their footsteps to escape the scene of death, Kahlani organized 14 tanks and managed to stop the Syrian tanks. On the “ramps” – the seat of the Israeli positions. Kahalani and his soldiers recaptured them and eliminated dozens of Syrian tanks in a difficult battle. Reinforcement from the Barak Brigade helped prevent the break-in of the Golan Heights, and the Syrians withdrew leaving about 300 charred tanks.
The site was nicknamed the “Valley of Tears” after the same valley in Jerusalem, between Guy Ben Hinnom and Emek Refaim, which became synonymous in Judaism with the suffering of the exile and the persecution of the Jews.
The Syrian headquarters in the Golan Heights
The Syrian front headquarters in Conitra is near Kibbutz Merom Golan, from which we left. It is a large structure erected in the 1960s by the Soviet army for the Syrian army and initially served as a hospital for the wounded, but was later converted into a military headquarters.
The headquarters is a large three-story building, built as long corridors with rooms on either side. You can walk between the rooms and the floors, there are broken and ruined stairs but there are also some that can be climbed to the roof of the building. From there you can look out over the green fields of the Golan Heights.
In one of the rooms on the second floor in the northern wing of the headquarters (the intelligence wing of the headquarters), a memorial plaque and Eli Cohen’s pass certificates in Hebrew were placed. And in Arabic to indicate the fact that the Israeli spy Eli Cohen visited the place several times..this room makes you feel proud and you begin to understand how strong the Israeli army is and how wise it was to infiltrate a Jewish spy at the forefront of the Syrian army.
Outside the building in the large parking lot, there is a basalt rock that commemorates Eli Cohen’s visit to the site, as well as the quote: “For, lo, Thine enemies are in an uproar; and they that hate Thee have lifted up the head”. On the rock is a statue of a lock with a peephole that symbolizes the intelligence work aimed at breaking the lock of other institutions.
I finished my tour of the Golan Heights with a trip to the Banias, a wonderful nature reserve “painted” in bright green with endless water flow, a great route for the eye and soul which in the end there is a beautiful waterfall!
I probably won’t travel abroad this year but on the other hand, amazing and thrilling history is definitely an experience that is no less worthwhile.