How My Father in Law Singlehandedly Captured the Golan Heights in 1967

In honor of Yom Hazikaron, I wanted to write a piece about the miracles my father in law experienced in the 6 day war. A lot of brave men lost their lives fighting for our country. Baruch Hashem, my father in law is alive to honor them. On Independence day, he is being given the honor of lighting the torch in his Yishuv of Yuvalim located in the Galilee.

The Golan Heights is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I highly recommend hiking in the Golan Heights in the spring, its hills blanketed with red, yellow, purple and white flowers while waterfalls pour down into pools chiseled from black volcanic rock.

hexagon pools
River Saar Golan Heights (Photo: CC-BY Ali Abu Ismail, pikiwiki)

In addition to the spectacular landscape, the Golan Heights is rich in Jewish history. You can explore the ruins of over 60 ancient synagogues dating back 2000 years. Some of the most famous sites include the ancient village of Katzrin and the hilltop fortress of Gamla but there are many sites that remain mostly undeveloped. It is normal to be hiking along the breathtaking trails of the Golan and turn a corner to discover the partially uncovered and deserted ruins of a synagogue dating back to the Byzantine period.

Entrance to Ancient Synagogue in Katzrin (photo CC-BY Gilibrand, wikipedia)
Entrance to Ancient Synagogue in Katzrin (photo CC-BY Gilibrand, Wikipedia)

This beautiful ancient Jewish region of the world was singlehandedly captured by my father in law in a defensive war against Syria in June 1967. And by singlehandedly, I mean he participated.

In 1967, at the age of 35, my father in law Yakov was called back into the reserves having to leave his wife and three year old daughter (who would later become my wife) back home in a bomb shelter in Haifa. My wife remembers that her Aunt Bekka came from Tel Aviv with her baby daughter Galit to stay with them because of the fear that Tel Aviv would be bombed. Yakov was stationed at Kibbutz Ein Gev. Kibbutz Ein Gev is on the east side of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) at the base of the Golan Heights. Syrian troops were based on the top of the Golan in fortified bunkers and since 1948 had regularly subjected the farmers of the Kibbutz to gunfire from the safety of their positions.

Yakov was in an artillery unit. Twenty members of his unit were ordered to take position at the edge of the kibbutz on top of one of the foothills to the Golan. Later he was to learn that this was considered to be a suicidal position, but considered necessary to defend the kibbutz. Under the cover of darkness, teams of four climbed the hill, dug holes and covered them with camouflage netting. They stayed inside their holes with their mortars ready and waited for war to begin. Yakov could peek out from his hole and see the fortified Syrian bunkers a few hundred yards across from him. During the long summer days, they hid in their holes, eating and peeing and pooping inside. Only at night could they exit.

On June 5th, the war began. Israel launched surprise bombing raids against Egyptian air fields catching the Egyptian Air force on the ground thereby taking air superiority. Jordan attacked from the West Bank. Things remained quiet on the Syrian front until June 9th. Yakov stayed with his unit hidden inside his hole while Israel first captured the Sinai desert from Egypt and not only repelled the Jordanian attack but was able to conquer East Jerusalem and the West bank.

On June 9th, the Syrians opened artillery fire against Kibbutz Ein Gev. Yakov’s unit was ordered to return fire. Yakov was completely exposed on his hilltop and the Syrians pounded his position. Yakov could hear artillery round after artillery round hit around him hour after hour. Miraculously, the artillery shells did not explode. After hours of shelling, air support was called in and the shelling stopped. Yakov was able to evacuate his position and retreat back to the Kibbutz. As he exited his hole, Yakov counted no fewer than 10 unexploded artillery shells next to his hole. Had a single one exploded, he would have been dead. Later, he learned that the Syrians had stored the shells underground and the humidity had rendered the shells ineffective. His unit commander ordered the men to bathe in the waters of the Kinneret in a kind of baptismal ceremony to thank Hashem for the miracle that they were still alive. Only three of the 20 men in his unit were injured, none seriously.

Yakov’s unit was then ordered to advance upon the fortified Syrian positions in the Golan. His team of four men got into a truck and drove forward with the rest of the unit. But his truck broke down and the commander ordered Yakov and another soldier (a butcher from Kiryat Ata) to stay with the broken down truck.

On the morning of June 9th the Israeli army advanced onto the heavily fortified Syrian positions. Had Yakov’s truck not broken down, he would have been among this advance. The main thrust was from the North. Yakov advanced in the dark of the night from the South. He sat in the back of a single truck climbing the curving rode up the mountain holding an old Czech rifle. The rifle was able to fire a single bullet at a time. He passed within a few yards of fortified Syrian bunker after bunker. Had a single soldier decided to open fire, his truck could easily have been destroyed.  Not a single shot was fired.

Syrian Bunker from 1967
Remains of a Syrian Bunker guarding the Southern Approach to the Golan

The next day, with an infantry unit, Yakov returned to inspect the bunkers. He found that most had been deserted or that Syrian troops were hiding inside eager to surrender. Later, Time magazine reported: “In an effort to pressure the United Nations into enforcing a ceasefire, Damascus Radio undercut its own army by broadcasting the fall of the city of Quneitra three hours before it actually capitulated. That premature report of the surrender of their headquarters destroyed the morale of the Syrian troops left in the Golan area.”

Yakov at my Wedding
Yakov at my Wedding

Miracle after miracle happened on June 9th for my father in law. Still today whenever I drive highway 98 up into the Golan I can see the remains of the Syrian bunkers and I imagine myself as my father in law, sitting in the back of a truck, not knowing if a Syrian soldier is waiting safely inside the bunker ready to shoot me. I would be such an easy target. In 1967, nobody shot at my father in law. My father in law survived. Other soldiers sacrificed their lives. Today, Jews and Arabs live together in peace in the Golan. Farmers in Kibbutz Ein Gev and all along the border of the Golan can safely tend their fields without fear of being shot by Syrian snipers. And I can safely return to explore this beautiful, historic Jewish land. I wish to honor the memory of the soldiers who fought and died not just for the Golan, but for all of Eretz Yisrael.

עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו, הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵיֽנוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִמְרוּ : אָמֵן.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.