Last month, in late February, I had the occasion to travel to the Golan Heights with my American niece and her Israeli boyfriend, a proud young man who grew up in Tzfat and environs and knows the Upper Galilee and the Golan quite well.
We traveled through the heights and made the obligatory stops at a Druze village for lunch, then Coffee Anan (a coffee shop whose name uses a double entendre as a humorous reference to the former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan), and some nearby bunkers and lookout sites where, at one, United Nations Disengagement Observer Force personnel were ‘observing’. Then we traveled a dirt road toward an abandoned Patton tank, probably left over from the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
About a block from the tank, a barricade had been placed across the road. There was no accompanying warning signage, so we stopped the car and walked the short distance to the tank. While sitting atop the wreckage and looking at the nearby valley below with the border fence and the emptied Syrian town of Kuneitra in our view, some shelling began. First it sounded quite in the distance. My niece’s boyfriend described the various percussions as ‘incoming’ and outgoing’. Were they mortar or tank fire? It was uncertain. Then a very loud blast occurred. Were they shooting at us? We quickly decided to leave, noticing what seemed to be a recently deceased fox nearby. What killed that animal? Perhaps this place was not safe from stray bullets or other ordnance.
Later, we deduced that the frequency of explosions was the work of rebel groups positioning themselves, as the Syrian civil war ceasefire was signed that day but would not go into effect for some 48 hours, allowing for the possibility of gains in territorial holdings by the groups before the deadline. The experience was as close to war as I would ever want to be. When we descended from the Golan, I recited the shehechayu prayer and continued my Israel trip in less dangerous venues.