Just Above Sunset
July 23, 2006 - Never a Dull Moment

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Our Man in Tel-Aviv is Sylvain Ubersfeld, and perhaps he picked the wrong time for a quick vacation, a few relaxing days in the Golan area. So here's an account of trying to spend a few pleasant days in the Golan Heights, on the Syrian border, as a war breaks out. There are ten photos to give you a feel for the place.

A battered mosque, a remnant from the last war...
A battered mosque, a remnant from the last Israel-Syria war on the Golan Heights

In an attempt to escape from pushy Tel-Avivians, from the loud music on the beach, I decided to return to one of the loveliest place in Israel - Golan Heights!  


For those of you who have never set foot in Israel (and are understandably hesitant to do so now) try to imagine passing from a rugged mountainous area along the Syrian border onto an incredibly large plain, the Golan, so flat that one could imagine being anywhere in Europe, where the landscape is simply nothing but miles ahead of fields, open spaces, and straight roads for miles and miles. The Tiberias area, home to the sea of Galilee, associated forever with the life of Christ, is located below sea level.  It is one of the hottest spots in Israel.  Climbing up the road to Golan Heights from the sea of Galilee one cannot but notice the difference in temperature - simply incredible.  It is just like living a furnace and stepping directly into an American-size refrigerator.


The recreation spot selected by my friend Keren was a "zimmer" (1) located in Neve Ativ, at the foot of Mount Hermon (6500 ft), a small village used by couples and families alike for weekend outings, nicely located between the Lebanese and Syrian borders, in the very northern part of the country.  This area, inhabited mostly by Druze with incredibly light eyes, a possible result of previous mixes between European and local population (2) appeared to be the ideal location for a couple of days of re-run honeymoon trip, which also included a two-month-old Maltese puppy.  A few miles before reaching the destination of our trip, as the evening lights were setting upon the profile of Mount Hermon, we heard a loud explosion on one side of the car.  As my wife questioned the noise, my answer was very simple - just a few noise repellents to scare the birds.  Nothing to worry about.  A second explosion a few hundred yards later made me wonder what kind of birds needed to be repelled by explosions of this kind.


As we continued driving, this time a bit faster, and still hearing explosions, I saw a sort of military flag on the right of the road.  My wife told me she thought it was an advertisement for a burger place - she was hungry and may be was it wishful thinking.  It was indeed a military flag signaling the presence of a long-established training camp for gunners, an artillery school of some kind where soldiers learn to fire cannons first and then how to deal with and deafness.  Nothing to worry about indeed.  As we finally reached the hotel, the number of keys being left in key holes was impressive.  Everyone must have gone for a day of hiking in the mountains, and we would do the same tomorrow . The dog would probably love it.


As we set up our gear in the bungalow and started making plans for dinner, I called my friend Keren in Tel Aviv to thank her for the beautiful location she had selected.  I told her about the training school for gunners and she laughed.  I told her how pleasant the trip had been, and how cool the weather was compared to the rest of the country.  We then went for dinner at a beautiful and secluded restaurant.


Lovers like to be alone… and we so we were, having dinner, sipping wine while the gunners of the military school continued to practice shots long after sun finally set.  As we were driving back to the hotel and slipping into bed to watch a French movie, the courageous gunners of the  artillery training school  kept shooting, firing, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  This made me wonder why in hell would artillery practice continue at night time.  The answer was simple - there must have been so many trainees that they needed to take turns, and the day is not long enough therefore warranting for night practice possibly with the help of some night vision systems.   While in bed, watching television, I noticed that in between practice gun shots, there was the high pitched noise of jets flying over the area.  Possibly some passenger flight having just taken off from Beyrouth did I think as I turned my attention to the television set showing a movie with famous actor Roger Hanin and Lino Ventura.


The gunners from the artillery school practiced the entire night making me regret very much the 1100 NIS (244 dollars) paid in advance to spend two nights in this secluded area. Morning found us in bed, hungry for an Israeli breakfast.  The hotel dining room was empty.  No doubt that Israeli families on an outing had left earlier than us and were already hiking in the mountains.  We were the only ones in the huge breakfast room.  As I went to the lobby to drop off the key of the bungalow, I caught a glimpse of the television set available to customers - smoke was billowing over Beyrouth and Naharya.  The war had started last night as we were eating our liver pâté and toast close to the top of Mount Hermon.  The practice shots were in fact fired with live ammunition and we were the only two idiots in the hotel having slept between the fire line of the Israeli Defence Forces on one side and the rocket launchers of the Hizbullah on the other.


I am not an expert in politics, nor do I want to spend the time analyzing who is right or who is wrong or providing an "insider's point of view."  So you will not find in these lines any "politically wise" statement of any kind.  My line is life - culture, languages, gastronomy, and social life.  There is, however, a point which really struck me as contributing to the weirdness of a situation totally foreign to me, and this should be considered also as a part of the Israeli contrasts which I am discovering on a daily basis, and often reporting to whoever is interested - for most of the Israelis, south of Naharya and even down to Haifa, the order of that day was simply "business as usual."  Further south, Tel-Aviv beaches were full of beachgoers for Shabbat, soiled diapers were still being left on the beach, jelly-fish were folding their tentacles and going towards other waters, while Noah, our two-month-old Maltese puppy was sitting on the balcony, facing the sea wind, simply enjoying his doggy's life.  Israel has this capacity to switch modes of operation from peace to war from war to peace and back again.


It has been like this since 1948, it has become an unfortunate way of life, and it will remain so for years to come as the threat will always been there, regardless of who is in power and which local dictator in the area is trying to upset the fragile balance of the Middle-East.  This war - hopefully a short one - is considered by some as a war of evil against good, legitimate for some, illegitimate for others, but there is no difference between dead Israeli civilians and dead Lebanese civilians, and any lifeless body resulting from the cranking up of the war machine is a demonstration of Man's missing wisdom.  There is no "clean war."  As the Israeli television is showing reports of air strikes of a surgical precision, often compared with pictures of 21st century video games (you know, the games your kids enjoy playing, with soldiers killing one another and sappers blowing up buildings with terrorists inside) those who pull the strings in other countries are working on the best methods to better increase their power, to better manipulate terror forces in order to cause the maximum damage.  Although I am not a specialist in geopolitics, one thing is clear in my mind  - this is not just a simple war.  It is a part of a bigger scheme - it is not a war of conquest, it is a war of religion. like it or not.  There is no difference between planting bombs in "western countries" and firing "katiusha" type rocket towards civilian population. 


Writing these few lines leaves me with a bitter taste in the heart about my own reactions to the situation.  Not for one second have I been worried about the possibility that war would extend further south.  Not for one second did I consider leaving the country and using the situation as an excuse to go and spend some time in Cyprus.  Not for one second did I think about the possibility that a long-range missile would find my address in south Tel-Aviv and blow up my building.


What does this mean?  Am I simply becoming used to the idea of terror being a part of everyone's daily life?  Am I getting tougher, or simply insensible?  How should I feel when learning about the death of Lebanese civilians or Israeli soldiers?  Last night as I was having dinner at Susanah (3), and listened, as I always do, to the conversation of patrons dining and wining.  A well-known word came up in the conversation all the time - katioushot (4).  It is not an Hebrew word but a Russian one, and pronouncing it can only bring either bad memories or trigger more fear.  I have no idea when the military campaign will stop.  I have no idea if I will be able to switch off the feeling of hatred I have for religious people of all kinds who start wars and activate explosive devices in the name of God.  But there is one thing for sure - living in Israel is a rich experience.  No one will ever be bored here, regardless if in peace or in war, in this country "flowing with milk and honey."  However, it may appear that due to the lack of a strong message delivered early enough to the Middle East terrorist states or organizations, the milk has gone sour and the honey attracts only terror and death.


Here, from Sunday morning to Saturday night (5), there will never be a dull moment.




(1) Zimmer is a general name for a bed and breakfast place. It is often a bungalow including a kitchen and a Jacuzzi allowing couples some creativity in the way they want to enjoy their time away from the kids!


(2) The Druze reside primarily in Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Jordan.  Large communities of expatriates also live in the United States, Canada, Latin America, West Africa, Australia and Europe. They use the Arabic language and follow a social pattern very similar to the other Arabs of the region.  Most Druze consider themselves Arabs; Israeli Druze, however, absolutely do not want to be classified as Arabs. Israeli Druze are living in areas where the contacts between local population and crusaders or Turks were extremely frequent in the 11th to 13th century period. Druze are not always recognized as Arabs by other Arab nations.


(3) A small restaurant in Neve Tzeddek, located close to Susanne Delal culture and dance center. The outside terrace is under a huge tree. It is usually patronized by several artists living in the Neve Tzeddek area, along with tourists.


(4) Katioushot. The plural form in Hebrew of the "borrowed" Russian name Katiousha. The Katiusha-type of rocket has been a traditional part of the firepower associated with guerilla and paramilitary forces for a long time and in different countries ranging from Cuba to Syria . This type of short range rocket, manufactured originally in Russia, can still be found in large quantity in Syria, as a "left over" mark of the previous Soviet Union's relationship with Damascus and support for the Palestinian and other causes.  Syria has been singled out a couple of days ago for supporting the Hizbullah's activity by supplying military equipment of all kind to the group of Cheikh Nasrallah, the warlord heading the Hizbullah forces who   abducted two Israeli soldiers on Israeli soil about ten days ago. It is to be noted that the presence of Hizbullah forces in the southern part of Lebanon are mostly due to the incapacity of the Lebanese government to impose its own sovereignty on the entire country which was, until recently, was "occupied" by Syria. Hizbullah, a religious Islamist militia, has been operating in areas totally off-limits to the Lebanese regular forces. South Lebanon is "a state within the state."


(5) The "Israeli week" starts on Sunday morning and finishes up Saturday night, at the end of Shabbat (shabbes for those lovers of Yiddish language).

The Golan Heights
The Golan Heights

Nimrod fortress close to Mount Hermon
Nimrod fortress close to Mount Hermon

Old Syrian bunkers and wind turbines, Golan Height
Old Syrian bunkers and wind turbines, Golan Heights

On the other side of the fence, a Syrian post
On the other side of the fence, a Syrian border post

On the way to Mount Hermon - Majdal Shams
On the way to Mount Hermon - Majdal Shams is a Druze village

The border with Syria
The border with Syria at the bottom of Golan Heights

There are still mines in the Golan area
There are still mines in the Golan area, dating back to the war with Syria

Noah, the Maltese puppy
The first day of the war - business as usual for Noah, the Maltese puppy

Katiusha damage in Nahariya (AP)
Katiusha damage in Nahariya (AP)

Photos and Text, Copyright © 2006 - Sylvain Ubersfeld

Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
Timestamp for this version of this issue below (Pacific Time) -

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