Mas’ade & Merom Golan
After leaving the very thought provoking site of Caesarea Philippi, we were going to visit a Druze village and get a bite to eat for lunch. I had never heard of the Druze people before, and was interested to learn about them.
The Druze people are somewhat unique, in that they are not specifically Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. The religion of the Druze people is described as a “monotheistic, Abrahamic” religion. Most of them are Syrian, living in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.
To get an idea of where we were, take a look at the map below. Look for the word “Lebanon” at the top, and then look down a bit and you’ll see the village of “Mas’adah”, right next to a small body of water (Lake Ram). (Not to be confused with “Masada”, the ancient fortress, which is much farther to the south.)
The area in yellow on the map is the Golan Heights, and the grey area is a highly restricted “UN Forces Deployment Area”, basically a no man’s land separating the Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights from Syria to the east. I’m not expert enough to provide details about the recent history of the Middle East; suffice it to say that there were UN Peacekeeping troops in the neighborhood.
Our bus wound its way ever higher up into the mountains. We could see Nimrod’s castle (a crusader-era fortress) in the distance, but we didn’t stop.
I wish that I had written down the name of the restaurant that we stopped at for lunch, but I didn’t. It was an interesting experience. The place was quite small, with only about 10 tables inside. The food was standard fare (falafel and hummus), but was really very good. I sat outside at a picnic table with some new friends that I’d met on the tour. We were high on a hilltop overlooking a reservoir of some kind, with a great view of the surrounding mountains.
After lunch we were allowed to walk around the shop that was next to the restaurant. They offered snacks, but the real treat was the table set up just outside the shop, where an elderly Druze woman was selling fresh fruit and juices. The UN Peacekeeping trucks in the parking lot reminded me that I was not in Kansas anymore.
When we were ready, Kenny and Dudi herded us toward the bus once again, and we drove on for about 20 minutes, 10 miles south, to an area that has haunted my memory ever since. Our destination for the afternoon was Mount Bental, an abandoned Israeli military base that is now operated by the people of Kibbutz Merom Golan.
About 3,800 feet above sea level, Mount Bental provides a bird’s eye view into the UN Peacekeeper buffer zone between Israel and Syria, and just beyond that, into Syria itself.
There were eerily abandoned bunkers that tourists could wander through, and even a coffee shop (Israel’s highest, apparently), but what more or less stunned me into silence was the fact that I was here, standing on a mountaintop looking over into Syria, the Syrian flag whipping in the wind right in front of me.
The closest I’d ever come to the feeling that I was experiencing at that moment was a few years earlier, when I’d stood on the heights of Little Round Top in Gettysburg National Park. A lot of lives had been lost by men and women who had wanted the right to stand here, in this very spot. I felt small and insignificant considering the long and complicated history of the Middle East.
When we returned to Tiberias for our last night in Galilee, I took advantage of some free time that we had before dinner, and took a quiet walk along the shore. I was actually sad to leave Galilee, it was such a place of peace, beauty, and promise. I had only been in Israel for 3 days, but I already felt like a different person on the inside.
Tomorrow we were leaving Israel and going to Jordan for a couple of days. My small mind was about to be stretched open even more.