The Golan Heights
The Golan Heights look like mountains to most of us, but actually they are a rocky plateau with an average altitude of 3,300 feet (1000 meters). This plateau straddles the borders of Israel and Syria. The Golan provides about 15% of Israel's water supply.
About 3 million tourists a year visit the Golan; this includes both foreign and domestic travelers.
Syria controlled the Golan until 1967. From the time of the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 until then, the Syrians attacked the Jewish settlements below from the Golan Heights.
Syrian army snipers opened fire almost every day, wounding and killing many innocent Israelis. The residents of northern Israel slept in bomb shelters for protection from Syrian fire.
In the Six-Day War, Israel conquered the Golan and pushed the Syrian army back to Damascus, and the Syrian threat had disappeared. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Syrian army attacked and recaptured almost all of the Golan. Israel attached once again during that terrible war, and at great cost in lives of Israeli soldiers, recaptured the Golan.
Syria is still in a state of war with Israel. Both Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) have signed peace treaties with Israel.
The Golan is a vital strategic asset for Israel, and Syrian is demanding a return to the 1967 borders in return for peace. This would mean returning to the situation of the Golan Heights being in the hands of the Syrians.
Some sites to visit in the Golan
Kursi – excavations restored the ruins of a 5th-6th century CE church and monastery, the largest Byzantine monastery in Israel; the area is now a national park. The excavations were completed for the Israel Antiquities Authority, mostly between 1971 and 1974.
Katzrin – an ancient Jewish town dating back to between the 4th and 7th centuries. It has been uncovered and partially restored. At the entrance there is an oil press, quite common in those days. You will also see the remnants of ancient homes. The black lines on the walls differentiate between the original stones and the reconstructed ones.
Today, Katzrin is a small town (pop. 2,000) in the center of the Golan, which is the administrative center for the Israeli settlements on the Golan Heights, a short distance away are the excavated remains of a 4th century synagogue. There is an interesting archeological museum in Katzrin.
The Gamla Nature Reserve – located in the central Golan Heights. Nature, history and landscape all combine in this beautiful and interesting site. A canyon and waterfalls are part of the beauty. The Gamla reserve has trails for all, some easy for family walks and some more challenging for experienced hikers.
The Gamla Nature Reserve is also known for its large number of raptors, including rare species.
Gamla was a prosperous Jewish town in the Second Temple period. A great battle, described by Josephus in The Jewish War, took place between the Romans and the Jews. The ruins include a synagogue, an aqueduct and a ritual bath.
Nimrod Fortress – Nimrod Fortress National Park is located on the slopes of Mount Hermon above the Banias Spring. The fortress is also known by its Arabic name, Qala‘at Subeiba. Built around 1229 by Saladin’s nephew Al- Aziz Uthman, the fortress now resembles a botanical garden. It is a partially restored ruined fortress with plants growing all along the paths.
Mount Hermon– the highest point in Israel. Known primarily as the place to ski in Israel, Mount Hermon is also a gorgeous, inviting place to hike all year round. When most of Israel is heavy with the summer heat, Mount Hermon is still enjoying spring-like weather.
Hamat Gader – baths existed here as early as the 2nd century; they became popular during the Byzantine period, in the 5th and 6th centuries. For more information about the baths, the antiquities and the crocodile farm – the largest in the Middle East.
Hippos – the site of a Greco-Roman city from the 3rd century BCE and the 7th century CE. Hippos was part of the Decapolis or Ten Cities; these were a group of cities in Roman Palestine that were closer culturally to Greece and Rome than they were to the Middle East.