The Finger of the Galilee is a land of borders. Lebanon to the north and Syria to the east hover like the snow capped peaks of Mt. Hermon over this frontier of Israel. This is a land of farmers, cowboys, kibbutzniks, entrepreneurs, and perhaps most famously, soldiers. Within the past decade the cities of this region have suffered the scourge of rocket attacks from Hezbollah. During my lifetime Israelis have suffered a constant rain of artillery shells and snipers’ bullets until the pivotal battles of the Six Day War (1967), and Yom Kippur War (1973) that ensured not only the security of the local towns and kibbutzim, but also the survival of the nation.
As I rode over and looked down on the battlefields I had read so much about, I kept wondering, where are the monuments, where are the state and national parks preserving the battle fields? In the United States I have visited Gettysburg and Bunker Hill in an effort to connect with the desperate heroism and I had hoped to do the same here in the Golan Heights. Beyond the poorly maintained observation post next to the cafe we went to for lunch, and a couple of wrecked tanks left in place on the slopes below, there were only two small monuments at the end of dirt roads. I think this trip and the people I have met here have given me a deeper insight to this place.
Though violence has shaped this region, it is its people’s commitment to this rugged land that has defined it. Everyone has served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) here, and everyone was raised on stories of personal bravery and sacrifice on the field of battle. I had heard many combat stories as a history buff, but as we drove between the old Syrian mine fields (still active) and past the abandoned Syrian bunkers my eyes were drawn from the battlefields I had read about to the ordered fields and pastures literally in the shadow of the heights.
Down below, the kibbutzim fields were frequently bordered with levees designed to catch the pot shots of Syrian soldiers under orders to harass and delay the farming and engineering projects that the Jewish Civilians below them were trying to complete. Every day on their way to school, work, or home the Golani needed to renew their commitment to this life, this land and their dream under the guns of a hostile army. To this day, bomb shelters are everywhere, in front of the chocolate shop, by the winery, the parking lot, and kindergarten.
No one needs a monument or a park to mark a victory in the Golan. The battlefield parks are thriving orchards and fields, the heroes are your neighbors, and victory is the ability to appreciate the stark beauty of the highlands rather than looking at them in fear for your life and the lives of those you love.