Thursday, May 03, 2007

Land Mine

I had seen the south and centre of the country and now it was time for the north. So I made my way to lake Tiberias (a.k.a. the Sea of Galilee, or the Kinneret in Hebrew) passing by Nazareth and Megiddo on the way. The former was the home of Jesus and, as such, has the requisite churches commemorating various events of the Bible; and the latter is where the end of the world will happen (Armageddon is an evolution of the term Har-Megiddo, or "hill of Megiddo"). For a place with such a weighty destiny the unassuming mound with its assorted ruins falls rather short of the expectations built up by Hollywood films. There is, however, a rather cool underground water reservoir and, something I found highly ironic, a large military jail close by. I wonder if the inmates ever think about whether they will get out of Armageddon before Armageddon. Lake Tiberias itself is part of the same water system as the Dead Sea and is therefore over 200m below sea level, giving it a particularly warm climate all year round and therefore making it a popular weekend outing spot for Israelis and camping by the lake shore is fun and easy. As per usual there are your standard Jesus sites dotted around the place, such as the place where Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes and gave his Sermon on the Mount (rather a misnomer if you ask me, as the mount in question is probably below sea level), possibly the most important part of his teachings. Somehow though the teachings, especially those of helping thy neighbour, fell on deaf ears, at least for the pilgrims that actually visit the church that now stands on the holy spot, as I had to wait over an hour to hitch a ride out of there.

But in the end I did manage to continue my journey northwards into Upper Galilee and the Golan. The Golan Heights are probably one of the most contentious pieces of real estate in the world. The high plateau overlooks the Jordan valley below it and is a source of much of the water flowing into lake Tiberias, and as such is strategically very important for Israel. However the Heights do not belong to Israel and are Syrian, which is the view of the international community despite Israel occupying the area since 1967. The land is now the bone of contention between the two sides with the Syrians, justifiably, wanting it back and the Israelis saying that "retaining Israel's sovereignty over the Golan will be the basis for an arrangement with Syria". And the unfortunate Druze who are caught between the two sides, their community split, are the ones who are paying the price. Most of them are still Syrian citizens and would like to be reunited with their families whom they cannot visit. The closest they come is by shouting to each other from hills on either side of the dividing fence (a situation described in the film The Syrian Bride). A real shame as they seem to be such friendly people, going about their business and tending to their apple orchards that deck the hillsides, the women wrapped up in voluminous white shawls and the men sporting bushy moustaches and white beanies.

Whilst traipsing about I accidentally stumbled across the "line of disengagement" as it is known; I could tell as, along with the abandoned remains of Syrian bunkers I was suddenly surrounded by a barbed wire fence with signs proclaiming that ahead was a mine field. I decided to turn back. I can certainly understand why both sides are scrapping over the land (apart from the aforementioned strategic reasons) as it is undoubtedly the most beautiful part of Israel and its various occupied territories (ah, the linguistic contortions that we have to make to remain geopolitically correct), teeming with lush greenery and humming with bird life. Coupled with the clear air and the wildflowers it was hard for me to imagine that so much blood and tears had been shed for this little idyll, and that many more probably will be before the situation is resolved. In the main Jewish settlement in the Golan I saw various posters justifying the Israeli de facto annexation and the one that irked me most was one that said that the Golan was less than 1% of the area of Syria. As if the relative size was a valid justification in its own right. I had an overwhelming urge to write below it that Jerusalem was less than 1% of the area of Israel, but then I thought that some locals might take it seriously and I didn't want to get lynched.

1 comment:

Inihtar said...

Arguments about the size of the land being fought over irk me too. If I may diverge for a bit from the Middle East theme. . . a similar argument is used in Sri Lanka against giving Tamils their own land. . . that the area they want is a higher percentage of the entire country than the proportion of Tamils to the whole Sri Lankan population. . . ignoring the fact that that land has historically been the Tamil homeland.