That’s me (left) and JRC’s cantor Howard Friedland posing against the Upper Galilee on Mitzpe Gadot, on the Golan Heights. We spent the day today largely touring the Golan – when we weren’t sampling the local beer and wine, we learned a great deal about the history of this region and spent some time in conversation with a resident of Katzrin, the “capital city” of the Golan Heights.
As expected, her presentation was fairly hard-core, describing her own story (she came to the Golan just two years after it was conquered by Israel in the Six Day War). though she offered extensive military, political, and economic arguments for why this region should never be given back to Syria in a potential peace agreement, I found most of these rationales to be relatively tepid: the military/security reality is very different now, and this region is of negligible economic benefit to Israel. When all was said and done, her most compelling argument for retaining the Golan was simply that it was home for her and 18,000 other Jewish residents.
The participants of the tour had an interesting post-mortem discussion afterwards and we were lucky to have a tour guide that was willing to express his own candid opinions as well. While it is certainly true that the issue of the Golan doesn’t get nearly as much press abroad as the Occupied Territories, it has long been the source of highly politicized debate within Israel (see for instance, this article from Ha’aretz from last February).
For my part, as I listened to the impassioned words of the Katzrin resident this morning, I could certainly sympathize with the trauma of the potential dislocation. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think that this region was settled with the express purpose of creating “facts on the ground,” by new residents who knew full well that this area would continue to be disputed territory between Israel and Syria and a possible bargaining chip in a potential future peace deal.
I’m also very mindful of the larger geo-political implications of a possible peace deal with Syria – and how far it might go in stabilizing an increasingly unstable the Middle East. Can we trust Syria to be a true partner? Readers of this blog will already predict my answer to that one: we won’t know unless we try. In the meantime, are we willing to let 18,000 residents (less than half the capacity of Wrigley Field) keep us from finding out?
And that, my friends, is my rant du jour from the Golan. And now, lest I be accused of being too deadly serious while on my summer vacation, here’s another pic of me and Cantor Howard for your viewing pleasure. The obligatory Dead Sea “mud-shot” taken last Monday: