The Golan Heights consists of a high plateau with volcanically formed mountains peaking up. There are ravines and deep valleys and the land is strewn with lots of rocks of basalt.
Gamla was a city where the Romans defeated the Jews in 66 AD as the Romans invaded the Holy Land and drove the Jews out. The city was completely abandoned until the 1970’s when excavations began. Located along the African/Arabian plates, the area has steep ridges and deep valleys.
At first the Jews in Gamla were loyal to the Romans, but then they began to revolt. Their general was Josephus and he was taken prisoner when the Romans won the battle. Josephus prophesied that the Roman general, Vespasian, would be the next emperor of Roman. And when that happened, Vespasian gave Josephus his freedom. He became close friends and advisor to Vespasian’s son, Titus, who granted him Roman citizenship. Josephus went on to record the history of the Jewish people in the 1st century BC up to 66 AD and is why so much is known about ancient Gamla today.
We viewed Gamla from a nearby hilltop that was once the site of a Byzantine monastery. The site is now a national park.
From a lookout in the northern corner of Israel, we were able to see the border between Israel and Syria.
The white buildings are the headquarters for the UN – they returned here just two months ago.
We also saw a number of UN vehicles on the roads in the area.
On the top of this hill is the Israeli security unit keeping an eye on things along the border.
And patrolling the border are Israeli soldiers. These fellows are Special Services.
The fellow on the right is from Brooklyn. He came to Israel to join the military for two years. He has two months to go.
We also learned about the Valley of Tears, the name given to an area in the Golan Heights after it became the site of a major battle in the 1973 Yom Kippur War which was fought between the 6th and 9th of October. Although massively outnumbered, the Israeli forces managed to hold their positions and on the fourth day of the battle the Syrians withdrew, just as the Israeli defenses were at the point of collapse.
Abandoned Syrian and Israeli tanks.
Throughout the Golan Heights we saw fenced in areas with yellow signs warning of Syrian mine fields.
We visited a town where many residents are of the Druze faith. The town was along the border with Syria – you can see the fence between the countries in this photo.
The Druze are known for their delicious food which we tasted in the home of a Druze woman. We then were introduced to the Druze religion by Katia, an 18 year old young woman who is off to Haifa University next year and who wants to travel the world.
She explained that 30% of Druze are “religious” and 70% are non-religious. This means that the religious live by strict codes of behavior and dress and seriously study the esoteric and secret writings of their leaders. The non-religious lead secular lives except that they only marry other Druze. The Druze are a closed group, meaning that one cannot convert. Druze are Druze because they are born of Druze parents.
We also learned that the religion looks to all religions for its concepts – Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. and that they value education. Most Druze women have Masters Degrees. Because they have been persecuted in many countries (and still are,) they try to avoid conflict by giving loyalty to the country they live in. Many Druze living in Israel join the military even though they are not required to do so. Also, many Druze men hold high leadership positions in corporations or in government.