Abandoned settlement in the Golan Heights showing evidence of past conflicts.
Last year we travelled in northern Israel, spending a day in the Golan Heights, near the Syrian border. Unfortunately it was a bus trip and we were tied to the itinerary of others. Some of the photographs are fairly dodgy. It’s not easy to capture light and contrast, let alone emotion, from the window of a moving bus. It was, however, a lot safer and wiser than journeying here alone.
This is strange, alien country for an outsider, a westerner. It carries still smouldering scars of all out war. Just a kilometre or two away, over the Syrian border, the scars aren’t just smouldering. They are raw, blazing and screaming.
We travelled with the unspoken acknowledgement of the silent cries and pain of the people who, until the 1967 war, used to live here. Nowadays a brooding silence has settled over this country. People are gone. That was perhaps the eeriest thing. Weapon pits, gun emplacements, empty houses aplenty. No people though. Few animals either. What there seemed to be plenty of are military camps that give it a frontier feel. The Golan Heights now functions as a security buffer zone for Israel. Nothing in this country seems permanent anymore. It has had it’s heart ripped from it.
This is not a polemic or an apology for either side of this long running and terribly destructive conflict. If I were Israeli, I would want a buffer zone between myself and neighbouring countries too. Pleas for justice come from both sides, even as they both carry their own guilt burdens. The tragedy of what has happened here is plain to see. Villages are empty and mostly destroyed. Farm buildings left unattended. The only sign posts now warn of minefields. People are missing, along with the heart and soul of what once would have been a beautiful nurturing land. How could anyone think this an acceptable outcome or worth the price that has been paid? Then again, maybe no one does think that.
Our day began in Israeli occupied territory just over the 1967 border at Banias. Banias is an archaeological site by the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi, located at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights.
This is the place where: Matthew 16:13-16 (NIV)
 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
We stood on the place where Jesus was standing when he reminded his disciples that the statues before them were dead, but that He was the son of the living God. A humbling experience.
Nimrod Castle – an abandoned Crusader castle on the slopes of Mt Hermon in the Golan Heights.
Hermon River Springs (source of the Jordan River)
Looking over the Syrian border from a vantage point in the Golan Heights.
We returned to our hotel on the Sea of Gallilee sombre, with humble appreciation of the fragility of the security enjoyed by our hosts and their countrymen. How fragile are peace and security. How much they are mourned when they are gone.