I could see four soldiers standing next to a table, rifles in hand, staring right back at us. They could have been Lebanese, they could have been not. It was hard to tell from that distance. Positioned next to the southernmost entrance to Ghajar, a Lebanese border village, which, until the 2006 war, had been divided between Israel and Lebanon (whatever Lebanese military entity was controlling that side of the frontier) the town had been the site of numerous firefights over the years, most recently, in 2005, when Hezbollah militiamen launched a combined infantry and rocket attack on IDF troops in the village.
Raising their rifles rather threateningly in our direction, we quickly decided it was time to back out, turn around and head up towards the Golan. Our destination was the Druze village of Majdal Shams, where we were hoping to arrive in time to see residents communicating via bullhorn with their Syrian cousins across the shouting wall, a hillside spot along the Syrian-Israeli frontier, where the 1974 ceasefire line separates the Israeli municipality from a Syrian Druze village called Hadar. A minefield lies in between.
Driving out of Ghajar, an IDF humvee we’d encountered on the way into town (heading in the opposite direction) had since parked at a checkpoint, and the troops inside had set up shop. Hair unkempt, heavy machine gun hanging listlessly on top of the vehicle’s roof, several sleepy-looking young soldiers stared at us rather curiously, as though they were surprised that an Israeli-plated vehicle was coming from the direction of the Lebanese town. They did nothing. Taking the steering wheel with my right arm, I extended my left out the window, and, issuing a sigh of relief, waved goodbye.
After we returned home, I remember telling a relative about the checkpoints in Ghajar. "I thought the town was firmly in our hands, and no longer divided," I told him. "But the second checkpoint we arrived at seemed like it was manned by hostiles. However, the flag flying stretched out behind them was green, not yellow, like Hezbollah’s." "I’m very surprised to hear this," my cousin replied. "You should have never been allowed to pass through that first checkpoint, let alone get close to that second one. I’m going to make a phone call. The commander responsible for this is going to get into a lot of trouble."