Archived entries for Golan

Leaving Ghajar

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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."

Two Way Mirror

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The Middle East reflects America back, wishing it were somewhere else. The quintessential site of sixties utopianism, Woodstock, printed on the wall of an abandoned Syrian army barracks in the Golan Heights. On the border, June 2007.

Watch Your Step

It’s a minefield out there.

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1980s version.

Vintage Danger Mines

Vintage minefield warning, Golan Heights

1960s edition.

Preoccupied Territories

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Shoutout to the Border Police

On June 5th 1967, the Six Day War officially began. In less than a week’s time, Israeli forces had wrested control of the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Though Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1982, and dismantled its settlements in Gaza two years ago, it continues to retain control of the West Bank and the Golan.

Dubbed the “Occupied Territories“,  Israeli rule of these lands has had far reaching consequences for both their inhabitants and Israelis alike. On June 5th 2007, though I’d had no plans to formally mark the war’s fourtieth anniversary, I found myself doing the exact opposite of what most Israeli Jews did that day: eating lunch at the home of a Christian Arab friend, in the Israeli town of Nazareth.

The meal began with a parsley salad, followed by a plate of lamb-filled lasagna. In between, the hostess served her own home made kubbeh, followed by a main course consisting of roast beef, baked potatoes and cheese. Desert was doled out in three stages: fresh fruit, followed by a cornmeal-based creme caramel, and finally, a mix of pistachio ice cream and lime sorbet.

Even though we all knew each other fairly well, for some reason, the atmosphere was somewhat tense. Long moments of silence were followed by intense, bilingual bursts of nervous conversation in Hebrew and English. Everything felt forced. In this context, the immense quantities of rich foods served their purpose, bludgeoning all of those in attendance with their heaviness.

It was only after the meal that talk turned to politics. Using Vance’s presence as a pretext to discuss the situation in Iraq, our host expressed enormous frustration with US strategy in the region. Though I had little opportunity to overhear the specifics of his complaints, out of the corner of my eye, I could see our host’s elbows jerking right and left, as he heatedly sought to articulate his concerns.

My attention, however, was focused on our hostess, who’d sat down next to me after serving us dessert. “This is for your wife,” she said. Handing me a box of Christian Dior perfume, she told me how beautiful she found Jennifer, and how much she admired her short, bleached hair. “Your wife is very courageous to wear it like that,” she said. “Please give her my warmest regards.”

Military Psychedelia

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The interior barrel of a 105 millimeter cannon, abandoned Magach series tank (M48-M60). Central Golan Heights, June 2007.



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