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Beginning of the Trip
Early this past Sunday (for me, waking up at 4:50 AM, ugh…), my ‘Middle East: Coexistence and Rapproachement’ class had a field trip to the Golan Heights in the north of Israel. Our Professor, Dr. Meron Medzini, is quite the genius and therefore we knew we had a great day ahead of us. We gathered outside of the Student Village, and while everyone was clearly tired from getting up so early, Scott and I were still DESTROYED from our previous endeavors at the Tent of Nations the preceding two days. We all got onto the chartered bus, and started off for the north.

Taking Route 6, which hugs the coast of the Mediterranean and also next to the western edge of the West Bank, we drove onwards for quite a long time, and stopped once for breakfast and fuel. Eventually, we reached our first stop: an abandoned, bullet-ridden fortress built by the British Mandate police, and contested by the British, the Jews, and the Arabs at various times (check out the couple of pictures). From where we were, we could see one of the Jordanian watch towers marking the border, and we drove over the north-most crossing between the…

Israeli-Jordanian Border
We arrived at what is known as “the Island of Peace,” somewhat paradoxically at this point. Located right near the border, it used to be a constant area for Israeli school trips, at least until a group of children was fired upon by a deranged Jordanian border guard (see the photos for the full story there). We examined the extremely tight security of the border, with the multiple barbed wire-lined fences, electronic fence monitoring systems, smooth dirt walkways examined daily for footprints, large concrete walls, watchtowers, and castle-style emergency drawbridge doors. It seems as though they are slightly interested in keeping people on their respective sides of the border at points that aren’t official crossings.

We drove part of the way up the side of the mountains which make up the edge of the Heights, and stopped so we could examine the Jordan Rift Valley and the security measurements therein from a different angle. This is where the attached photographs of a Syrian bunker and abandoned Syrian customs house come from. We departed up the extraordinarily steep mountainside, thus arriving at…

The Golan Heights
The plateau or mesa that makes up the area known as the Golan Heights is actually some of the most arable, fertile land I have yet seen in Israel. There are fields of grain and wheat, and large vineyards, and everyone’s yard is green and has flowers and other plants in front of them, which is unlike a lot of other parts of Israel. The Heights are also home to another common sight: large, fenced-off areas that warn visitors that there are land mines in those areas – all of those presents are little gifts left by the retreating Syrians in 1967, and have not yet been dealt with by the Israeli government as of present. As additional garnish for the Heights, one can also find things like blown-out Syrian bunkers, ruined Syrian staging areas, exploded Syrian tank hulks, and the occasional Israeli war memorial (sometimes built on top one of the other areas, as it turns out). Beyond those lovely sites, there is an entirely different side to the Heights: the winery, enjoyable scenery facet that the local tourism industry tries to highlight like none other. One of the stops on our trip was to a Golan tourist depot of sorts, where they had a movie and then topographical map with a voice-over tour. The “movie” ended up being a multiple projector immersion experience, with windy parts of the movie turning on the fans mounted on the ceiling, and the waterfalls/rainfall portions of their exhibition of the Golan involved sprinklers on the ceiling opening momentarily to mist all over us, the unwilling audience. It was an extraordinarily optimistic video, which for all intents and purposes portrayed the Golan as the Garden of Eden, simply glossing over details like the acres and acres of land mine fields or the constant state of possible war with nearby Syria and Lebanon over the most fertile lands in the area. Afterwards, we went to the topographic room and checked out the light show plus voice-over… which was also very one-sided in its presentation. My favorite was either the spinning Israeli flag out of blue lights, or perhaps the David and Goliath portrayal of Israeli vs. Syrian tanks (each of these things being in the photograph section).

I am deeply pleased to report that we had lunch at COFFEE ANAN, which is a great story. Basically, it was an overpriced cafe on one of the hills on the Golan Heights, and operated by a nearby kibbutz. They made the odd choice of having a partially-English, partially-Hebrew name, hence “Coffee Anan,” which translates to “Coffee in the Clouds.” In its bilingual state, though, it seems to be the ideal dining location for nerdy International Relations students like us, as nothing spells “Good Lunch” like eating at Kofi Anan’s cafe. We checked out the views and surrounding areas, and then departed to get nice and close to the…

Israeli-Syrian Border
We arrived at a memorial to the IDF tank crews lost in the area, known as the “Valley of Tears” due to the heavy loss of life during the 1973 October/Yom Kippur War. The memorial is displayed in the photo section, but it is important to note how tense the nearby border really was. On the Israeli side, where we were, we could see an IDF tank dug into a hillside and watching the Syrian side, as well as multiple fortifications dug out and prepared to be manned by any number of nearby reservists. Similarly, there is a UN base of 1200 soldiers in the middle of the two nations, as well as a massive anti-tank ditch to prevent any attempted blitzkrieg by either side.

Here is the only video I took, due to the fact that it was such a windy and overcast day for most of our wonderful trip to the Golan Heights. The area you will see is known as the Valley of Tears, as some of the most fierce fighting between the Israelis and Syrians took place here during the 1973 October/Yom Kippur War. The voice-over you hear is from an informational kiosk on the site of the Israeli Tank Crew Memorial we were visiting. The ruined tank in this footage is a Soviet-built T-56 Main Battle Tank, given to the Syrians and one of the hundreds which participated in the fighting.

Israeli-Lebanese Border
After the visit to the Israeli Tank Crew memorial on the Israeli-Syrian border, we departed for a long drive up to the northern tip of Israel, and the fortified kibbutz near the tip. Unlike the border with Syria or Jordan, the Lebanese border only seemed to be made up of series of parallel fences and then a huge stack of electronic watch-stations all over the place. Similarly, there wasn’t quite as much of a separation of citizens: there were multiple Lebanese villages all quite close to the Israeli kibbutz. As a matter of fact, we were informed that the #1 entry location for dope and other illegal narcotics into Israel is through a city that they share joint custody with the Lebanese government. Check out the photos, each of which have the appropriate caption to explain the situation in a very clear way.

Having shared the amazing series of experiences we had on Sunday, enjoy the photographs I took all day:

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