One of the successors of King Herod, Herod Philip founded a city and named it Caesaria Philippi at the foot of Mountain Hermon. The place we visited today was Temple of Pan, which is the remains of the city of Banyas (Banya is Arabic pronunciation of Pania). The temple is consisted of several parts that were built in different time periods. The main part is the Temple of Zeus, built by Herod the Great himself. The temple was built for his patron, Augustus Caesar, in order to earn favor of the Roman Empire. The whole courtyard of the temple is located around one of the main water sources around the Sea of Galilee region. As we climbed the stairs to the temple, we could see several water streams. In such dry areas, water sources play dominant role in daily life of people even though the entire land is covered with green plants. There were many armed conflicts over water sources, and springs became strategically important when it came to major warfares that were fought over land between today's Israel and Syria.
Miriam and Arwah
While in the Golan Heights, we visited the Nimrod Fortress. A remnant from the Crusader Period, the fortress is 420m long. This structure, according to legend, is where Allah punished Nimrod, King of Shinar. By the 15th century, this fortress was used as a prison. Now, shepherds use this lush land as pasture for their herds. The breathtaking framework enthralled all of us. We went inside the castle to see what it looks like.
Yom Kippur War
The land rolls and rises, sinks and swells, stretches far and further than the horizon, up and past the distant and omnipotent cloud line. Crater Lake nestles itself in a pit created by some volcanic explosion of yesteryear. Placed between lush hills- remnants of long extinct volcanoes, scattered with green grass and spring flowers- the lake spans nearly a mile in breadth, nearly two hundred feet below our perch. We stood on the roof of a small, white building, composed of crumbling concrete stairs and peeling plaster. The view also encompassed a breath-taking scene of Mt. Hermon. The snow covered mountain divides Syria and Israel, serving as a natural border between tense states in the form of a ski resort. It jutted from the sage landscape as a pure white cloud, not capped white but in a blanket of snow. The sun ignited the ice in with radiant brilliance, reflecting the light up to illuminate the sky. Juxtaposed to the lake was a local falafel joint. For the fifth day in a row, I ate the homegrown Israeli cuisine, and I still can't get enough. Though the room was cramp, though the seating was scarce, though the tea smelled like "old people" (Izabela Tyska), I enjoyed the meal. Like most restaurants we've visited, this unnamed business offered limited cooked goods- falafel and pita bread. With the addition of cinnamon tea, Pringle chips, Twix and Snicker bars, and an assortment of cold drinks, we ate like tourists and not like the Druze people bordering the lake.
A short bus ride transported us from a natural marvel to a quasi-current battlefield. During the Yom Kippur war, a failed Syrian invasion burst into the Valley of Tears October 6, 1973. Israeli tank battalions, outnumbered 10 to 1 and Israeli artillery forces outgunned 20 to 1 managed to pull through the three days of constant fighting with no food, water, or rest through sheer "sacrifice and determination" (Bruce). Mt. Hermonit (little Hermon) housed the attack, and though only containing a few of tall vegetated hills and a deep valley now used for agriculture, the attack was expansive and well executed. In the words of our beloved tour guide, Bruce, "Israel was caught with their pants down." Attacking on the Jewish day of rest, troops were significantly diminished in number; large sand barricades meant to deter tanks and absorb explosives were comically washed away with hoses; a river trap in which kerosene tanks, upon release lit the waters aflame was sabotaged by Syrian scuba divers. The thousand Syrian tanks plowed through early defenses stunningly halting at the hundred Israeli tanks.
A local movie theatre cluttered with foodstuff, chocolate, souvenirs, and the occasional pair of provocative boxers reading "100% kosher" or "I'm Jewish, wanna check?”, served as an informational site to conclude Yom Kippur. Once we finished waiting for the village youth to evacuate from a showing of "The Muppets," we were ushered into a red room. Red cushion chairs, red tiled floor, red curtains veiling the walls, and a white projection board. A documentary reviewing the reflections of three soldiers and one of their wives of the battle could have been a moving and powerful experience except for the rapidity of the English subtitle which made it very difficult to follow. It tracked the story of a gunner, tank commander, and radio operator during the three days of fighting. While outmanned, they were also outdone in tech. Syrian tanks were well equipt with ammunition and inferred scopes, allowing for constant, accurate shooting even during the night. The Israelis, however, had no night vision and frequently ran dry on ammo, forcing a defensive approach during the first day and night. In pitch black, so the Syrian scopes couldn't pick up any Israeli tanks, confusion was rampant. Tanks broke ranks in the haze of artillery as the night flashed to fire. It was not uncommon for a Syrian tank to accidently align with Israeli tanks and fire on their own formations. One of the soldiers recalled it was like "baptism by fire." By the final day, courage rallied in the Israeli hearts and pushed all available troops to the offensive, even those with no shells left. The advance was concise and effective winning the day and destroying the Syrian troops.
Surviving the Cold
Today we visited a fort on top of the world that overlooks the border between Syria and Israel, among many other interesting sites. We learned about how the United Nations controls a small portion of land on the border to help keep peace between the two countries. There is still great tension between Israel and Syria in the aftermath of the War. The weather was chilly and due to the open position of the fort, we were subject to ferocious gusts of wind. Luckily, after this excursion we all enjoyed some nice warm drinks and homemade desserts at the café at the top of the world, “Coffee in the Clouds.” --- Man was that Delicious!
Baptism of Jesus
Late in the afternoon we arrived at the site of Jordan River. After early morning hiking, fortress touring in the freezing weather and strong wind that is probably stronger than Chicago’s, the group was very exhausted and worn out. However, after listening to a short introduction of the holiest site in the mountains, everyone became excited. According to Mark 1:9-11, the Jordan River was the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. Christians all over the world come to the holy site to get baptized. On the walls right next to the river, there were inscriptions of Mark 1:9-11 in many different languages. We walked along the shore and watched many pilgrims who were dressed in white robes waiting to get baptized. It was a very interesting experience for all of us, and definitely a holy one for those of us who were Christians. Many of us bought bottles and filled them with holy water to take home. It was a great way to end our day in Golan Heights.
|Students climbing up to the Donjon, |
the highest inner tower in Nimrod Fortress
|Mount Hermon from Mount Bentel|
|View from the Fortress at Mount Benten|
|People being baptized at Jordan River|
My Brothers the Heroes of Golan
I wanted to write to you, my brothers
With beards and sooty faces and all the other marks
I wanted to write to you - you who stood alone
Facing enemy tanks from front and flank
You whose clanking tracks set a land trembling,
You who proved that armor is iron but man is steel,
To you, who gave a shoulder and extended a hand
And destroyed them in their masses one by one
I wanted to write you a hymn if only one
For each of few who stood against the many.
I stand here on the ramps and count them by their scores
Sooty hulks and abandoned tanks and cold corpses
And I remember how you worked alone and in pairs
One turning on a light while the other struck from close,
And I look on towards the bloody path and Mazrat Beit Jan