Syria’s side of Golan

Originally Syrian territory, Israel captured Golan Heights in the 1967 fighting against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In a 1973 surprise attack Syria failed to regain Golan. In 1981 Israel annexed the portion they retain to this day. The United Nations, among other states, bodies and non-government groups, has ruled the Israeli annexation illegal. (I’ll attach the links as soon as I have decent internet.)

The beauty and obvious tragedy conjure emotions, willed or not. 

Approaching in our bus I kept thinking how people I know would react to what I was seeing. Would it change them? I wondered who saw it too–who was aware. 

We saw fields and scattered tents, our guide Osama, told us were homes of Gypsies. I saw more garlic cloves in one place than I ever imagined. Who would want to live in a war zone? Why stay in such a tense place?  

Between the rumble of a destroyed community, cows graze and bright red flowers sprout through dry green grass. 

This place wasn’t destroyed during one of the wars, our guides told us and professor Sullivan later confirmed. The buildings were crushed by the Israeli soldiers as they withdrew as part of the “peace process” orchestrated by Henry Kissinger in 1974. According to our guides Israeli soldiers used the hospital below for military practice. 

The inside of a Syrian hospital

We got out of our bus and stood in front of the hospital. We climbed up the crumbling steps and into the rumble inside. Up stairs, through gaping doorways, up a rickety metal stairwell and finally to the roof. 

The line is where the occupation begins. That rumble was homes.

“It’s a matter of dignity,” Golan’s mayor said describing Syria’s insistence on regaining the full territory “No free individual can accept that his land be occupied. We’re doing our best to capture it. We hope Obama would understand the nature of this conflict.” 

National Union of Syrian Students (NUSS), the same group whose president we met the other day, hosted our trip. 

There were a couple graduate students and some older former member whose role was not clear. “What would you do if someone did this to you,” one of the girls asked me walking through the remains of the hospital pictured above. 

The students were passionate and angry.

We struggled. We’re journalists here, yes? Should we keep our mouths shut, be objective?

These students craved answers, substance.  Aren’t we here to dialogue too?

At one point I asked one of the young woman if she knew other Americans and she’d only met one or two and had one British friend.

Whether willingly or not, we represent more than ourselves here. The questions people ask us our not directed only at us but our government, the representative democracy we’re supposed to have, hope and reassurance that Americans don’t hate Syrians, Arabs or Muslims. 


United Nations buffer zone between Syrian and Israeli sides of Golan

United Nation's buffer zone between Syrian and Israeli sides of Golan, maintained since 1974

 From the United Nations buffer zone, I zoomed in on a “Welcome to Israel,” sign.  (Picture coming, can’t upload with internet now)

The flag, lying just beyond the destroyed buildings and land mines, which have killed thousands of children and animals, is a slap in the face to Syrians. 

Think of the space and lack-of–in the United States we consider our enemies “terrorists,” once communists, Germans or Japanese. Concepts, seas away, not visible in the same sense.

Now think how unlikely it is for individuals from one-side to cross to another. They just stare. Imagine. Build up resentment. 

Do you know the story about the World War II soldiers who started talking during a ceasefire?



Look for many more pictures and commentary from Golan in the next couple days–having internet issues now. Tomorrow we’re traveling north to Crusader castle ruins and then Aleppo, the second biggest city in the state. Should be an adventure =)


4 thoughts on “Syria’s side of Golan

  1. Intense article, but that’s the subject matter. You did a great job. In 1975 I was where you’re at but on the Israeli side and it is indeed very emotional and touching. It’s also very complicated and there are no simple answers. I will say that hate is a powerful emotion. I would love to see peace, but in Ian’s post he mentions he doesn’t believe he’ll probably see it in his lifetime and I tend to think the same. I think there are many who genuinely want peace, but conversely there are many who really don’t want peace. I’ve followed this for many years (obviously since 1975) and it’s heartbreaking. I was 23 at the time so pretty close to your age and I think I do know what you’re feeling. With that said, I do continue to pray for peace. Can’t wait for more of the article and pictures………

  2. Your approach is perverse, and self indulgent. Do you think that peace is served by this article? Status Quo: Israel occupies a territory 10% of its size, which is arable and defensible in comparison to much of the country’s desert area. This area will change hands only when Syria makes it too bloody or costly to occupy. The belief that 2000 miles of contested land will trade hands without bloodshed is naive or else insincere: an argument for war dressed up as a plea for peace. Hate and emotions are great for photographs: have you ever seen the heights? Any country with a conscription armed forces surrounded by hostile nations, nations with dubious prospects for continuity of rule and therefore any ability to honor even good-faith agreements, would not give up that position unless there were a prolonged and stable period of peace enticing it to do so.

    I hope you enjoyed your creative writing project and or get whatever poly sci grad school probation is fitting to the self-serving pathos of your article.

    You’re also almost certainly referring to a truce of War One and is called the Christmas Truce.

  3. Too bad you’re partly Jewish…I’m ashamed for that part..with people like you in the World, the 13 million Jews (compared with more than 1.5 Billion Muslim, etc) are in greater danger now than ever before. Shame on you. I wish you could be transported back in the days of the Holocaust (and survive!), but also in our times in the heads of some of Israel’s neighbors…just to have an opportunity to understand (perhaps) the real situation.

    Peace (not sure how you spell that word in English)

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