TIF: Golan Heights

Rachel Kaye

Staff Writer

Last week my Tiferet group went on a tiyul to the Golan Heights. We learned  about the ongoing Israeli- Arab conflict in great depth. Our first stop was Mitzpeh Gadot, which offered a stunning view overlooking the Golan Heights. My core teacher sat my class in a shady area and began to tell us about the historical connection between the Jewish People and the Golan Heights.

I discovered that the Jews originally settled in the Golan Heights during the Hasmonian Revolt. Jews also lived in the Golan Heights during the period of the Mishnah. Later in history, the Golan Heights was under Muslim rule. 1947 marked the year of the United Nations Partition Plan, when Palestine was divided between two proposed states, one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. The Golan Heights were excluded and remained part of Syria.

During the 1960s, Jews living in the Hula Valley in Israel were continuously shelled by Syrian soldiers in the Golan Heights. The daily reality for the Israelis of constantly having to run for cover in bomb shelters was truly unbearable. Kibbutz Gadot was totally destroyed. When the Six Day War began, Israel decided to conquer the Golan Heights. In that war, Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt.

After teaching us about the Jewish history of the Golan Heights, Rona, my teacher told us the story of Eli Cohen, who was born in Egypt in 1924. His parents came from Syria. Cohen was a Zionist who moved to Israel and married his wife Nadia. The Israeli secret services called the Mossad hired Cohen as a spy. He was the perfect candidate for being an Israeli spy: he spoke Assyrian Arabic and Egyptian Arabic. Israel created a new profile for Eli, naming him Kambel amin Tabat and established him as a successful businessman.

He moved to Damascus, where he threw beautiful and lavish parties. He would invite people of high status in society to his parties. Within six months, he was already offered a position in the government. He got secret tours of military bases, and received top secret information.  He possessed in his apartment a radio, that was disguised as a typewriter, from which he communicated important military information to Israel. The Syrians slowly began to realize that the secret information was being discovered by outside sources. They decided to do a national radio silence. During this time, Eli Cohen was using his radio, and they were able to locate where he was. Cohen was sentenced to death and hung in Damascus Square. To this day, nobody knows where Cohen was buried. His son and wife still plead for the return of their loved one’s remains.

When receiving secret tours of the Golan Heights from the Syrian military, Eli Cohen suggested that the Syrians plant Eucalyptus trees wherever there were bunkers. This is possibly one of the reasons why it only took two days for the Israelis to conquer the Golan Heights during the Six Day War.

I will never forget the story of Eli Cohen. He truly embodied the spirit of Zionism, and utilized his positive characteristics to assist Israel during a time of great military need.   He was a tremendous hero, who jeopardized the safety of his life for the ultimate good of Israel.

After Mitzpeh Gadot, we went to the Valley of Tears where we learned about the Yom Kippur War. Syrian and Egyptian forces launched a surprise attack, that almost led to Israel’s invasion from the north. On October 6th, 1973, at 1:50 in the afternoon, the Syrian invasion began. More then 1,000 Syrian tanks headed towards the border and the Hula Valley.

We learned about two significant heroes of the Yom Kippur War: Zvika Greengold and Avigdor Kahalani. Greengold was a twenty two year old lieutenant, who was in his kibbutz when the emergency siren went off. He immediately traveled up to Nataf, gathered three random people together and put them into a tank. In just one tank and over the course of only three days he destroyed 35 opposing tanks. This was a sensational accomplishment, and for this he received one of three medals of recognition for his military valor.

Avigdor Kahalani was a Tank Battalion commander. He commanded an assembled group of tanks and crews taken from different units. The group that he commanded repelled the Syrian forces attacking them. For his service in the Yom Kippur War, he received a medal of Valor.

The Valley of Tears had a beautiful scenic view of the Golan Heights. It was interesting to see the actual Syrian tanks that attempted to cross into Israel, but were destroyed in their failed attempt to conquer Israel.  After visiting the valley, we hiked the Jilabun, which led us to a gorgeous waterfall with a massive rainbow running through it. Everyone enjoyed swimming in the water and relaxing in a calm,and beautiful environment.

The day came to an end when we arrived at Kibbutz Ginosar where we spent the night .The next day we traveled to Kibbutz Misgav Am. There we met Alex Wells, a man originally from Hollywood, Florida who made aliyah to Israel at age 14. He spent time in Lebanon as a soldier. He then served in the paratroops in the reserves. He talked to us about the on going Israeli- Arab conflict and how it has affected his Kibbutz throughout the various wars. He told us about the appalling terrorist attack which took place on April 7th in 1980. The Iraqi- backed Arab Liberation Front killed the kibbutz secretary and an infant boy. They found the kibbutz’s nursery and held the infants hostage, demanding the release of 50 Arab terrorists held in Israeli prisons.

Hearing this mans’ perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict truly had an impact on me.  I have many family members in Israel but they don’t live close to Lebanon or any neighboring Arab countries.  Alex Wells is affected by this situation on a daily basis, but does not  live in  fear nor unease.  He keeps his life going and even throughout the most dangerous times, like the 2nd Lebanon War, he remained on the Kibbutz making sure that everything was running well.

After this conversation, we went kayaking down the Jordon River. Despite being bombarded with water by Arab children, this was  really an enjoyable experience. Our day came to an end with our final discussion as a core class, at an overlooking view of Emek Hahula, the Hula Valley.

My core teacher asked us all to share a tiyul while on Tifferet that we will never forget and something that we will take back from Tifferet with us to LA. Rona invited us to meditate, and pick a spot, overlooking the view, giving us an opportunity to reflect on our experience in Israel over the past four months.

From a very young age, I have felt connected to the Golan Heights. Before Tifferet however, I did not know that there was so much history that took place there. I now feel connected in a different way: not only spiritually, but on an intellectual level.

Featured photo by Sorelle Cohen.