Tag Archives: Golan

Gamla–One of Israel’s Oldest Synagogues

Approaching Gamla from the east you can see the camel-like shape of the mountain from above.
Approaching Gamla from the east you can see the camel-like shape of the mountain from above.

The Golan today is heavily agricultural, covered with farms growing apples and cherries, vineyards full of grapes for wine, and cattle. There are almost as many cattle here as people. While the human population is less than 25,000, the bovine population is more than 20,000. Driving around the plateau, we saw many small herds of cattle. The many waterfalls and pristine countryside make the Golan prime tourist area, but there is a caveat. During the years Syria controlled the land, they planted thousands of land mines. Many of the explosives are still hidden just under the surface. Every year a farmer or two loses an animal because it stepped on a land mine.

The earth is one of the most distinctive features of the area. Having been built up over millennia by volcanic eruptions, the soil and rocks are gray to black in color. Although the area is still subject to relatively frequent earthquakes, no one worries about the volcanoes. The last one ceased being active over 10,000 years ago.

Jewish settlement in the Golan is ancient, dating back to the early Biblical period. When Joshua led the tribes of Israel out of the desert into the land, the tribe of Menashe received the Golan. After King Solomon’s death, when the kingdom split, the Golan naturally became part of the northern kingdom, Israel. King Ahav defeated Ben-Hadad, the King of Damascus near today’s Kibbutz Afik. About five hundred years later, Judah Maccabee helped the local Jews fight their Syrian neighbors. His nephew, Alexander Jannai, one of the last Hasmonean kings, later added the Golan to his kingdom.

The area continued to be a battleground during the Great Revolt against the Romans. The most famous battle was the one for the city of Gamla. The name of the city is related to the word ”gamal,” which means camel. From the mountains above, the area does resemble the profile of a camel. It is an isolated hill top surrounded by deep valleys, connected to the mountain on its eastern side by a narrow land bridge. The mountains that surround the site and the challenging terrain make it a favored hiking destination for younger people. A recently built road from the picnic area to a spot near the archeological site allows people to ride part of the way in a bus. But to get to the city itself, we still had to walk about ten minutes from where the bus stopped.

The path winds around the side of a mountain. The drop into the valley on the other side is frighteningly steep. But the view across the valley is breathtaking. In the distance we could see the northern end of the Kinneret and on its far side the mountains of the Galil. We had no idea where the city itself was; we just stayed on the road.

We walked around a bend and saw the city below us, the hill on which it sits nestled among the mountains. From there it was easy to understand its strategic location. One gate across the land bridge could have easily kept enemies out of the city.

It was a sunny day, and by this point on the path we were all hot and tired. The Nature and Parks Authority must have known this would happen; they built a shady shelter at that bend. We sat drinking our water and drinking in the view.

Roman ballista replica, aimed at city of Gamla
Roman ballista replica, aimed at city of Gamla

Shulie Mishkin, our guide, pointed out landmarks within the city to help us understand what we were seeing. On the lower slope of Gamla we saw a wall that the Romans had breached and the remains of the synagogue. Higher up were remains of houses. Next to the shelter the Parks Authority had placed a replica of a Roman ballista, a weapon used in the assault of the city. When I stood behind the ballista, I could see it was aimed at the synagogue. The stones flung from where I stood would have helped break down the city wall.

Three Roman Legions, about 16,000 soldiers besieged the city for several weeks. The 9,000 Jews within its walls resisted for more than a month.

As we entered the city, Shulie pointed out an opening where the wall had been breached by the Romans. Although this was not a major break in the wall, some of the legionaries had entered the city here. But the Romans had also undermined one of the defensive towers protecting the wall and the city. When that fell, the legionaries poured in. They fought their way across the city, pushing the Jews closer and closer to the cliff on the city’s western edge. Many residents threw themselves off the cliff into the ravine far below, rather than be captured. This mass suicide has led to Gamla’s being called the “Masada of the North.”

Shulie Mishkin points out features of Gamla'ssynagogue
Shulie Mishkin points out features of Gamla’ssynagogue

The synagogue faces southwest because Jews have always turned towards Jerusalem in prayer since the day King Solomon dedicated the First Temple. Like other Second Temple period synagogues, it is rectangular, measuring about 52 by 65 feet. The steps on all interior sides would have been used for seating. A mikveh is next to the entrance. Several small rooms and cupboards surround the main room. Their function is unknown today, but many ideas have been proposed. A niche near the door on the southwest side may have held Torah scrolls. Perhaps the room off the western end housed visitors staying overnight in town.

After the destruction of Gamla by the Romans in 68 CE, its location was forgotten. No Jews lived in the Golan until the Byzantine period, about two to three hundred years later. At that time, the northern portion was a pagan center, which then became a heavily Christian area. The Jews stayed primarily in the central and western areas. Around thirty or forty Byzantine era synagogues have been found here. Many of them feature beautiful mosaics, whose style help archaeologists to date the remains.

The large earthquake of 749 CE destroyed most of the communities, as well as Beit Shean in the Jordan River valley. After that, almost no one lived there.

From 1948 to 1967 the Golan was controlled by Syria. They used the beautiful fertile land almost exclusively for military purposes. They built several military and terrorist training bases. Multiple artillery units were stationed in the area, from which they frequently fired at Israeli kibbutzim in the Galil.

After Israel conquered the Golan in the Six Day War, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) sent archeologists to survey the area and locate forgotten Jewish sites. During a lunch break one day, Yitzchaki Gal, a young kibbutznik who was working in the survey team, wandered off from the main group. As he ate his sandwich, he looked at the mountains around and below him. Something looked familiar. As he started to trace the outlines of the hill, he suddenly realized he was seeing  what Josephus had described: the camel shaped-hill on which the city of Gamla had stood. 

An archeological team was dispatched to explore the site in depth. The more places they dug on the hill, the more closely it matched Josephus’ description of the city. Even more importantly, they found evidence that adds details to his description of the Roman siege and conquest.

 Yitzchaki Gal was not the first amateur to discover important relics, nor was he the last. Every year the IAA reports several amazing discoveries made by tourists casually participating in a dig for a week or two or by students hiking through the country. The history of Israel may be very long, but it is still being, literally, uncovered today.

Location of Gamla:

Golan Synagogue: Majduliya

Archaeologist Michael Osband explains his findings at Majduliya in the Golan
Archaeologist Michael Osband explains his findings at Majduliya in the Golan

About thirty-five of us followed the archaeologist down a dirt track across the high plain of the Golan. In every direction, all we saw were dried yellow grasses and an occasional purple thorn flower. Here and there, a black basalt rock stuck up through the vegetation. In the distance, off to the northwest, the faint blue gray mountains reached up into the bright blue sky.

Mechael Osband PhD, the archeologist who had discovered this site, reached the seven wire cow fence. He opened the gate by lifting one post and peeling the wire back to let us through, asking one of the men in our group to close it after everyone had walked through. He was not about to let any cow wander through his site.

From a short distance you can't tell that this is the site of an ancient Golan synagogue
From a short distance you can’t tell that this is the site of an ancient synagogue in the Golan. Sign reads: Danger. Entrance forbidden. Archaeological excavation.

My class on the development of prayer and the synagogue carefully walked down the track. Neither Mechael (pronounced Mee-chah-el) nor Shulie Mishkin, our guide, felt the need to make sure we didn’t wander off on our own; the thorns on either side of the path were too numerous. They grabbed at our skirts and slacks. My classmates wearing sandals complained that they should have worn sneakers.

We passed through another gate in a wire fence, all but invisible a few feet away, and saw black earth, some black rocks, and lines of white sandbags. This was Majduliya, Mechael’s first archeological dig of his own, one he had discovered about a year and a half ago during his post-doctoral research. He was now preparing for the new season.

This part of the Golan was known as an area of Jewish settlement in Second Temple times. Not far from Majduliya are the remains of Gamla, a Jewish stronghold during the Great Revolt, which was captured and destroyed by the Romans in 68 C.E. Many other towns in the Golan are mentioned in the Talmud.

Thus, it has long been of interest to archaeologists. Gottlieb Schumacher, the German-American engineer who surveyed the route for the Damascus-Haifa railway and excavated at Megiddo, came by here in the late 19th century. In his survey of the Golan plateau, he mentioned Majduliya, saying that its original name is not known. He did find four ancient olive presses, but the area was already known to be an olive growing area. He concluded that there was “nothing of interest here.” Little did he know.

Mechael discovered the site while conducting a survey of Roman pottery in the Golan. A pool of water in the middle of the field attracted his attention. Then he found something man made, some dressed stones in a row—a portion of a wall. Inside wall or outside wall? That was yet to be determined.

When you find a wall, he told us, the first thing you want to do is find a corner. That will tell you the orientation of the building. Starting from the corner, you can then look for other corners and determine the size of the structure in question. Before he walked over to the first corner, he pointed out indentations in two stones, evidence that two doors had led into the structure.

He walked along the northern wall over to the eastern corner, pointing out benches built into all four walls. From the size of the building— about 50 by 75 feet—and the presence of the benches, he determined that this was obviously some type of public building. But he still needed to determine the ethnicity of the village in which it was found.

The presence of a mikveh is the generally accepted sign of a Jewish town. In most of the places where synagogues have been found, at least one mikveh has been found nearby. But almost no mikvaot have been found in the Golan. This site isn’t completely excavated yet, so the lack of a mikveh is not significant. However, the excavators also look for artifacts that are associated solely with Jewish habitation—stone vessels.

The Jews in earlier periods observed laws of ritual purity and impurity strictly. The advantage of vessels, such as cups and bowls, made of stone is that stone cannot contract impurity. The presence of stone vessels means that Jews lived in the area. Although stone vessels have been found at other sites in the Golan, none have been found yet at Majduliya. Finding them would show the archaeologists that this was a Jewish village, so they will continue to look for stone cups and dishes this season. Finding such vessels will confirm that building must have been a synagogue because the only large buildings found in Jewish villages of the Roman period were synagogues.

But more evidence was waiting to be discovered.

He turned the corner and walked along the southern wall of the building, the wall closest to Jerusalem, the direction of Jewish prayer. About halfway along its length, he knelt down, and leaning over, moved a few sandbags. “These things were found in the last week.”

During the month-long active archaeological season in midsummer, dozens of students and other volunteers will be busy here. They will carefully dig with small shovels and clear away soil and debris with brushes. But now, four weeks before the volunteers arrive, Mechael is the only one at the site. He’s getting ready for the busy time. Nonetheless, the lure of possible discovery is too strong. It may not be the season yet, but as he examines the site to see what has changed during the rainy winter, he is not averse to uncovering something that looks promising. Which is what he did on this southern side of the building.

As he hunched over, he pointed out that the area he was leaning over was lower than the rest of the building. A lower area on the side closest to Jerusalem is typical of synagogue architecture of the Roman period.

The sandbags he moved had been protecting two objects, which he now held up. They were red and looked like pottery. “Anyone know what these are?” he asked.

Most of us shook our heads. One brave person hazarded a guess. “Roof tiles?”

Mechael smiled. “These are tiles from the roof. Tiles came with the legions; they show that the synagogue was built in Roman times.”

From seeing excavations of earlier towns, I knew that roofs had been constructed either from stone beams or wood and mud. When the Romans ruled the land, they needed to provide year-round work for the soldiers. In the winter, the cold rainy period when fighting ceased, the legions were put to work making tiles. When digging the foundation for the Binyanei HaUma, the international convention center in Jerusalem, builders had discovered the Tenth Legion’s tile factory.

Carefully placing the roof tiles on the ground, Mechael moved two more sandbags and lifted the corner of a rubber mat. He peeled it back, and then brushed some of the dirt from the surface. Small white spots appeared through

When the black earth was removed, some white mosaic tiles were found.
When the black earth was removed, some white mosaic tiles were found.

the black dirt. He brushed some more dirt away and sat back on his heels, a pleased expression on his face.

The white spots looked to be the size of the small tiles used to make mosaics. And indeed that is what they are. Most Roman period synagogues found so far have mosaic floors, and Mechael believes he has found one here as well. Only time, and painstaking removal of the dirt covering the floor, will confirm his belief, or tell him he jumped to an erroneous conclusion based on too little evidence.

As he discussed the possibility that he has found a mosaic floor, he mentioned that finding it cleared up another mystery. Now that it is summer, the whole area is dry, but when he first saw this field in the winter, a pool of water filled this area. “Of course,” he said, as if the idea had just then occurred to him. “There’s no drainage here–there’s a floor under it!”

A small village once stood here, with a synagogue near its edge. The whole site is about seven and a half acres, and only a small part of it has been excavated–a few houses and the synagogue. Much work remains to be done, and will no doubt take several years to accomplish.

Mechael Osband is enthusiastic about the prospect of uncovering all of it.

Seeing the Syrian border, Mt Avital

Syrian fortification on Mt Avital in the Golan near the Syrian border. Photo: Linda Pilkington
Syrian fortifications on Mt. Avital, Mt. Hermon in background.
photo courtesy of Linda Pilkington

Just after Passover, we took a day trip to the Syrian border sponsored by Honest Reporting. After visiting the former Syrian military headquarters, we drove to the Ben Tal nature reserve on Mt. Avital.   

One of my ways of determining when we are no longer on the usual tourist trail is to look at the informational signs. Common tourist sites have signs in at least three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Very popular sites might give information in five or six languages. Sometimes the gift shop even lists prices in dollars and Euros, as the one at the Carmelite Monastery on Mt. Carmel does. But when all the signs are in Hebrew, I know I’m no longer in foreign tourist territory.

The signs on Mt. Avital, except for the one that says “WC,” are all in Hebrew.

The top of Mt. Avital today is a scenic overlook. We can see most of the Golan laid out below us. When it was held by the Syrians, no one visited it to see the beautiful Golan. The Syrians came here to watch Israel, and  to direct fire at kibbutzim in the Galil. Today, the Syrian military post at its peak is simply another tourist attraction. The walls around it are low—the bridge over the wall is just a few steps up and down. But the trenches here are deep.

Syrian trench on Mt. Avital in the Golan. Photo courtesy of Linda Pilkington.
Syrian trench on Mt. Avital.
Photo courtesy of Linda Pilkington.

Each trench runs from one metal lined opening to another. The openings lead into rooms once occupied by Syrian soldiers. This is no longer a military position. Watchers no longer look  for signs of invasion across the Israeli border. But we could hear the artillery of the Syrian civil war; we saw smoke rising from a distant town.

From here we could see the chain of four volcanoes, and how they stand as guardians over the wide Golan plateau. When you see geography laid out in front of your eyes like that, strategic concerns make much more sense. It was obvious why Israel, after capturing these volcanoes and the plateau to their east, did not want to withdraw back behind them. From 1948 to 1967, farms and towns in the Galil had been subject to regular artillery attack from the Golan. On some kibbutzim, everyone slept in underground bunkers. Children had grown up never sleeping in a room with windows. Israel fought two painful wars here. It is not about to return to a vulnerable boundary that would reinstate that situation.           

Looking at the green hills and the farms around us, it is hard to believe that we are looking at the site of so much war and destruction. It seems strange to us today that Syria had used this fertile land for military rather than agricultural purposes. Such was their hatred for Israel. 

And here, I learned things about the 1973 war I never knew. Its outbreak surprised everyone I knew. We knew Egypt was conducting military exercises and deploying troops along the Suez Canal. And there had been some activity in Syria as well. But neither of these countries seemed to be seriously preparing for war, according to the news reports. from the Middle East.

Most of Israel was surprised as well. But some people had realized a war was about to begin. My carpenter told me that he had served his miluim (reserve duty) summer’s end. When he was about to return home, his commanding officer had told him he would return soon. “The Syrians are going to attack in a month or two,” the commander had said.

At a staff meeting the day before Yom Kippur, General Ariel Sharon said Syria would start a war the next day. After the meeting, someone asked him where the war would end. He replied, “The other side of the canal.” The Suez Canal may not have been on the minds of country’s leadership, but it was Sharon’s objective right from the beginning.      

People in the north knew what was going on. The government did too. They watched the Syrian buildup, but managed to find explanations for it that did not lead to hostilities. By the time they realized it was for real, the whole system was taken by surprise.        

According to Elliot Chodoff, the security expert who was leading our tour,  launching the war on Yom Kippur was a Syrian strategic error. The Israel military’s strength lies in its reserve troops. Israel’s compulsory military service includes reserve duty until age 40. Every year, much of Israel’s work force has miluim for at least two weeks. The reserves are well trained and can move quickly when necessary. However, it takes time to call them up and get them into their units. The minimal response time for the reserves is 72 hours. That’s why last summer reserves were called up, a few units at a time, weeks before the IDF actually went into Gaza.

If Syria had attacked a week later, the IDF response would have been more disorganized. It would have been the middle days of Succot, when most people are off from work, and traveling. Cell phones were not ubiquitous in 1973, so contacting people would have been difficult. Once located, soldiers would have needed to take their families home, get their uniforms and equipment, and then get to the assembly point.  Traffic jams all over the country would have worsened the situation.

But instead Syria attacked on Yom Kippur. Everyone was at home or in synagogue. Telephones rang in living rooms and someone answered. Messengers went into synagogues and men got up from their prayers. The roads were empty of traffic; it was easy for soldiers to get to assembly points. And all traffic flowed in one direction: from the population centers to the front.

Although Israel’s military response may have been faster than the “required” 72 hours, it was nonetheless too slow. For the most part, the country was taken by surprise.  Until the last minute many military leaders and government officials denied the possibility of war. Their lack of preparedness is still being criticized today.

But the timing did, in a way, work in Israel’s favor, because there was another important factor that I had never considered before: the moon. Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the lunar month. The moon is almost full, and it shines most of the night. Four nights later it would be shining brightly all night long, and would not significantly wane for Four nights later it would be shining brightly all night long. It would not significantly wane for several days.

The night time battles took place on the 11th to 15th nights of the lunar cycle. Night vision goggles had not yet been developed to be used in combat. The phase of the moon was a significant factor in battles. It did not work in Syria favor.

Here in the Golan, the Syrians had 1600 tanks. Israel had 90 tanks, which were reduced to 7 by the end of the fighting. The IDF positioned their tanks during the day, and then turned off their engines. Anything moving during the night would thus identify itself as Syrian. The Syrian tanks were clearly visible in the moonlight and were targeted. 

Because the IDF was not prepared for war, its victory in the Golan was won at high cost. After terrible setbacks in the first days and the loss of many lives, the IDF was able to advance and take the Golan. The road to Damascus was open. Israel might have taken it, but there was no reason to do so. Their lines were defensible; they could protect the Galil from Syrian fire and incursion.

Farms in the Goaln, as seen from Mt. Avital. Photo courtesy of Linda Pilkington
Farms in the Golan, as seen from Mt. Avital.
Photo courtesy of Linda Pilkington

Today part of the Golan is under fire again. This time the Syrians are fighting other Syrians. We watch and wait. 

And for now, the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan is at peace. We hope it will remain so.

Seeing the Syrian Border in the Golan

Looking towards the Syrian border  near Kuneitra
Looking towards the Syrian border in the Golan

Our tour bus bumped down a stone strewn dirt road. We had driven steadily upward through the Golan for 45 minutes. I thought that by now we must be close to the Syrian border. I was soon to find out just how close we were.

We pulled up in front of an abandoned two-story concrete building. The concrete walls were pocked with holes and the steps leading to the entrance were crumbling. Through the glassless windows, we saw a series of small rooms running the length of the building. None of the rooms had any furniture; graffiti was painted on many of the walls. Once this had been a school or an office building. Now it looked like a bombed out wreck.

Before we left the bus, Elliot Chodoff, a security expert who was our leader for this tour to the border area, organized by Honest Reporting, told us to be careful. We would be going up to the roof, but should not lean on the stair railings–there was no telling how safe they were. He then led us to the building entrance.

Former Syrian military headquarters near Kuneitra in the Golan Photo courtesy of Linda Pilking
Former Syrian military headquarters in the Golan
Photo courtesy of Linda Pilkington

At one time this building had been Syrian headquarters on the Golan Heights. It had been built in the 1950s by the Russians, in classic Soviet functional style. It had been built to last; although it had suffered a direct aerial bomb attack, it had survived. We were able to see some of the reinforced concrete and exposed rebar construction as we walked through the building. We walked up the winding stairs carefully. There were pebbles and dirt on all the stairs, and gouges on their edges. The railing did look sturdy enough in some places, but some of it was obviously not trustworthy.

The second floor corridor was muddy, with puddles in some spots. A previous visitor had placed broken stone on the floor to keep his, and our, feet dry. But it had rained earlier this week, and a couple drops of water dripped on my head from overhanging debris.

At one end of the corridor was a brightly colored, detailed stylized

Orthodox  icon on wall of former Syrian military headquarters
Orthodox icon on wall of former Syrian military headquarters.
Photo courtesy of Linda Pilkington

painting. It was incongruous to see such a large full color Orthodox icon in this wreck of a building. Not understanding the symbols, I wondered what saint it was, and why it had been painted here.

We climbed an enclosed stairway at the end of corridor and emerged into the sunlight.  We stood there on the roof and looked all around us. We saw vineyards, fruit orchards, and flat green fields. To the north, we saw the Hermon, a long snow capped mountain range, which marks the border between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. On the other side was Kuneitra.

Elliot told us to be quiet and listen for a moment. In such a pastoral setting I expected to hear birds. What I heard was the boom of artillery. Syria’s civil war was less than three miles from us.

Several people shifted their feet uneasily; others looked a little worried being so close to the war.

“Don’t worry,” Elliot said. “You’re safe here. They are not going to fire in this direction.”

Not so long ago, the Syrian forces directed their fire at the rebels from the east to the west. A stray shell landed in Israel and exploded. Assuming it had been an accident, Israel registered a mild protest.

A few days later, another shell landed in the same area. Another accident? Perhaps, but not very likely. Israel protested a little more strongly.

A few days after that, a third shell landed in Israel. Israel destroyed the battery that had fired the shell.

Israel does not want to escalate conflict–our response has always been graduated. The IDF artillery forces practice for accuracy. They say that from the Golan, they can hit the garbage can of their choice in Damascus. That is probably an exaggeration, but the point is that a response must be one that the Syrians can accept as justified.

Few stray shells have fallen that area of Israel since then. The Syrian forces now fire on the rebels in a north-south direction.

We looked around us, as Elliot explained what we saw. To the east was the town of Kuneitra, in Syria. Israel had captured it in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. During the ceasefire negotiations, Syria demanded that Israel withdraw to the line of volcanoes to our north and west. That was not a defensible position and Prime Minister Golda Meir refused. In response, Syria asked for the town of Kuneitra (Qunaitra). President Hafez Assad promised the town would not be used for military purposes. It would be rebuilt as a town for about 15,000 civilians. In the end, Israel retained the line of volcanoes and some of the plain to their east, where we were standing, and Syria got Kuneitra.

We looked at it from the distance of a little more than a mile. It does not appear like a thriving town with a population of 15,000. It looks abandoned. The only thing built since 1974 is an observation tower. A new Kuneitra has been built further away, but it is a military town.

Every time Syria has wanted to negotiate something with Israel, we have been told by the Americans, “You can trust them. Assad always keeps his promises.”

And Israel answers, “What about Kuneitra?”

“Well, except Kuneitra.”

 Always…except. The two words do not belong in the same sentence. We can always trust Syria to keep its promises except when it does not.

We then shifted our attention a little northward, where the UN observers are stationed. A dark green fence runs right behind them. The fence is new–it’s been there only about two or three years.

For 67 years, Syria has been an implacable enemy of Israel. About 80% of the Syrian army was focused on Israel, and the IDF faced them. Israel’s biggest fear here was a massive frontal assault. But neither Hafez Assad nor his son Bashir wanted to engage in another major attack. The last one, in 1973, had been disastrous for them.  After the cease fire in 1974, the border was stable and no fence was erected. The two countries had a clear-cut relationship; either everything was calm or it was in crisis. When things were quiet, about 99% of the time, a fence was unnecessary. When things were in crisis, the border was a very dangerous place, and a fence would have been pointless.

But when Syria collapsed a few years ago, the border area became unstable and unpredictable. No one controls it. Israel no longer faces an enemy army, but many hostile groups. None of them are predictable. A barrier, one that could quickly detect and deter enemy activity, became necessary. Like security fences elsewhere, this one has electronic sensors along its length: touch sensors, motion detectors, infrared cameras, and ground radar, according to Peter Murtagh of the Irish Times.

The sound of the nearby bombardments was making some of us more and more nervous. We were glad to walk back down through the bombed out building and return to the bus. Driving away from the border, the road descended into a lush agricultural area. On one side of us we saw rows of grapevines; on the other side was a large orchard of apple trees in bloom.

Elliot told us to look out the windows ahead and behind us. We were in a large circular valley, the crater of an old volcano. He told us that the vineyard grew grapes for one of the Golan Heights wineries. Before 1967, when the Syrians held the area, this crater was used for training terrorists.

“Terrorist training….Wine grapes.” He made a motion with his hands, as if weighing two things, and smiled. “We win!”