First Person: All’s normal on the Golan

Family visits North amid reports of IAF strikes into Syria, steady drone of far-off artillery fire, large volume of IDF routine maneuvers.

May 9, 2013 22:04
2 minute read.
RAFTING ON the Jordan River in the Upper Galilee amid the sounds of IDF tank and aerial exercises.

Raftin in Golan 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The last thing you want to hear when you’ve arrived on the Golan with family from abroad on their first trip to Israel is that the IAF attacked an arms depot near Damascus.

The Golan was the final stop on a whirlwind visit that included a family wedding and visits to Eilat, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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Thinking it would be a restful and majestic way to end the long-awaited visit, I booked B&B rooms at Moshav Ramot beginning on Sunday in the lower Golan overlooking the Kinneret.

Indeed, the surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful, as expected during May in the North – lush and green and with bountiful water and refreshing breezes everywhere.

There was also steady tank artillery fire off in the distance, air force planes above head, an above-average volume of army vehicles on the roads, reserve units in the fields and IDF presence throughout the Upper Galilee and Golan areas where we traveled.

But the combination of high-energy spirit from a week of seeing the sights around the country and lack of time to watch the foreign English-language reports on what was allegedly taking place north of the border kept the anxiety level to a minimum among the visitors.

The first time the artillery fire boomed over the horizon, there were a couple jumps and cries of “What was that?” Same thing with the first convoy of camouflaged jeeps. But a calm explanation of the IDF conducting routine maneuvers seemed to placate some of the apprehension at being 100 kilometers or so away from a place making headlines around the world.

Of course, I had no idea if it was routine maneuvers. My wife and I exchanged knowing looks, both aware at the proof of escalation around us. For all we knew, there had been a massive call-up and we would soon be close to the front lines of warfare between Israel and Syria.

But I wasn’t going to let that possibility – or that fact that two mortar shells landed on the Golan – impact on the scintillating expedition that had been planned A rousing rafting trip down the Jordan helped soak some of their fears, and an invigorating water walk through the Daliyot River Estuary contributed to dousing them further. And seeing families, couples, tourists and native Israelis doing the those same things at hiking sites, restaurants and wineries – even though the sounds and sights of war were evident – provided a much desired element of normalcy.

“To be honest, I was more concerned about the air conditioning not working properly in the room than I was about Syria retaliating,” said my brother-in-law over a farewell lunch Tuesday afternoon.

“Speak for yourself,” responded my sister in an upbeat tone, with probably a little more truth than joke in it.

Their first visit to Israel provided all of the incongruous elements that we old timers have grown accustomed to: the natural beauty and sense of tranquility juxtaposed with existential threats and border confrontation. And maybe they realized that we’re neither idealistic heroes nor hopeless idiots for putting up with it – we’re just trying to live normal lives in sometimes abnormal circumstances here in the Jewish state.

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