CHILDREN PULL SNOW sleds at the Mount Hermon ski resort in the Golan Heights this week..
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
The Donald has done it again, Trumping his presidential predecessors with one swift stroke of his pen. Trump’s dramatic decision this week to declare that the United States recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is just the latest principled move the American president has made in thumbing his nose at anti-Zionist world opinion, while flashing the two-fingered Victory signal in Israel’s direction. Whether it was meant to aid PM Netanyahu’s election campaign, to satisfy Trump’s evangelical Christian supporters or simply to acknowledge the facts on the ground, it constitutes another stunning victory for the Jewish state. The Syrians, the European Union, the United Nations may howl in disagreement, but America’s voice – and stamp of approval – reduces them to no more than a whimper.
The Golan Heights – two-thirds of which is in Israeli hands – was captured by Israel from Syrian forces in 1967 and officially annexed in 1981. Though at one time there was a discussion in government circles about handing the territory back to Syria, that bird has blessedly flown. Now, the vast majority of the Israeli public believes the Heights should stay in Israeli hands forever. This sentiment has become even more concrete since the Syrian civil war, which has seen Syria’s Assad massacre more than 400,000 of his own civilians. Hand this area back to the Demon of Damascus? Only the UN could take such a preposterous position.
The Golan is vital to Israel for many reasons. It provides a large buffer zone between the Galilee and Syria; it protects our primary source of water, the Kinneret; and it testifies to the proposition that when you wage war against a neighbor – and lose – you pay the consequences. This area – for centuries the home of thriving Jewish communities, yet largely neglected by the Arabs for decades – was used by the Syrians to incessantly shell Israeli farms below for 20 years. We fought hard to liberate it; this is the place where a Syrian colonel ironically remarked, as he gazed down upon the Jewish farmers bravely going about their daily work despite the constant sniper fire, “from here the Jews look 10 times bigger.”
The Golan is a spectacular area – literally a breath of fresh air – comfortably distanced from the crowded center of the country. Its 1,200 square kilometers contain verdant, rolling hills, magnificent waterfalls and fascinating flora, fauna and wildlife, with 40,000 inhabitants spread over dozens of villages. Eagles nest at Gamla; deer roam at Odem. There are limitless activities here that connect you with nature’s wonder: You can soak in the natural hot springs at Hamat Gader; canoe across the Kinneret and kayak along the upper Jordan River; ski, sled or just enjoy the amazing panoramic views on Mt. Hermon, the highest peak in Israel (2,236 m.). You can hike the many trails, bike around the Kinneret or visit the ancient synagogues of Ein K’shatot, Semech, or that of nearby Peki’in, which dates back to the Second Temple era and where the famed Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was said to have hidden from the Roman oppressors.
SUSIE AND I have had the privilege and pleasure of hosting groups for Passover for the past 17 years at the Golan’s beautiful Ramot Resort, nestled in the hills just above the Kinneret. It is fascinating to welcome tourists from all over the world – and from Israel itself – who marvel at the natural beauty of this unique part of our nation. As Jews have done throughout the country for the last century, we took a piece of land that was sparsely inhabited, dormant and unproductive, and turned it into a mini-paradise that speaks to the soul as well as to the body. Now, if transportation to the Golan can be improved, there is no telling what advances can be reached. Highway 6 is inching ever closer, and the hope is that train service will finally come to Tiberias, the biggest city in the area, just across the Kinneret.
The knee-jerk (emphasis on the word jerk) reaction to President Trump’s announcement was not unexpected, yet another useless condemnation by perennial critics of Israel. Listening to the whining of Turkish fanatic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – whose country has illegally occupied northern Cyprus since 1974 – or the Iranians, who enthusiastically helped Assad carry out his mass murders just across the Golan’s borders – reminds us once again of the hypocrisy of the world, especially when it comes to Jews and Israel.
For years, we hosted a very fine family from England at our Passover program. But a few years ago, we received a letter telling us that, to their regret, the family could not return to the resort because their daughter had begun working for the British Foreign Service, which notified all employees that they could not visit the “occupied Golan Heights, other than for an emergency.” I wrote them back and said that we would miss them over the holiday, and that I, too, had regret – for the misguided British policy. I could not resist ending the note by telling them that we had recently enjoyed a few days’ vacation in British-occupied Gibraltar.
We live in a world filled with Haters and Creators. The Haters, filled with envy and spite, are forever spewing calumny and critiques, doing their best to tear down the accomplishments of others. The Creators just shrug off the naysayers and go about building and producing and enhancing life, wherever they live, including the Golan. And we will keep right on creating, for generations to come, ever reaching newer and greater Heights.
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