Golan businesses welcome snow tourists as local gov't learns from past

Municipalities brace, citizens flock north for wintry fun

People play in the snow in the Golan Heights, Northern Israel. February 18, 2021. (photo credit: MICHAL GILADI/FLASH90)
People play in the snow in the Golan Heights, Northern Israel. February 18, 2021.
(photo credit: MICHAL GILADI/FLASH90)
A week before the storm hit on Wednesday, says Beni Ben-Muvehar, the head of the Mevo’ot HaHermon Regional Council in northeastern Israel, the area’s 50-member response unit began drilling tasks they would need to perform in the snow, such as helping people stuck on the roads.
“We learned that we need to be ready before the snow and not during the snow,” he told The Media Line, referring to the storm of 2015. “We are much more careful about the weather. We start preparing starting a week before the snow is expected and we practice so we’ll be ready when the snow hits.”
As snow began to fall in northern Israel on Wednesday, reaching Jerusalem in the afternoon, local governments were busy managing the wintry weather, with businesses in and near the Golan Heights anticipating a boom in business from Israelis coming to experience the rare white stuff.
Ben-Muvehar said his area is bracing for a foot of snow, the same amount that is expected on the Golan just to the east.
Mevo’ot HaHermon also has electricity crews on standby. The unit, composed of four teams that total around 50 people, also helps elderly people in need, from bringing blankets and electric heaters, to moving seniors from their homes to warmer shelter.
Over at the Jerusalem municipality, spokesperson Yisrael Salonga also said the city has learned from experience, especially from a severe snowstorm back in 2013, that “neighbors are the best people to let the municipality know if there are any problems,” and to “spread the teams dealing with the snow around the city and not in one center.”
Snow in the Golan Heights, Northern Israel, February 19, 2021. (CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)Snow in the Golan Heights, Northern Israel, February 19, 2021. (CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)
Salonga said that today, every apartment building has a resident in charge of telling the municipality if there is someone who needs the local government’s assistance.
“If there are old people who need [medicine, for example], the neighbors let us know and we do whatever is possible to help,” he told The Media Line. 
There are “hundreds” of people spread out across the municipality to help people where they need it, Salonga said.
The municipality has some 200 snowplows and many salt-laying vehicles to clear the roads. In addition, there are crews from the Gihon Water Company and the Israel Electric Corporation standing by in case service is disrupted.
“The mayor, Moshe Lion, is evaluating the situation three times a day and directs the workers in the municipality, the police, rescue and army teams on what needs to be done in order to give the city a better way to deal with the snow,” Salonga continued.
He added that the city is doing “revolutionary” work with homeless people during the storm.
“We are taking them to shelters, and giving them food, warm clothes … and whatever they need to be protected from the cold, snow and ice,” Salonga said. “The mayor has instructed us to do whatever is possible to prevent people from staying on the street.”
Back up north at the Ma’ale Yosef region in the Upper Galilee, only three or four villages were expecting snow.
“Right now, it’s not snowing, but we are prepared if it starts,” said Leeam Yihyeh, personal assistant to regional council head Shimon Guetta. “We generally advise people to get food, medicine and batteries before the snow starts. It usually does not snow enough that we need to clear the roads.”
Yair Shemesh, a manager at the Merom Golan Resort, located at the kibbutz of the same name, told The Media Line: “Most of the people now are coming because of the snow. The fact that it’s snowing outside is not usual, even on the Golan. The tourists love it.”
Businesses have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus lockdowns, and while they welcome the desperately needed opportunity to make up some of the losses, commerce is still not at pre-pandemic levels.
The Merom Golan Resort is as full as is allowed, given the anti-virus restrictions set forth by the government.
“We usually experience a lot of tourism on these snow days, but the corona has definitely impacted this,” Shemesh said.
The Golan Heights Olive Oil Mill visiting center, located in the town of Katzrin, the capital of the Golan Regional Council, was a hub for American tourists visiting the region before the pandemic. 
This is where Avner Talmon, CEO of the Olea Essence group, whose facility includes the mill, still gives talks about the skincare products his company makes from olive oil. Before the pandemic, he also gave presentations on the politics of the Golan Heights and the Middle East. He is a colonel in the Paratroop Brigade reserves.
Talmon is seeing a boost in tourists as a result of the storm and expects more.
“The snow is a blessing. … We’ll get more visitors,” he told The Media Line. “There isn’t snow in Katzrin, but the north and east parts of the Golan Heights are full of snow. [Israelis] run up to see the snow, and afterward, they come to us.”