Off the Beaten Track: Battle of Tel Faher

Celebrate Independence Day with a visit to one of the many battle sites in the Golan Heights.

Tel Faher 370 (photo credit: WikiCommons)
Tel Faher 370
(photo credit: WikiCommons)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
Independence Day in Israel is marked the day after Remembrance Day. The lead up to the holiday actually starts a week earlier with Holocaust Remembrance Day and the week in between is a very solemn week. After Remembrance Day, when we mourn the loss of our fallen soldiers starting at sundown and ending at sundown, we immediately kick off Independence Day which is a day of celebration, barbecues, picnics and touring around the county. The idea is that we shouldn’t celebrate the creation of the modern state of Israel, without remembering what it took for the Jewish people to retain their independence.
A good way to celebrate this Independence Day and the following weekend, which will have beautiful weather, would be to hit the trails in northern Israel while incorporating one of the many battle sites in the Golan Heights.
After enjoying a fantastic family walk or hike through the Banias, Nimrod’s Castle or Tel Dan, make your way east on Route 99. After passing the Banias (Nahal Hermon) Nature Reserve, the road bends to your right. Stay to your right and get off the main road after about 250 meters following the bend to your right just after crossing a small bridge. There will be a small brown sign pointing to a small hill in the distance called “The Golani Overlook” or “Mitzpeh Golani” (Tel Faher). Follow this gravel road about two kilometers to the hill by a eucalyptus grove.
The road that you were driving on was actually built by the British between 1927 and 1934 to pump oil from northern Iraq to Haifa in order to ship the oil to Europe and beyond. In 1938, the British and Americans built the refinery in Haifa for military use under British control. Park here. At the edge of the trees you will see some fantastic views, trenches, burnt out vehicles and fortifications. Please be aware of the fenced-off remains of the mine fields, which are well-marked.
The spring of 1967 was a trying time for Israel. Only twenty two years after the Holocaust, the Jewish people still did not know peace. In fact, between 1964 and 1967 the border here with Syria saw a lot of action. There was a major Syrian military base with many paths running down the hill that overlooked the Israeli kibbutzim below.
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In the early morning hours on the fifth day of the Six Day War, Moshe Dayan believed that the war would end soon. After being pressed by the Jewish villagers below the Golan  Heights to finally stop once and for all the Syrian shelling of their communities, the order was given to David Elazar to take the Golan.
The tanks were the first ones to enter this area and the Armored Corp captured the Syrian positions of Qala’ and Za’ura and Ein Fit just to the north. After a day of battle, only two IDF Sherman tanks remained in operation with twenty-four destroyed or disabled. The Golani Infantry Brigade was given the task to take Tel Faher as the Syrian army was dug in too deep to be taken out by artillery, airstrikes or tank fire despite repeated sorties. The nine tanks and nineteen halftracks of the Golani Brigade were all destroyed in this battle, their men killed or wounded.
The Syrians took their fair share of fatalities and it seems most of the officers and commanders that had survived fled in the face of the oncoming Israeli forces who kept continuing their advance despite taking on heavy casualties. Battalion Commander Musa Klein ordered his surviving twenty-five men to split up into two separate groups and attack up the hill towards this position from the north and the south.
Notice the trenches, minefields and barbed wire…there were no signs marked “Danger, Minefield!” back then. Captain Ahmad Khalili would later recall his position with Syrian artillery, machine-guns and anti-tank weapons a few dozen meters behind them, “It was one of our most fortified positions…It placed them directly in our crosshairs.”
As the brave Golani soldiers charged up the hill, those that survived the initial Syrian barrage lay down on the barbed wire so their comrades could cross over their bodies, and from there they jumped into these Syrian bunkers and trenches. From the northern attack, ten of the thirteen Israelis were killed or wounded and in the south only one survived.
Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.