Take the bait

Ein Gev's fishing community and environs offers a boatful of travel opportunities.

engev 224 (photo credit: )
engev 224
(photo credit: )
There are a lot of reasons to go to Ein Gev right now. Kibbutz Ein Gev, located on the east side of the Kinneret, celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. As part of both this celebration and a regional "Taste of the Kinneret" food festival, the Ein Gev restaurants and ice-cream stands on the dock are featuring products from their fields and fish caught by their fleet. On Saturday December 8 and 15, at 1:30 p.m. Fleet Skipper Menachem Lev will demonstrate the art of fishing in the Kinneret. Afterwards you can watch him unload his catch on the dock, where a little kiosk will sell fresh, fried sardines. But this trip is not just for the belly, but for Zionist pride, too. EIN GEV is one of 52 "tower and stockade" (homa umigdal) communities established from 1936 to 1938, most of them in isolated regions far from other Jewish settlements. In fact, for several years, Ein Gev, the first modern Jewish settlement on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, could be reached only by sea. Though the stockade provided protection within kibbutz walls, frequent Arab attacks made it hard for the settlers to till their fields prior to the War of Independence. Ein Gev turned to the lake for its livelihood instead, pioneering boat cruises across the lake as well as a restaurant featuring St. Peter's fish. Today Ein Gev operates a highly successful Holiday Village, cultivates dates, avocados, mangoes and bananas, and catches about 350 tons of fish a year. Visitors are welcome to stroll along the kibbutz's lakeside promenade, breathing in the wonderful sea air and enjoying a marvelous view (and the excellent public bathrooms). Take the family to watch the in-house sculptor creating fascinating figures in a workshop near the shore, or (for a fee) ride a cute little train and learn about life on a kibbutz. The settlement's Anchor Museum is also fun, and features exhibits ranging from fishermen's nets to ancient fish hooks. In the Memorial Court see the Mother and Child sculpture, inspired by a settler who concealed her pregnancy during the War of Independence in order to remain in Ein Gev and defend the kibbutz. She was one of five killed and 10 wounded during the war. Train rides every hour from noon to 4 p.m. For more details call (04) 665-8030. MAKE EIN GEV part of an unusual day trip to other northern historical spots connected with Syrian terror. Here are just a few: the Nukeib Memorial, ancient Sussita, and the pillbox inside Mevo Hama Forest. MEVO HAMA FOREST: In 1941, worried about a French and/or German invasion from the north, the British built a defensive line along the length of the Golan Heights at a number of strategic points. Part of their defensive line consisted of round cement towers, nicknamed pillboxes because of their distinctive shape. After the British left in 1948, Syrian troops manned the tower erected near Taufik Village and repeatedly shot at settlers tilling their fields below. This finally came to an end after the area was taken by Israeli forces in 1967. See for yourself how easy it was to target area settlements by climbing to the Taufik pillbox on a hill inside the Jewish National Fund's Mevo Hama Forest. To get there, take Highway 98 north towards Kibbutz Mevo Hama. Four and a half kilometers south of Mevo Hama a sign points left to Ein Taufik. Enter, and take the first dirt road left towards the pillbox. Explore the pillbox interior, something you may never have done before. What a phenomenal view the Syrians enjoyed! They had a clear picture of the southern portion of Lake Kinneret, Tiberias, Poriya, a flowing Yarmuk River, and the rich, green, fertile fields farmed by the settlers. While you are here, visit a little forest park built around a sparkling spring. Along with a flowing brook, it features a large picnic site with a wheelchair-accessible table and tons of lush foliage. To get there, head for the forest entrance and follow the signs. SUSSITA: Towering 350 meters above the Kinneret, on a flat-topped mountain, Sussita is connected to the other hills in the Golan Heights only by a thin ridge. Below its northern, northeastern and southern slopes are deep riverbeds. To the west the slopes drop steeply down to the coast. From just the right angle on the peaks near Sussita the mountain and its "saddle" resemble a horse's head and neck, as was apparently perceived by the earliest settlers. In Aramaic the word mare is "sussita," and in Greek the city was called Hippos, the Greek translation of mare. After the Moslem conquest in the seventh century Sussita became known as Kal'at el Husn, or "fortress of the horse." During Sussita's 1,000 years of existence, the city changed hands time and again. Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai conquered Sussita from the Greeks in about 80 BCE, but Roman general Pompey recaptured it 17 years later. It was under the years of Roman rule which followed that Sussita reached its peak. During the War of Independence nearly 2,000 years later, Syrian forces stationed on Mount Sussita mercilessly shelled Kibbutz Ein Gev below. Life became so unbearable in the little settlement that, despite a severe shortage of men and arms, the farmers had no choice but to try and remove the Syrian threat. In a surprise night attack, they hiked the gully south of Sussita, climbed the narrow ridge on its eastern side, and succeeded in taking the hill. Following the war, Sussita became part of the Israeli-Syrian armistice line. Kibbutz members stood watch on the mountain until relieved by Israeli forces two years later leading pack mules up the hill and guard duty was a regular part of the settlement's job roster. Almost two decades passed before Israel secured the Golan Heights in the Six Day War, finally eliminating the threat to Ein Gev. Excavations have been taking place on Sussita since 1951, and much still remains to be explored. Nevertheless, there is plenty to see at the site, including several Byzantine churches, the cardo, ancient basalt pipes from a 25-kilometer-long aqueduct, portions of bathhouses and fountains, and the ancient city's eastern gate, made of chiseled basalt blocks. Relics of recent wars can be viewed at Sussita as well. The military post you visit was the easternmost position on the Israeli line during the 1948 war. Of unusual interest are granite columns lying on the ground at what seem to be identical angles. It is thought that they collapsed in an earthquake in 749, which destroyed the water supply and parts of the city. Just a little further west stands a modest memorial to the last Israeli commander of Sussita. On Independence Day of 1967 he walked down to Ein Gev, and as he returned to his post was accidentally killed by his own troops. To get there from Highway 98, descend a road southwest of Kibbutz Afik. Alternatively, from Highway 92 (eastern side of the Kinneret), take the road heading east between Kibbutz Ein Gev and the Ein Gev Holiday Village. The sign "Agricultural Vehicles Only" is generally ignored. NUKEIB: A state of alert was declared along the border with Syria on March 16, 1962. Late that night the IDF intended to hit the heavily fortified Syrian base of Nukeib along the eastern shores of Lake Kinneret, just south of Kursi Junction, one of many outposts from which Syrian soldiers repeatedly attacked Israeli fishermen plying their trade. During the battle, when reinforcements were needed, 19-year-old Golani soldier Ya'acov Dvir immediately volunteered. Dvir's halftrack ran over a mine, but he wasn't hurt. As the action continued, he was asked to clear a minefield, and again remained untouched. Nukeib was taken by Israeli troops, but as they began to move out they were shelled heavily by the Syrians on the Heights. When it was all over, Dvir had disappeared. A memorial now stands on the former Syrian base, about two kilometers south of Kursi Junction. It commemorates eight soldiers from the Golani Brigade who fell in battle. The fate of Ya'acov Dvir remains unknown. The Golan Heights and the shores of Lake Kinneret are so tranquil today that people forget how badly area settlers suffered when Syria controlled the region.