Thursday, May 6, 2010

The beautiful Golan Heights

This week my group took a little trip up to the Golan Heights. We spent one night in a hotel and two days hiking and sight seeing around the area. On the first day, we went to Mt. Bental, an old inactive volcano that houses an old army barrack turned tourist attraction. The mountain is renowned for its amazing view that seemingly stretches out forever featuring both Syria and the rest of the Golan. As I stood high above gazing into the magnificent sight of the mountains, watching their enormous bodies stare back at me, I could not help but feel awed by the scene. It’s easy to forget that I’m looking into two countries that hate each other. Only the beautiful stands out and only the peaceful overcomes you. Ironic, considering that just to my left is the old IDF bunker and that many tour guides, including mine, share a little lecture about the 1967 war. They tell the story of how Syrian tanks lined the border coming into Israel but in the end little ol’ Israel defended their territory and gained the Golan Heights. All the Israelis wanted was to work their little piece of land and put bread on their tables, while the Syrians were foaming at the mouth with war thoughts. The tour guide reminds us that the situation is the same today, as Syrian leaders are throwing threats of war at Israel (despite the fact that the border has been relativelyquiet for years now and Israel is throwing threats of war right back at Syria). Inevitably, even at the most beautiful viewpoint, politics seep in.

Our tour guide also reminds us that 78% of Israelis do not approve of giving up land for peace with the Syrians. They understand that this swap would be the loss of the Golan Heights, the incredible place in which I was standing. This is the loss of a gorgeous area that is great for vacationing in return for a peace that is not assured. Israelis have Gaza as a model to provide them with skepticism on the “success” of giving up land for apparent peace. I suppose this cynicism is warranted. Perhaps it is because Gaza is so fresh in their minds that land for peace isn’t memorable. But we also have to remember that Israel has swapped land for peace with both Egypt and Jordan, and both of these peace agreements are lasting.

The benefits of peace with Syria are numerous. In fact, these benefits have been the focus in the news lately as the situation with Iran heats up. Peace with Syria is not just peace with Syria but can also be seen within a larger context. It holds the potential to shift power in the Middle East. Iran is perceived as one of Israel’s largest threats because of it’s nuclear ambitions and incredibly hostile attitude towards Israel. Syria is one of its great allies. Forging peace with Syria would help isolate Iran therefore decreasing its threat against Israel. Furthermore peace with the Palestinians has currently hit a brick wall; Bibi and Abbas have yet to return to the bargaining table and even Obama has lost hope. By focusing on Syria and making peace with them, it might help motivate and encourage the entire peace movement, restoring faith in peace negotiations.

Syria has said it is willing to go back to the negotiating table. This is not a guarantee for peace, only an attempt at it. However, this feat has fewer challenges than those with the Palestinians. Yet, if there is one thing that is a guarantee, it is that for peace to come, the Golan will have to go. Goodbye to wineries, ski resorts, brewers, vacationing, gorgeous views, and the overall pride in gaining the Golan during the ‘67 war. While this may seem impossible for many to give up, I think it’s worth a try if the ultimate goal is peace. The situation is not guaranteed, the path is not easy, and the consequences are hazy, but for peace and prospects of stability, are we not willing to jump mountains??

Mt. Bental

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