Friday, May 18, 2007

Our Day in the Golan Heights

Almost sneaking out of the house in the morning for this one, we packed the kids in the car and drove to the demonstration in the Golan Heights. Of course, we can't really keep any secrets in the family, so we ended up telling my in-laws where we went later that evening. During the morning we still kept it hushed down though.

The kids were never told we're going to a demonstration, let alone about what. We feel they're too young for that, so to them this was just a day out.

We left earlier than needed, so on the way to the Golan Heights we made the mandatory stop at Golani Junction at their MacDonald's branch. Now, Golani junction isn't named after the Golan, but after one of the IDF's brigades. It's usually a place where soldiers gather, on the way back and from their deployments up in the North, and also families like ours traveling. It's also a local attraction for the region's locals, namely you see quite a few Druze and Arabs there as well. The staff is always mixed, as far as I can tell, with both Arabs and Jews serving in all positions.

We got a kiddie meal (with the toy!), and a bowl of the latest local dish served at the big M - a finely chopped, freshly prepared Mediterranean salad, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, mint and parsley - yummy and very healthy! The kids spent a while playing at the indoors playground there, while IsraeliDad and myself sat nearby reading the paper. So far, the day was proving to be a huge success ;)

We drove on northward, me looking at the view, thinking how sad this whole deal was. Such a beautiful place, populated by beautiful people, dreamers and visionaries that wanted to make a home for their family in a very special place. Unlike the West Bank (let alone Gaza), the Golan is sparsely populated and was so during 1967 as well.

At last, we reached the designated meeting point, at Ein Zivan junction. No less than six police cars and vans were waiting for us there, and seemed rather pleased to finally see someone looking for the demonstration. They weren't making a political statement, just bored, saying not too many other people had shown up. They told us the rally itself is held further along the road, in the tourist observation point located across the border from the Syrian town of Kuneitra.

The place itself is beautiful (as is the rest of the Golan Heights), with a great outlook on the views of Syria, right across from the UN camp in the demilitarized zone between the two countries. The weather was nice, and we spent a nice hour or so, listening to speeches. The two more prominent speakers were Israeli author Sami Michael and Israeli poet Roni Somek. Their heartfelt speeches addressed one simple point, which was the message of the rally: Let's respond to the Syrian signals and engage in a dialogue. At no point did anyone even mention the withdrawal from the Golan Heights directly. At most, there was a vague reference to the price of peace (mentioning that it was heavy, but not as heavy as the price of war).

I was slightly disappointed when one of the speakers tried some low scare tactics, saying that if we don't head towards peace with Syria now, we'll have war with Syria under a year. He went on to say that we won't be able to stand at that very place, because rockets will be falling on the Golan Heights. I thought this to be a very unlikely scenario... The point I would have made instead is that unless we enter negotiations with the Syrians, there is more than likely going to be another war with the Hezbulla.

As you can see from this picture, the demonstration wasn't exactly crowded. IsraeliDad is there, trying to get the boys to sit "in the shade" (there wasn't much of it, obviously). It was a very peaceful event - the bored policemen never even got close. There was quite a lot of press there, it almost looked like you had more journalists and photographers than actual participants. Then again, this demonstration wasn't advertised anywhere that we could see, and unless you happen to be on certain mailing lists, you wouldn't even know it took place. We are not actually ON those mailing lists either, but were forwarded a copy by friends. Funnily enough, the people on those lists were mostly the kind of people who won't come to such a demonstration because it's taking place "in occupied territory"...

We stayed there for about an hour, then headed south again as it was over. It felt strange, going past the Kibbutz where my brother-in-law lives, but we thought it would be way too awkward to visit under the circumstances. We never even told them we were going, as per the request of my parents-in-law. Sigh.

On the way back, we stopped for a nice lunch in a semi-famous Arab restaurant called "Yunes". We had a very good time there, with the hospitable staff generously talking us into buying less food, rather than more! Now, there's a refreshing approach in a restaurant!

The food itself was excellent. The parents kept to
Hummus and a selection of salads, while the kids had their all time favorite - meats on sticks aka Shish-kebab (aka locally as shishlik). They were taught a few Arab words by the kind waiter who really enjoyed them (and them him as well!) . All in all, we had a great time there, with a lovely "on the house" finale of black Arab coffee, sweet cakes, fresh apples and dates. As perfect as can be, and not very expensive either.

Sitting here typing and listening to the news... We focused on the north today, but Israel's hot front is down south today, with a constant barrage of rockets from Gaza into the town Sderot, along with constant IDF attacks into Gaza. Looks like things are escalating quickly. I did read today that Hammas is doing this intentionally, attempting to drag Israel into a direct conflict. I also read how Shimon Peres said this week that Israel will not have its policy dictated by the Hammas, meaning we won't attack just because they are provoking. Well, looks like attack we do, and I guess now it remains to see just how severely.

It seems pretty clear though, that unless the Palestinians come to their senses in Gaza, the government will have little choice but to increase the attack, maybe even going all the way with a ground attack, literally taking Gaza over again. It's a question of public opinion more than anything. People are too short sighted to see the outcome - they just want the government to do something - anything - to stop the rockets.

On a personal level, I am worried that IsraeliDad may be called in again, for who knows how long, in case things escalate on the Southern front. I sure hope things won't come to that... and not just for my own personal selfish motives either.


Steve said...

We watch from over across the ocean as you try and deal with such incredibly hard issues. I tip my hat to you and DH both for acting on your beliefs, in spite of potential dustups within the family. It proves the complexity of the politics, doesn't it, like nothing else?

One hopes there is an envelope you can even act or think outside of. Sometimes events over there seem so passivelky undertaken, with old prejudices and assumptions so predominant everyone acts things out like willing zombies, lobbing rockets, getting reacted to, an endless chain of nastiness.

Keep up the good work. Show your heart, if nothing else. Families matter, appeal to that, as you continually do. You guys deserve some kudos for trying!

Khaled Diab said...

Well done on attending the demonstration. Brave of you both!!

Let's hope the violence doesn't escalate and remember we need to condemn all political violence.