Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Places to Visit in Israel: Golan Heights

                                Common Kingfisher at Hula Lake

Israel have occupied the Golan Heights – part of Syria since 1946 when the country was created – since the Six Day War in 1967. 

                              Har Bental (Mount Bental), Golan Heights

The scene of more fighting in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, the area is strategically important owing to water. Israel's rationale for holding on to the land east of the Jordan River is to stop the Syrians diverting the rivers that rise on Mt Hermon and flow to the Sea of Galilee away from Israel and into Syria.

      From Har Bental looking south-east towards Syria (upper left)

As Syria continues to implode, the Israeli government/army (same thing, really) will be hoping that the writing is not yet on the wall for the Assad dynasty. Most Jewish Israelis’ view of the so-called Arab spring is that it won’t be followed by any summer, as regime change is likely to mean that the new rulers will have to be more in tune with the populace, and the Arab populace in general terms neither recognises the state of Israel nor its right to exist.

                              Yehudiya Nature Reserve, Golan Heights

The Golan Heights are sparsely inhabited and amazingly peaceful given their history and geography. Yehudiya and Gamla Nature Reserves are decent places for a walk, and just far enough apart for the Israelis to charge you separately for walking in each (27 shekels a throw – or US$8.50). 

              Gamla Nature Reserve - Gamla is the Masada of the north 

So, when I see a Mossad man tramping on the Maclehose, I'll put on that CPA hat I nicked and tell him to cough up 50 bucks. Or maybe not – don’t want him hunting down my entire family …

                                       Crab at Gamla

Also known as Agamon Ha Hula (The Little Lake at Hula) – a place is nothing in Israel unless it has a hatful of names – Hula Lake Park (actually in Upper Galilee rather than the Golan) is a terrific place to go when the birds are on the move between November and April. When I went, there were an estimated 10,000 grey cranes in residence. If you can, go on a Friday or Saturday, when the park opens at 6.30am. The birds are more active then and there are fewer people around.

                                   Grey Cranes on the move

Don't go to the Hula Nature Reserve four kilometres south, unless you want to sit in an auditorium and be educated and propagandised. Talking of propaganda, those seeking the winner of the Gold Medal for Propaganda – am I allowed to call it the Josef Goebbels Award? – are advised to go to the Herzl Museum in Jerusalem, next door to Yad Vashem. This fat bearded bloke who pops up in just about all of their propaganda flicks regales the faithful (and the odd goy like me) with improbable tales, not the least of which is that “You don’t have to emigrate to Israel to be a Zionist”, which struck me as a bit of a stretch. Nothing like keeping the billions flooding in from Toronto, New York and Los Angeles, ’though. 

                   Foreign Donors, City of David, Jerusalem   

                                             Hula Lake

Some of this money is probably being diverted to restock Hula Lake with fish, after the world’s largest rodent, the capybara, was introduced from South America some years ago in a hare-brained scheme to farm the beast for fur. The capybaras aren’t complaining, ’though, as they vie with one another for the honour of being the first guinea pig to tip the scales at 200 lbs. Amazingly for Israel, admission to the park is only 3 shekels (US$1), but they make up for this by stinging you 50 shekels for cycle hire. It's only 8.5 kilometres round the lake, so get up early, take walking shoes, binoculars, cameras and some grub, and enjoy a very special experience. 

                                     Contented Capybara


HKP said...

I imagine you crawling David Attenborough-style to capture the capybara shot. Well done.

ulaca said...

You imagine correctly, James. I actually got him to stay still by intoning in a heavy whisper, "Here - in the wilds of Northern Israel - lives a creature for many years thought by evolutionists to be a close relative of the otter ....."

And I had hordes of them coming out of the woodwork after that begging me for an appearance on the telly.