Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mount Bental


Mount Bental, an inactive volcano, is located in the Golan Heights on route 98, nearby to Kibbutz Merom Hagolan. A short but steep drive brings one to the parking lot and a brief stroll leads to the summit. On the summit there are remnants of the Six Day War - with bunkers and trenches, and a free recorded vocal explanation relating to the ’67 war.

The expansive panoramic view at the summit provides an excellent observation point overlooking valleys and parts of the Golan and Hermon, spreading from Israel into Syria. A clear view is offered of both the new and old towns of Kuneitra – located on the Syrian side of the border. Clearly visible is the disengagement strip that exists along the Syrian-Israeli border – which is controlled and patrolled by UNDOF – the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force. As the name suggests, it is a purely observational force.

The border between Israel and Syria reflects the sensitivity of their political relations. In spite of periods of heightened tension, this border still represents Israel’s quietest border with its neighbors – in terms of border related incidents since the Yom Kippur War, 1973.

Mt Bental, provides a very good site to recall the events of the Six Day War, especially the last two days that precipitated in the capture of the Golan and Mt Hermon, The conflict between Israel and Syria had its antecedents following the War of Independence, 1948, and primarily relating to the establishment of DMZ’s –demilitarized zones along their mutual borders, and issues related to development of agricultural areas, and water-related resources. Numerous international incidents had taken place on both sides, generally followed by Syrian artillery barrages on Israeli civilian settlements or Israeli air responses or Israeli naval activity on the Kinneret.

An audacious breakthrough by Israeli infantry into Syria’s most fortified position on the Golan Heights, at Tel Fajar, sent shockwaves through the Syrian Army and almost overnight resulted in the routing of the Syrian presence along the Golan.
Kuneitra was the largest Syrian town in the Golan Heights until 1967, and had represented a strategic position for the Syrian Army command, serving as the Syrian administrative capital of the Golan.

During the Yom Kippur War, Kuneitra was recaptured by the Syrian troops, and later retaken by the Israeli counterattack. Following the 1974-5 cease fire agreement, Kuneitra was returned to Syria conditional on a prisoner exchange. Initially the Syrians maintained they would rebuild the old Kuneitra, and repopulate it. Instead, they developed a new town nearby, Kuneitra Jdeide, and maintained the old Kuneitra as a ghost town for propaganda purposes to demonstrate how Israel had wreaked havoc and destruction upon the town.

To reach the site, drive along Route 98, until Kibbutz El Rom, turn east at the sign and continue another 3km, following the signs and following the left curving road. Park your vehicle near the cluster of trees and enter the memorial.

Today, the site hosts the memorial for fallen members of the armored corps from the 77th Brigade. The memorial is called Oz 77 – from the Hebrew word for “strength”. On the eastern corner of the grove of trees, looking out towards the battle-ground, is a free vocal recording of the events of the battle.

No comments: