The Golan Heights are Israel’s northernmost border – both Lebanon and Syria abut Israel in the north and northeast respectively. Act like the Israelis who routinely escape to the Golan to enjoy its pastoral expanse connect with nature and leave the urban mentality behind. The area has become a wonderful place to vacation with comfortable country-style B&Bs, spas, bicycle trails and rentals, guided nature walks, horseback riding and much more.
The Golan Heights are a strong point of contention between Israel and its neighbors, primarily Syria. Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the Golan Heights have been under Israeli jurisdiction and have become an integral part of the state of Israel. In the early years of the state, the area was part of a demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. An ongoing tug of war over use of water and violations between both parties caused cross-border raids with the Lebanese and Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Fatah organization, leading to the fierce 1967 battle for control of the Golan Heights, which Israel took control of that June. The area will be contested as part of any potential peace agreement, in particular between Israel and Syria.
As part of the Lebanese mountain range and the highest summit in the area, Mount Hermon has been one of the most coveted landmarks of the region, due in part to its importance as a strategic observation post. The southern slopes of Mount Hermon have been under Israeli control since the Six-Day War.
A visit to Mount Hermon and the adjacent Israeli-Lebanese border offers a sense of the mountain's strategic importance to Israel. Take some time to visit the communities on its slopes, including the Druze village of Majdal Shams as well as the Jewish-Israeli town of Neve Ativ. If you’re visiting Israel in January or February, hit the slopes on Mount Hermon for a wonderful fun day of skiing – Middle Eastern style.
The Banias Waterfall and Nimrod’s Fortress
The slopes of the Hermon are home to the Banias, a natural spring and one of four water sources of the Jordan River. The Nimrod Fortress is nearby as well; built in 1220 by Al-Aziz Uthman in order to fend off Crusader attackers heading for Damascus. While ruined by an earthquake in the 18th century, it is still an impressive pile to climb and offers a vantage point from which to understand the strategic importance of the area.
Israel makes good use of the rich soil and comfortable weather of the Golan Heights to grow blackberries, cherries, raspberries and even blueberries. Berry season begins in May and runs through mid-September. During berry picking season, farms throughout the Golan Heights allow visitors into their fields to pick their own berries. Arrange for a picnic at your host farm in advance and have a wonderfully bucolic day during your Israel tour.
Off-Road and Rafting Adventures
A special treat on a bar/bat mitzvah Israel tour is rafting or tubing down the Jordan River while visiting the Golan Heights. Get down and dirty with the kids – you’ll enjoy the beauty of the landscape and they’ll enjoy the ride. This whitewater adventure -- in season – is lots of fun for all and sure to cool everyone down after touring in the city.
Stop in the Talmudic-era town of Katzrin, also known as the ‘Capital of the Golan Heights.’ Taste the excellent wines made by the Golan Heights Winery and have a bite at one of Katzrin’s charming cafes. Try a slug at the source - Mei Eden, one of Israel and Europe's largest suppliers of mineral water. End your day at the fabulously well-preserved remains of a third century synagogue.
Gamla Nature Reserve
Said to be Israel’s Masada of the North, Gamla was host to a siege during the Maccabean revolt against the Romans. While it’s unclear how many people were killed, the writings of Josephus Flavius suggest that it was the site of a protracted siege and conquest in 67 ACE, by the Roman Legion.
The Gamla Nature Reserve holds the archaeological remains of the ancient city of Gamla including a first century synagogue, one of the oldest in the world, built during temple times, when Herod was king. Visit the nearby Yehudiya waterfall and bird observation area in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the many Griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures and eagles that live and breed in the area.
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