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Friday, August 3, 2012

Our Prime Real Estate: Mount Hermon and the Golan©

A Mighty Mountain

Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Israel, is an integral part of the Torah portion for Shabbos Chazan. In this parsha, Moshe Rabeinu details the victorious battles with Sichon, the King of Emori, and Og, the King of Bashan. As a result of these battles, Mount Hermon in the north of Israel is conquered.

We are told that Am Yisrael conquered the stretch of land from the Brook of Arnon to Mount Hermon from of the two kings of the Amorite. Then the Torah uncharacteristically goes on to describe the other names by which the nations call the Hermon. Rashi explains that each nation called the Hermon by a name in its own language since they wanted the giant mountain for itself and contended among themselves for its control.

This shows us how desired the Hermon and the rest of the Land was. Any king of any importance used to have a palace in Eretz Yisrael. Even today, the entire world is hankering over our prime piece of property. The Hermon has the dubious honor of being the highest manned UN position and the only permanent UN-manned post in the world.

Some say the Hebrew name of the mighty mountain – Hermon – comes from the root word Herem, meaning “holy” (out of limits or sacred) and spelled: chet, reish, mem. This is a variation of ramach (spelled: reish, mem, chet), the 248 limbs of the entire body (that correspond to the 248 positive commandments). This is also the gematria of Avraham Avinu's name, and Avraham had complete control over his entire body. This shows that the Hermon is the key to the control of the whole of Eretz Yisrael in its entirety.
The giant Mountain's name in Arabic Jabal al-Shaykh or "Mountain of the Chief" also echoes the idea that the one that has control of this mountain is the Chief (controller) of the Holy Land. The Tzidonim called it Siryon, which means "officer" or "leader" (ruler of the country).  According to our tradition, it was on the Hermon peak of Har Habtarim, 1,296 meters above sea level, on the slopes of Katef Sion, that Hashem promised Abraham the Land for his children.

Tremendous Natural Resource

Mount Hermon, also called the "Snowy Mountain," the "Gray-haired Mountain," and the "Mountain of Snow, is the location of one of the greatest geographic resources of the area. Because of its height it receives a great deal of rainfall and snow. The water then percolates and emerges as three springs at the foot of the mountain. These springs create three streams, - the Dan, Hermon (Banias), and Senir (Hazbani) - which are the head-waters of the Jordan River.
The springs, like the mountain itself, are much disputed by the nations of the area for the use of its water. In the 1960s, Syria tried to divert the flow of the Banias and the Hatzbani before it reached the Jordan River. This attempt was averted before the 1967 War.

Mount Hermon in the Golan

Located only 60 miles to the east of Haifa, we find the Golan Heights. Mount Hermon, with its cluster of mountains and three distinct summits of about the same height, is part of the Golan. These mountains are called The Anti-Lebanon Range which has nothing to do with being pro- or anti-Lebanon; rather anti is from the Greek word meaning “opposite.” The mountain range extends for approximately 150 km (93 mi) in a northeast-southwest direction, running parallel to the Lebanon range in the west. The Hermon range covers an area of about 1000 square km, of which about 70 km² are under Israeli control and includes the highest point in Israel.

The Golan Heights Throughout History
From Biblical times until our era today, the Golan has borne a Jewish identity and been 
included in historic Eretz Yisrael. The Midrash tells us that Hashem promised Abraham the land of ten nations, but three of them belonging to Ammon, Moav, and Esav would be acquired with the arrival of Mashiach. The Jews had not planned on taking these lands, but when attacked by Sichon and Og they captured the parts the giants had conquered from Moav and Ammom. This area included the Golan.    

One of the three Arei Miklat that Moshe Rabunu set up in Ever HaYarden, was Golan in the Bashan in the portion of Menashe (Devarim 4:41, 43).

Beginning with Yehoshuah’s conquest of the land, the Golan located in the former Land of Bashan was inhabited by Jewish settlers from the tribe of Menashe. When Jews returned from the Babylonian exile some settled in the Golan. King Alexander Yannai, added the Golan to his kingdom. It was the capital of the Golan for 150 years. Herod the Great also settled Jews here in order to populate his border cities.

In the battle of Gamla in 67 CE, three years before the fall of Jerusalem, 9,000 residences were killed by the Romans in a Masada-like encounter. It is therefore called by some "Masada of the North." Josephus Flavius writes about the heroic fight of the Jews during a month long siege which ended with the fall of Gamla.

After the destruction of the Temple and the Roman repression of the Bar Kochba uprising, Jews continued to live in the Golan until after the end of the Talmudic period.

The remnants of 25 synagogues have been excavated in the Golan, and they testify to the long history of a Jewish presence. The Katsrin synagogue and many other archeological findings are evidence of a flourishing Jewish community in the Byzantine period. One of the coins found in the archeological excavations there is imprinted in ancient Hebrew: "For the Redemption of Jerusalem the Holy". The Golan is dotted with ancient Jewish villages.

In the late 1800’s Jews began to move to the Golan, and Baron Rothschild purchased 18,000 acres in the eastern Golan in 1891.

The Strategic Golan Heigh

Today, one third of Israel’s drinking water comes from this place.  Moreover, the Golan Heights is part of the water basin of the Sea of Galilee, Israel's largest water reservoir. The lake is fed by waters running off the strategic plateau, which make up roughly half of all the water that flows into it. Israeli control of the Golan Heights ensures the prevention of the potential pollution of the lake.

The Golan Heights is considered and called “the eyes of the nation, since it is Israel’s most strategic piece of Land and crucial for its long term security, as its straddles the border between Syria and Israel. Israel’s control of the peaks of the Hermon Mountain in the northern Golan provides the country with important intelligence gathering capabilities via use of electronic surveillance that goes deep into Syrian territory. This enables Israeli soldiers posted on mountain peaks to continually monitor the Syrian side for any military buildup which makes possible a swift IDF response to any such development.

The presence of the Israeli army only 60 km from Damascus is a constant deterrent to any Syrian aggression.  The topographical structure of the Golan helps to defend Israel. In the south, the deep canyons of the Yarmuch and the Rakad rivers, form an impassible natural barrier and formidable shield against infantry and armored vehicles. To the east and north, the mountain range stretching from Mt. Saki to Mt. Hermon forms a natural guard line as there are very few of passes, which Syria could use to invade. Therefore a comparatively small number of soldiers in a few outposts can secure this front.

If the Golan Heights were, G-d forbid, controlled by a hostile country, it could be a strategic horror for Israel. Syria is still in a state of war with Israel and any change might have destabilizing effects.

The Golan in the Conflict with Syria

In 1946 the French Mandate gave Syria independence. The Golan Heights became part of the newly independent state in contradiction to the San Remo Resolution on Palestine (an international meeting of the post-World War I Allied Supreme Council, held in Italy in April 1920).

Syria attacked the newborn state in May 1948, from the Golan Heights. It was the first Arab nation to assail us. The constant barrage of Syrian missiles throughout the 1950's and 1960's was aimed at Israelis living in the Galil and kibbutzim of the Hula Valley. The Syrian offensive resulted in a generation of children being called “Yaldei HaMiklatim. These children grew up playing, studying, and sleeping in bomb shelters. For nineteen years it was a living nightmare as trigger-happy Syrian troops stationed high above in the Golan Heights fired relentlessly on the settlers below, and Jewish farmers had to constantly till their fields accompanied by tanks.

At the beginning of the Six Day War, General Moshe Dayan had no intention of capturing the Golan, but since many of the army officials were members of the Hula kibbutzim, they pressured him to respond to the massive artillery attacks by Syria. With the Help of Hashem, the Golan was captured in this defensive war. Immediately after the war, Israel offered to withdraw from the Heights in exchange for a peace treaty, but was rebuffed. Since 1992, when Yitzchak Rabin became Prime Minister, almost all Israeli governments have negotiated directly or indirectly with Syria in an attempt to secure a peace treaty between the two states.

In 1970 Hafez al-Assad seized the Baath Party, which has controlled Syria since 1963.  In 1973 under his leadership, Syria invaded Israel during the Yom Kippur War and was defeated. In June, 2000 Hafez appointed his son Bashar as his successor. Bashar supports militant terror groups that carry out attacks against Israel. The need for long-term defensible border along the Golan has been reinforced by the political turmoil in the Arab world, as highlighted by the summer, 2011 civil uprising in Syria which continues until today.

A National Treasure

The Land that had appeared to be almost useless and was used to attack Jews for so many years has today been turned into a rich agricultural area. An Jewish National Treasure and a gift from above, the Golan draws 2,000,000 tourists every year. 

The 21,000 Israelis living in 32 rural communities and the town of Qatzrin have created a new community model based on verses in Tehillim 133:1-2: "Behold, how good and how pleasant is the dwelling of brothers together in unity….so too the dew of Hermon descends upon the mountains of Zion; for there HaShem commanded the blessing. May there be life forever!”  

You can see this blessing fulfilled in this strikingly beautiful area, now inhabited by so many Jews, farmers and city dwellers, religious and secular, Israeli born and new immigrants. Living next to the hostile Syrian border and small in size – 1,158 sq. km., the Golan Heights is nevertheless fruitful and productive. Surely G-d has commanded His blessing and rewarded them for loving His Land and each other.

In the Golan, you can see the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Yechezk’el 36:35: "This Land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden.”
Since we have returned, with G-d’s help, Jewish communities have produced 4,000 acres of orchards, 5,000 acres of agricultural land with crops, and a production of 35,000 tons of flowers. There are 20,000 heads of cattle with 5,000 dairy cows producing an astounding 60 million liters of milk per year. Also, there are thousands of sheep, goats, turkeys, and ducks. There are cotton tomatoes, corn and onions fields, as well as apple, peach, cherry, blueberry, raspberry, avocado, plum, apricot, nectarine, mango, grapefruit, banana, and date orchards.

Some call the Golan “The Land of Water and Wine.” The Golan has vineyards which produce award-winning wine and are said to be among the finest in the world. The Golan Heights Wineries combine state-of-the-art technology with traditional techniques and produce 5.4 million bottles of wine per year, with exports to 25 countries.  The Prophet Amos also tells us: "The Mountains shall drip with sweet wine and the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of my people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them, I will plant them upon their Land, and they will never again be uprooted from the Land I have given them, says Hashem your G-d” (9:13, 14, 15).

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