SMOKE OVER SYRIA

Our guide prepared us for the “Valley of Tears” as our minibus approached the northern tip of Israel. It was our first time at this strategic location. When we visited the Eastern side of the Golan – the Lebanese border in 2013, we heard the guns booming in Syria. Last year it was also unsafe to approach the Syrian border.

During Yom Kippur of October 1973, the holiest season in the Jewish calendar, Israel faced the fury of five nations, committed to cleanse the land of Jews. It was a surprise attack. An anxious Israel struggled against the Arab collation led by Egypt. The outnumbered Jewish forces fought for their lives and miraculously overpowered the invading Syrians in this ancient killing field, whose history of violence goes back to Biblical times.

We leave the bus in the car park and climb to the lookout at the summit of Mt Bental, 1165 metres above sea level. On our left stands Mt Hermon; pockets of winter snow still visible. Stretched before us, as far as the eye could see is Syria. Standing at the lookout, the reality of war hits me. What’s that smoke on the horizon? Is there a fresh outbreak of fighting?

“It’s from a grass fire. Combat smoke is black,” our guide advises.

However, the smell of benign smoke triggers disturbing images of ravaged buildings and bloodied bodies from TV coverage of recent months. The United Nations observer turns from conversation to check a bright light piercing the distant haze. The mood amongst the small crowd gathered around the lookout post is restrained, almost sombre.

“Where’s the border?” someone asks?

“Where the green stops and the brown begins,” replies the Major. “Syrian farmers have left their farms along the border. The area is now active with rebels who continue to use the border fence as a protective passage, knowing Syrian forces won’t fire, fearing their shells will hit Israeli soil and provoke reprisals.” I stand for an hour absorbing the detail of the expanse.

An Israeli artist has created a series of weird and wonderful creatures from wrecked tanks and other leftovers of the machinery of war that line the pathway from the car park to the lookout. Maybe his efforts provide a gentle challenge for admirers of his quirky art to transform their suffering into hope for the future.

My own tears join those who suffered in The Valley of Tears. I suspect this experience may stay with me for a very long time.

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© 2017 by David Kerr