אהבת ציון - Ahavat Tziyon
The Golan Heights extends like a 15 x 32 mile finger between the borders of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria in the northeastern section of Israel. Israel's highest mountain, snow-capped Mt. Hermon (7,296 ft.), is located to the north of the 444 square mile plateau. The plateau was once actively volcanic and the northernmost points remain weathered and desolate. When held by Israeli forces, the highland has little military importance. If controlled by a hostile country, however, the Golan would be a strategic nightmare for Israel.
The Golan Heights rise from 400 to 1700 feet overlooking the Hula Valley, Israel's richest agricultural area, only about 60 unobstructed miles from Haifa and Acre, Israel's industrial heartland. The Golan falls within the Biblical boundaries of the Land of Israel (biblical Bashan), and was always part of the Jewish homeland. The uprising against the Roman Empire featured the battle of Gamla on the Golan Heights in 67 CE, three years before the fall of Jerusalem (70 CE). Over 9000 Jewish citizens were killed in a Madada-like encounter.
Syria, a province in the Ottoman Empire until World War I, did not have well defined borders in the area. In 1923, as part of difficult negotiations between England and France, the northern border between Syria and then British-controlled Palestine was established, and the Golan Heights were arbitrarily allocated to Syria, including some of the most fascinating and significant Christian sites in the Holy Land.
Long before the State of Israel was established in 1948, the Syrians turned the Golan Heights into a military fortress and conducted near-constant, daily routine shelling of northern Jewish villages. In Israel's 1948 War of Independence, Syria overran the eastern Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) border areas and occupied them until 1967, when Israel regained them along with the rest of the Golan Heights. In the Six Day War of June, 1967 Syria attacked Israel and was defeated. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the fighting, held them after the truce, and extended Israeli law to the area.
The strategic value of the Golan Heights to Israel cannot be overstated. As with the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), the visual and radar stations located there give advance warning of any approach from Syria. Any attacking ground force would be effectively blocked by having to cross the Golan Heights. Conversely, if held by an enemy as in the past, it puts northern Israel directly under their guns.
Furthermore, about one third of Israel's fresh water supply originates there, in the watershed of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and must be protected.
Learning about Israel, planting trees in Israel, supporting Israel, and visiting Israel are all important ways that we can fulfill the mitzvah of Ahavat Tziyon.