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Sunday, January 16, 2011

ON A KIBBUTZ AND UP ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS--WOW!

Margaret Morse Tours includes a stop that every one of us eagerly anticipates: two days at Israel’s Hagoshrim Kibbutz. It is not at all what I expect!!! My idea of a kibbutz is an idealized farming community where people rough it out in a daily, harmonious, sharing of labor and rewards. Simplistic, to say the least—maybe even simple-minded. I quickly learn that about 70% of Israel’s kibbutzim have turned to capitalism; one has to make money to survive, to send one’s children to college, and to live in today’s world. The work is still hard, but things have changed in the world of the kibbutz.

Hagorshim Kibbutz

The Hagoshrim Kibbutz operates a hotel and resort, and it is lovely. Here is an unpretentious hotel with amenities and simple comforts lacking in the beautiful, much more formal Dan Carmel in Tel Aviv (I’m not complaining; that was a magnificent hotel, but this was so different). Set in the center of the Hula Valley, it faces the Golan Heights. Our rooms are simply decorated, comfortable with free wifi, something Rob and I absolutely refuse, in principle, to pay for but which always seems to come with a hefty charge in more “upscale” hotels. The lobby and bar are inviting, and there is live music in the evenings. The restaurant is big yet cozy and the meals varied and selections plentiful. A big, comfortable, country inn in America would be analogous.

The 210 members of this agricultural/hotel kibbutz live differently from the guests, but since 2000 they have become business people. On our first evening, we are addressed by a woman who has spent most of her adult life here. Children now live with their parents where once they were raised communally spending only short periods of time with their parents—from 4 to 7 PM daily. Houses, therefore, are more spacious than they once were to accommodate an entire family. The communal dining room has disappeared, replaced by home-cooking. The children leave the kibbutz at 18 to do their stint in the Army and then to go to college. Some return to the kibbutz; some do not. People are now paid salaries according to their jobs where once everything was divided equally. Many work outside the kibbutz. There are other changes, of course, but one very important way of life remains. They help each other. They are taken care of by the kibbutz from birth to death, and there is no fear that illness or age will leave one destitute. The members still constitute a loving family caring for one another. One cannot underestimate this important factor. Even as the kibbutz has evolves, the community remains.

Hagorshim Kibbutz
a block of kibbutz members' homes

In the morning we take a tour of the kibbutz, past the members’ homes and the other features of the resort—fountains, gardens, a swimming pool, athletic fields and trails—the same amenities you would find at any nice resort.

Hagorshim Kibbutz

Hagorshim Kibbutz

Interestingly, it is on this kibbutz that the Epilady was invented, and for a while it brought substantial income. However, as bigger companies throughout the world began to manufacture similar appliances at lower cost to the consumer, Epilady went bankrupt. This, of course, is another side of capitalism.

On our walk we passed the bomb shelters that are installed throughout the grounds.

Hagorshim Kibbutz
Kibbutz bomb shelter

The Hula Valley sits in the shadow of the Golan Heights, and this area is a ready target for those who control the Heights. The Hula Valley was once a swamp that the Israelis drained with ditches and redirected the water to make the area blossom into an agricultural garden and a bird sanctuary. However, the farmers were fired upon so often from Syrians on the Golan Heights and so many were killed that there was a near uprising against working in the fields. Today the fields can be irrigated through remote electronic controls of the irrigators although today the Israelis control the vital Golan Heights.

Golan Heights
From Mt. Bentel (a dormant volcano) atop the Golan Heights.  Notice the short distances between the locations on the sign. Damascus, Syria and Amman, Jordan are closer than the Israeli Prime Minister's office!

We take our tour bus up into the Golan Heights, and as our bus climbs to the top of Mt. Bentel, we see how narrow the valley is with the hills on the other side clearly in view, how beautifully lush with growing produce, and how splendidly Israel has turned a swamp into the garden. We also see how a sniper with a high powered rifle can make quick work of murder.

Golan Heights  Hula Valley

Golan Heights  Hula Valley

Golan Heights  Hula Valley


As we leave the bus to see the views from the top of the Golan Heights, the path is lined with sculptures made from war’s debris. Eerie.

Golan Heights  sculpture

Golan Heights  sculpture


The top of the mountain overlooks the Israeli-Syrian border. The green fields of agriculture contrast with the brown across the border, but the road marking the border is clearly visible.

Golan Heights

New settlements are being built along the border on the Syrian side. It is a well-known tactic to hide offensive men and materiel among civilians to intimidate the Israelis from defending themselves for fear of inciting the world’s ire for harming civilians.

Golan Heights  Syria

It was in this valley that the biggest tank battle of the war took place with massive losses on both sides.

Golan Heights

Golan Heights

Golan Heights

In previous peace negotiations, our Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could not fathom why Prime Minister Golda Meir would not give up more of the Golan Heights. She eventually talked him into accompanying her here via helicopter where he could see the vulnerability of Israel from those Heights. He backed away from his position, and the Golan Heights remained in Israeli control. If you ever question Israel’s adamancy, take a trip and see how vital a position these hills are to the country’s safety.

Today one can visit the village of Katzrin re-established in 1977.  It is built on the site of the ancient Jewish Village of Katzrin in existence long before the Muslim conquest.  Although we do not visit, we can identify the village by its red rooves. 

Golan Heights Syria


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