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"1. A Trek through the Golan. ..." Israel Off The Beaten Path Tip by Sheri_Z

Israel Off The Beaten Path: 207 reviews and 271 photos

1. A Trek through the Golan. (I'm not putting this on 'must-see' because not everyone will be able or want to go to the Golan)

The Golan Heights were a part of historic Syria (under the Ottoman Empire) and earlier, for centuries. Many Druze villages existed in the upper Golan, but were destroyed after the Israeli take-over of the area in 1967 and when the Israelis took even more territory in the 1973 war. The stone ruins of these villages are all over the area.

Israeli propaganda has it that since Syria only achieved independence in 1946, this means the Golan was Syrian only for 23 years and has been Israeli for 33 years. My jaw dropped when I first heard this amazing statement which was, naturally, intended to deny the Syrian claims to the area.

At the northern edge of the Golan is Mt. Hermon with the only Israeli ski areas, and they do not completely control this mountain which they use for survey and intelligence purposes, as with special equipment they can look into Syria, and claim they can even see into Iraq.

There are settlements throughout the area. Many are kibbutzim. But there are also scores of nature preserves and though not an astounding area, it is very interesting to visit, hike, etc.

We drove from the south up the main highway, then inland after Haifa to Tiberias on the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee).

First we went to a lookout point over the Kinneret - an unbelievable view. There is a hike down the cliffs where Zealots had caves and fought against the Romans. This overlooks an Arab village where you descend.

In Tiberias, we stayed at the main youth hostel, just after St. Andrew's Scottish church. This was convenient to walking on the boardwalk - pretty touristy, but deserted these days. The room had no windows, but was adequate.

Then we went up Road 87 to the Ya'ar Yehudiya (the Yehudiya Nature Preserve). I hiked alone with my small son (not a good idea, since we got lost, but our group did not want to be held back).
The blue and red trails were clearly marked, but the green trail markers had completely disappeared, so don't try to find it.

The blue trail took us through a destroyed village - identified as Druze by the park employee. Then through rocky fields to the edge of the Wadi. Here it's very steep down to the Zaitan Waterfall -- gorgeous, or you can hike on the red trail on the edge of the cliff. We then hiked southeast on the red trail and on the way, we saw a snake (black smallish) black salamanders, a gazelle and many beautiful wildflowers, including the red poppies.

As I said, the red trail should have connected with a green trail, but instead - we found a plowed road. This went on and on & we were very hot and tired (bring twice as much water as you think) and worried when we ended up in a horse ranch. But this turned out to be very near the park entrance.

Then we drove to Kibbutz Makhana'im which is open for travelers and much nicer than the hostel in Tiberias, Very clean, cheerful, even with TVs and breakfast in a basket in the room, and kibbutz food.

From there we went toward Mt. Hermon and the Syrian border stopping at twin mountains with a look-out - Abu Anan and Ibn Anan - or I may be mixing up the names since the coffee shop on one was named Koffee Annan (after guess whom?). This was fascinating as there are old bunkers here and it's a lookout into Syria.

From here we drove to the Gamla Nature Reserve - several items of interest. First, an ancient Jewish city which resisted the Romans, but fell on the second try and the story is like Masada in the south. But the shape of this city is amazing on a pointed mountain rising up from cliffs. Limestone and then basalt around the top. So you can see these ruins.

This area is home to the Griffon vultures - a huge bird, wingspan up to 2.7 m. - they like to nest on the edge of the cliffs and the park is trying to preserve & protect them. There is lookout and a ranger will speak about the birds, also a video of a mother and a baby. Other brids too, several kinds of eagle, an Egyptian vulture.

Next you can hike through fields with ancient dolmens - marking either graves or maybe altars of ancient people - there are supposed to be about 700 dolmens in the area.

Your trail will go past Deir Qeruh - identified as a Byzantine village, but Israeli historiogaphy is really suspect, I think -- it looked much more recent than this to me.

Then the easier walk is to the Gamla waterfall - which like the one we saw the day before, falls from very high up - not a huge volume of water, but the highest waterfall in Israel - 51 meters high. And there is another waterfall - the Daliyot at the other end. All of this walking was not hard, OK to do with kids.

Then, we went down to the Jordan River. We found Jordan River Rafting Adventures, and certainly many more such places. But they did not allow a child on -- only kids 10 or up. The river is safe enough to swim in, but I only let my son in on the edge as the middle has a strong current. It is not a huge river like the Nile, and there are some mild rapids. Those with us took boats down, and had fun, or you can take inflatable kayaks.

With a several hour stop for dinner, we drove all the way back to and down the coast to the south by about 11:30 p.m.

2. Maybe not totally 'off' the path - but if you enjoy
strange exhibits see the Eretz Israel Museum in the northern part of Tel Aviv. There is a really interesting Philatelic pavilion for stamp lovers & lots of info. about the old postal system in Palestine. And many small special collections that change - listed in the Jerusalem Post or Haaretz on Fridays.

For art lovers, there are some galleries in Tel Aviv and the Tel Aviv Museum and the Rubenstein Pavilion.

Wonderful symphonic and dance performances - also opera and the prices are better than in Europe or big cities in the USA.

2. I wanted to add some info on visiting the Arab cities/towns in the Galilee. The Galilee is a beautiful area -- in the fall during the olive harvest, or in the spring after the rains especially.

You can drive up here from the coast and cut in on the road that goes by Megiddo/Jenin, and then go up to Nazareth. Christian travelers and others may want to see the Church of the Annuniciation. It has two chapels, on 2 different levels that are interesting & also outside are mosaics of the Virgin Mary given many different countries and each one shows the Virgin in a different sort of folk art, or artistic conception. You can look over the very busy city of Nazareth from here, walk in the suq, and eat very well in one of the restaurants that are below the church and near the quite popular mosque that is held now out in the street.

Further north, we stayed with friends in the town of Abu Sinan which is near Kafr Yassin. Yes, it is safe here! People are friendly, houses are being built all over the area, and the village contains families who are Muslim, Christian and Druze.

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  • Written Aug 26, 2002
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