Mount Hermon's Pure Snow Can't Hide Israel's Dark Past

The entire Golan Heights is occupied exactly as the West Bank is.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

These are wonderful days at Jabal al-Shaykh. It's high season, ideal conditions and the visibility is excellent. Thousands of Israelis spent their weekend there, and the weather forecast for the next few days is promising. It's just the name, Jabal al-Shaykh, that sounds so unfamiliar. Where did you say it was?

We managed to delete Mount Hermon's original, Syrian name as if it had never existed. Precious few Israelis have ever heard the name, or are aware of the 200 towns and villages that were obliterated in the Golan Heights. Most Israelis, we might assume, aren't aware that they were ever there, since Israeli collective consciousness also erased the existence of their 120,000 residents - refugees that no one knows or cares about.

Their houses were almost all razed, in order to evade superfluous questions on the merry way to Mount Hermon. The only things left intact were the remains of army barracks, so that Israelis could believe that the Golan Heights were always about war and conflicts, not simple daily life.

On the way to Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights are Israeli, as are the inhabitants - despite the fact that most of them define themselves as Syrians. Israelis in the Golan aren't referred to as settlers. They reside in a city, in kibbutzim and moshavim - never in a settlement. On the other hand, the 20,000 Syrians still living there today are referred to as "Druze" - according to their religion, and pita bread, rather than their own definition as Syrians.

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They apparently have a religion but no nationality. It's a brilliant repression, through silence and denial, which even surpasses what most Israelis did to the Palestinian Nakba ("Catastrophe," referring to the creation of Israel in 1948 ), 19 years before the Golan Heights were occupied.

One can be truly impressed not only by the manner in which Israel annexed the Golan Heights - through legislation opposed to international law, and not recognized by even one state in the world - but also by the way we annexed the Golan's past and present.

We tell ourselves pretty lies about how most of the "Druze" refuse to accept Israeli citizenship only due to their fear of Syria, otherwise they would all be Zionist Druze, whom we love to love. That concept is adopted without anyone bothering to ask them about their national aspirations. We believe that, thanks to their apple and pita and labane cheese stands, they're in an ideal position just as they are - despite being cut off from their brethren and torn from their families and country.

Their "shouting hill" - a site close to Majdal Shams that should wound the heart of any person with a conscience - is viewed as merely an anthropological curiosity. A father stands on a hill shouting toward his son on the opposite side, an uncle to his niece: how strange and funny! Left-wing activist Michael Warschawski describes the Golan Syrians beautifully in his impressive book, "On the Border," recently published in Israel.

It's a description radically different from the uniform untroubled conception among Israelis: Warschawski names them "borderers," fully respecting the third way they chose, living under Israeli occupation without losing their humanity, dignity or identity. Still, Israelis stopping for some hummus on their way to Mount Hermon admire their Hebrew but fail to take any interest in their fate.

And Mount Hermon itself? The lucrative ski site belongs to the settlers of Neve Ativ, without anyone inquiring why it should belong to them and not to the village of Majdal Shams - which should, obviously, be content with the fruit and food stands on the side of the road.

This isn't the West Bank, or Migron; it's a completely different story. Even the most ardent leftists, who wouldn't dream of touching wine from West Bank settlements, enjoy the Golan Heights Winery and Mey Eden mineral water without a second thought. The Golan Heights, in our deformed consciousness, isn't really occupied, and these aren't really settlements.

Almost all Israelis can hum a popular post-'67 war song about Mount Hermon, and all the "happy words" that lead us to the snowy peak. But whether on skis or a snowboard, executing parallel or short turns, on the blue or the red run, we should still remember that a black flag hangs above this ski resort, above the entire Golan Heights, occupied exactly as the West Bank is.

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