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The Golan Heights is a plateau of rolling plains along northeastern Israel that descend to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Rife with history, rivers, trails, outdoor activities and amenable soil, the area is a popular destination for outdoors enthusiasts, campers and wine buffs.
Background of the Golan Heights in the Holy Land
The area came under Israeli control as a result of the The Six Day War in 1967. Stretching from the southern base of the Galilee and extending north to Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights represent a strategic location on the eastern side of the lake. While the southern Golan is dry, the Mt. Hermon area receives rainfall and snow in the winter and attracts skiers to its slopes. Half of Israel's mammal and reptile species can be found on the Heights.
History of the Golan Heights in the Holy Land
After the War of Independence in 1948, the Golan Heights was under Syrian control until the the 1967 Six Day War when Israel captured the Golan Heights. There are approximately 17,000 Druze inhabitants on the Golan Heights along with 27 kibbutzes and moshavs, 5 communal settlements and the town of Katzrin.
The Golan Heights in the Bible
The Golan Heights was referred to in the Bible as Bashan - “Golan in Bashan for the Manassites” (Deuteronomy 4:43. It is also mentioned as Golan in Bashan in Joshua 21:27. Bashan was known for cattle and oak trees as seen in these scriptures: Amos 4:1 - “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan;” Zechariah 11:2 - “Wail, oaks of Bashan; the dense forest has been cut down!” Psalm 133 also gives an image of the lushness of Mount Hermon, speaking of the dew from this northernmost mountain falling onto Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Highlights of the Golan Heights in the Holy Land
The Golan Heights is a celebration of nature. The area is known for great hiking trails, outdoor activities, wineries and history. There are also jeep tours, nature preserves and bird watching outlooks. Here are just a few of the many highlights in store on the Golan.
This is the likely location where Peter received the revelation that Jesus was the Messiah. At Banias hiking trails are replete with shade from the rich vegetation in the area. Several trails, archaeological remnants, a waterfall and rivers are all highlights of this reserve.
This modern Jewish city is home to an archaeological site of ancient Katzrin with a synagogue uncovered along with other structures.
Gamla was a fortified city built on an isolated hilltop in the Golan Heights during the Roman era. It was one of the last Jewish towns to fall during the revolt against the Romans in 66 AD. The Roman army eventually breached the city and the people in the city committed suicide by throwing themselves off the cliff to their death rather than surrender to the Romans. Remnants of homes and a synagogue are adjacent to a nature preserve that contains waterfalls and a natural habitat for eagles.
Hamat Gader has been known for its warm springs for centuries. Remnants of the ancients baths can be seen in the site's archaeological park. Today's modern facilities include warm outdoor springs.
One of Israel's largest and most prestigious wineries, the Golan Heights Winery visitors center is a big attraction in the Golan Heights. From grape selection to bottling, the process is demonstrated at the winery.
All kinds of shofars are created at this factory using traditional and modern techniques. At the visitor center you can learn about the manufacturing process and see a gallery with an impressive selection of shofars of all types.
Ein Zivan is a kibbutz located in the northeastern Golan Heights. The kibbutz offers numerous on site activities including a specialty chocolate factory known as De Karina. The shop has classes and demonstrations open to visitors. Also, depending on the season, visitors can pick their own fruit, be it apples and peaches or berries at the nearby "Bustan".
Chorazim is one of the three towns, including Bethsaida and Capernaum, that Jesus cursed. Most of its ruins seen today are from the the 3rd and 4th centuries. The synagogue is located in the middle of Chorazin National Park.
This park offers two hikes, Nahal Yehudiya (up to 4 hours) and Nahal Zavitan (up to 3 hours), both crossing through fresh water pools. On the Nahal Yehudiya trail, hikers will have to swim across a natural water pool in order to pass.
Nimrod's Fortress was built by Muslims in the 12th century. It changed hands many times throughout the centuries and its remains survive today. Situated on a 2,600-foot high summit, the fortress affords amazing vistas and shows it strategic location. The fortress and castle are not actually associated with the Nimrod mentioned in Genesis 10:8-9.
Mt. Hermon is the northernmost point of Israel. The highest point of the mountain inside Israel's borders is at 7,295 feet high. Hermon, on average, gets 60 inches of precipitation a year and is the ski destination for Israelis. It is possible that the Transfiguration took place on the Hermon.
Mount Bental has a view into Syria from Israel and a panoramic view of the Golan plateau and the Galilee below. From Right below the visitor can look into the Syrian ghost town of Kuneitra, which was evacuated when the Israeli-Syrian border was drawn in its middle. Remnants of the Six Day War are still on the mountain, trenches and the tanks displayed.
A bit off the beaten path, the hike through the Gilabon River and its nature reserve also reveals the Devorah Waterfall and concrete buildings, bunkers, trenches and pillboxes built by the Syrian military in preparation for war against Israel. The Gilabon Fall is Israel’s second largest continuously flowing waterfall some 40 meters high. Here you can swim behind the falls and explore the cave behind the pool.
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