A Trip To The Golan And Liberated Qunaitra

The bus left Damascus to the Golan with a group of young university students on board, all of them dreaming of a day when peace, stability and prosperity will prevail in the region, dreaming of a day when lovers can sit on the banks of River Jordan, whispering under willow and elm trees, birds chirping above them, and children running joyfully in the vicinity. They dream of swimming and splashing in the waters of Tiberius, with older men and women relaxing on the basalt rocks, listening to the roar of waterfalls, while ailing people bath in the sulfurous water of al-Hemma. They were dreaming of a day when students flock to natural sites and historical places to enjoy their beauty and cultural importance, where men and women ski on the snows of Mt. Hermon, while shepherds graze their sheep in the green meadows and play their flutes.

The Golan was always in the heart of the Levant, a unifying element of its countries and a center of interaction between civilizations. Old man settled it, and Jesus Christ crossed it bearing the banners of love. Its stones are witnesses to the victories of the battles of Yarmouk, Hattin and Ein Jalout .The bus crossed the villages along the road, one after another, to stop at a junction already made by River

al'Aawaj (The Winding River). The guide started: "We are in the refugees camp of Khan al-Sheeh. The Khan was built by the Memlouks as a hotel on the road between Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo". "I see houses not tents". Reem Said. "True" The guide smiled at the young lady and continued:" First it was a camp set by Palestinian refugees, after Israel had occupied their country and expelled them from their homes in 1948. Year after year the camp became a shanty town, but Palestine is still nesting in the heads of refugees.

Names of the town's streets, quarters and shops, as well as graffiti slogans, are all derived from names of Palestinian cities and towns. The camp took its name from wormwood which grows abundantly in the region.

The bus rolled on again, passing by Sa'asa'a and its old Khan. The scenery started to be different and the curious students started to pose many questions. Here the driver halted and the guide started to explain:

"As you see, we are at the foot of the huge Hermon Mountain, locally known as Jabal al-Sheikh, because its summit is always covered with snows, similar to the head of a Moslem clergy who wears a white Turban. The word Hermon is an Aramaic word which means the sacred, because ancient people worshipped it, and the Hittites and the pharaohs took it as a witness on the peace treaty they had signed after a fierce conflict.

The mountain has a range of peaks forming the Syrian- Lebanese borders, the highest of which is 2814m ASL. The mountain has several old temples, Temple of the Summit, and Temple of Ban. The mountain is also a huge water supplier to many regional rivers: Beit Jinn, Arneh, Banias, al Hasbani and al-Wazzani.

Expressions on the students faces revealed extreme joy at the attractive scene, and full satisfaction with the information, but Rama, an English Literature student asked: In Sa'asa'a, rocks were lime white. Here they are black, why?

"Sure" the guide answered. "Here we are in a volcanic area where lavas once ran like rivers and formed these black stones".

Rama: "The weather is cooler and fresher here?"

The Guide: "Right. We are now at the threshold of the Golan, a plateau quite well above the sea level, with moderate weather. This fairly cool breeze comes from the Mediterranean through the gap of Marjeioun of Lebanon".

The bus continued its trip along the road with the streams of Doreen, al Shawkatliyeh, Kom al-Waisiyeh on both sides, a place where the army of Saladin camped in 1811 preparing for the decisive battle of Hattin. Clouds speeded high up above in the sky, Glasses of tea and coffee were distributed inside the bus while crossing the town of Khan Arnaba, al Raggad, and al Hamidiyeh. The guide raised his voice and started narrating stories about the fierce battles the Syrian army had fought here in the October war of 1973 to restore the land which was occupied by Israel in 1967.

The bus continued through alQahtaniyeh, which was completely destroyed by the Israelis, and was rebuilt after being liberated in 1973. The guide continued saying:"Look at this hill in front of you. It is Tall al- Adnanieh standing proudly, belted by the village of al-Saraman, a village several thousands of year old, which grew during the Byzantine period to become one of five main towns in the Golan, until the Israelis erased it in 1969 out of their hatred and malignancy. Notice that they left nothing in it except the mosque's minaret, which drew its strength from the fig and walnut trees around it.

The bus passed beside Rwehineh water dam, crossed the village of the same name, and slowed down to give the students an opportunity to enjoy a unique natural view, the then new village of Beer Ajam looking at the oak trees covering the hills nearby. The land is emerald green. Wild roses stand firm protecting their queen, the Golan tulip, butterflies flirting around them swiftly defying young girls with their colored spring fashions.

The bus halted. Passengers jumped out of it cheerfully and proceeded on foot. Ranim cried: "Oh God. I can't believe my eyes. The view is charming". She ran, turned around herself, fresh air penetrating her long brown hair, her heart beating rhythmically, vivid with latent passion.

Then she stopped at the entrance of a village of rare structure. The guide's voice woke her up saying: "This is the old Breiqa village, stone houses with brick roofs, narrow winding lanes, huge trees and many antiquities scattered all around. Just in the center there is a Roman water well which supplies the village with fresh water. And, this is the mosque which was partly demolished by the Israelis, the village school, a chapel built during the early Christian period, and there, you can see tombs of the bronze age.

Look at these hills in front of you". The guide continued "Tall Ukasha, Tall Ahmar West, and Tall Ahmar East, Tall al- Faras, Kodana, al-Ucha, al-Asbah and Rafid, all of them are historical places. In the east you can see al-Raggad valley with its dams,the historical hills of al-Jabia, Mas-hara, al- Harra, and Jaba.

After touring Breiqa, the group took the bus again to continue their way. Ranim felt sleepy, she surrendered her head to the shoulder of her friend, Salma, who woke her up at the gates of al Qunaitra. Soon the bus stopped at the square of a smashed building.Students climbed to the roof to have a panoramic view of the city, and started posing questions; The guide said: "This building was a hospital. It was looted by the Israeli army and later changed into a firing field, Look at the thousands of holes of bullets on the walls". He turned to them and pointed to the city saying: "This is the city of al Qunaitra, completely destroyed by the Israeli army, just a few days before withdrawing from it on June 1974, as if to give evidence of its brutality and their carelessness of international laws. As you see, the city was built on a plain surrounded by two hills; Tall A'rram in the north and Tall AbuNnada in the south, two volcanic cones whose lavas once filled a lake changing it into this plain.

Examining the destruction, the students kept silent out of sorrow, influenced by the disaster of the city and its inhabitants. They insisted on walking among the ruins to visit the few remaining buildings, a mosque and a church looted and nearly destroyed in the inside, the Pilgrims Bridge, a market, and the remains of a secondary school, and the Martyrs Cemetery.

Then they moved to the museum of Quanitra, which was originally a khan, built by Shamseddin Bin al Muzlaq (1353-1444), at the late Memlouk period. It was made of two storeys, the ground floor is domed and has many pillars. The building was used as the government house before the 1967 war, and now it is used as a museum.

The Director of the museum said the museum has the antiquities of the liberated areas only, taking into consideration that the Israelis have looted most of these antiquities during the occupation period 1967-1974.

Items of the museum cover the period from the early stone age, through the Islamic period until the 19 century distributed in 14 show cases of the early history, 8 show cases from the classical period, 5 show cases from the Islamic period, all in all having 412 items in addition to 34 items displayed out of cases and 9 others displayed in the garden of the museum. The group toured the rooms, admired the displays and then spread in the garden, preparing for departure.


Haifaa Mafalani