“That’s it, right over there.” We were standing in the middle of a half-constructed house with no walls, looking out over the misty mountains of the golan heights. Not 800 meters away stood the syrian flag. Tauntingly close, yet separated by a barrier terrifyingly complex.
“Thats a military road for the israeli military. No one can drive on it. Then, there’s about 300 or 400 meters of mine field. Behind it you can see the syrian flag. You can see the red white and black, there’s two flags. And you see the UN observation tower, since 1974. The families in my village are divided since 1967. We have no possibility to visit family in Demascus. Almost every family has a father or brother on the other side, and there’s no way to see them. I mean, I myself have 3 brothers and since 1967 I’ve never seen them again. I’m now about 50 years old. I dont know my brothers.”
The history of the Golan Heights as occupied territory is exceedingly complex, and– not surprisingly– disputed. For the sake of neutrality, I won’t be discussing what actually happened there, since there are many strong opinions on the subject, and it’s not really my goal to be giving opinions– rather, I simply want to relay what I saw and what was told to me.
What was most interesting to me, however, was getting the chance to speak with a resident of the area who lived through the disputes and lives in this state of political limbo now. Perhaps the most shocking part was the way in which he described their state of living. Pointing out mine fields behind people’s houses, the military base in the middle of the town– his tone did not match his words. In short, he should’ve been much angrier. When asked about it, he replied:
“I mean, of course we understand. It’s a conflict. There are conflicts all over the world. It is an occupation. It happens. We understand. But to limit the rights of the people under occupation, to prohibit them from their own land, from visiting their families, I mean, it’s a violation for all the human rights issues and other conventions. Surely, if any one of the people in Golan was a risk for the israeli’s, I understand why they won’t let them go. But people who are old, who have spent 40 years not knowing their sons– this is not right.”
He walked to the other side of the house, where we all followed, and gestured to a point along the border.
“On the syrian day of independence, you’ll find thousands of people on this side, and also thousands of people on the other side, singing and dancing and giving speeches and other thigns. And also, we have families here and there. We speak with each other using megaphones. In some cases, that is the only communication we have with our loved ones.”
Once we reached the top of the hill, we entered a community center. This center, open only for residents of the Golan heights, provides the townspeople with cutting-edge healthcare facilities, a community gathering space, practice rooms with lessons and musical instruments, a community theater troupe, art studios and more.
The space glowed like a beacon of hope in my mind. Rehabilitation through arts and community building. It was beautiful, and I began to think about the importance of community in conflict, and the need for art and routine to feel human again. It won’t solve anything, but perhaps that touch of normalcy brings comfort to those living in desperation.