GOLAN HEIGHTS, Israel – When President Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Israel thanked him by naming a community after him. But who would want to live so close to a hostile Syrian border with Iran trying to attack?
CBN’s Scott Ross visited the Golan Heights recently and met some Israelis who say they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Amitai Elon owns a farm or holiday village called Natur at the top of the Sea of Galilee on the Golan Heights. From his farm, he can see the Sea of Galilee, the mountains of Tiberius and the mountains of Nazareth, and to the north the Upper Galilee. Altogether, it the place where most of the Gospel took place.
“Why have you chosen to live here?” Ross asked.
“If you want to live in nature, surrounded by beautiful nature and the sound of birds, you can go to the Golan, Galilee and you can go to the Negev Desert,” Elon said.
“So, it’s a farm. It’s a space so we use it for a lot of things. We’re sitting right now in a geodesic dome that is a greenhouse. Sometimes it will hold an event, a venue, or a party or a camping of a big family,” Elon told Ross. “It’s kind of magical.”
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But as beautiful and peaceful as it is, the borders of Lebanon and Syria run along the Golan Heights. Iran, too, is trying to set up bases on the Syrian side nearby from which to attack Israel.
Elon said they’re “very close” to the Syrian border.
“There’s no threat from the other side?” Ross asked.
“Except for ’67 war, ’73 war this place has been the safest in the country,” Elon said.
“Have you grown more apprehensive since Iran has gained a bigger foothold near the Israeli Golan?” Ross wondered.
“If you look at the big picture of the history of this place thousands of years, we had extremely ups and extremely downs, but we’re here,” Elon replied.
Further north, we visited security expert Kobi Marom who was the former Israeli military commander on the Golan Heights and now lives here.
“With the unstable situation in Syria, with the Iranian deployment, it’s critical for Israel to be here in the Golan Heights and stay here. Because with so many challenges, I can’t think about the situation that we could be under’67 line,” Marom told CBN News.
Israel captured the Golan Heights in 1967, during the last two days of the Six-Day War. The Israeli-Syrian border along the Golan is about 55 miles long.
Even though residents on the Golan are under constant threat, Marom said they’re not insecure.
“We feel very safe. The Israeli deterrence is very effective,” he said.
“The Iranian Regime had the project. They planned to have here across the border 100,000 Shiite militias with the Hezbollah. They plan to have air force bases come in, navy bases, intelligence centers. They planned to have an advanced industry to produce precise missiles that can be a real threat for the center of Israel and the strategic spots in Israel.
“So, that’s why we saw in the last three or four years that Israel attacks this Iranian deployment and destroy and we become very successful,” Marom said.
Some 50,000 people, more than half Jewish Israelis, live on the Golan Heights. But internationally, it’s considered occupied territory.
In March 2019, however, President Trump broke with international tradition and recognized the strategic heights as part of Israel. Israel named a community in his honor calling it Trump Heights.
Marom described it as a “dramatic statement” that was “unbelievable.”
“It’s a significant declaration because it came from the strongest and the most important Israeli ally, the United States. With the Trump recognition about the Golan Heights, there is a big challenge…for the next Israeli government. I think we have to bring 100,000 Israelis to the Golan Heights in the next ten years,” Marom added.
Eliyahu Berkowitz is a journalist who lives near Katzrin, the largest city on the Golan Heights. He immigrated to Israel 28 years ago from New Jersey and moved to the Golan about seven years ago.
“Are you at all intimidated by the events surrounding Israel and specifically the Golan?” Ross asked him.
“We’re always worried about Israel, but there’s a lot to be optimistic about. I don’t know what people think of the Golan. They built bomb shelters here when they first settled it and they’ve never been used,” Berkowitz said.
Known in the bible as Bashan, some 635,000 tourists visited the Golan Heights last year – three-quarters of them Christians –
to see its stunning views, historic sites and wineries.
“We’ve always been alone and when I see people, Christians, interested in Israel, that’s something totally new. It gives me incredible optimism. I’m very happy about it. I think I’m helping them to be better Christians and they’re certainly helping me to be a better Jew,” Berkowitz said.
“Because I want to stay here in Israel and they’re helping that. Also, I’m not here just for me. I’m here for the whole world. The Torah was given at Mount Sinai and we were supposed to be a light unto the nations. If you keep it to yourself, then you’re breaking it,” explained.
Elon, who is also a tour guide, summed up Christian commitment to Israel and the Golan Heights.
“And if you came here between 2000 and 2005, we had, kind of, an intifada (violent Palestinian uprising) coming here, happening here. It (Israel) was empty except for Christians,” Elon said.
“Why do you think that is?” Ross asked.
“That is (your) perspective, that’s all. Your connection to the land, is this from the Bible? Or is this from CNN or from a narrow perspective of a few years of trouble? If you’re connected by a narrow perspective of a few years, you would say it’s dangerous,” he explained.
“Do you believe that God is watching over Israel?” Ross asked Elon.
“Absolutely! The fulfillment of the prophecy is every step you take in the country and it’s hard to ignore," Elon replied.