The view from the parking lot of Nimrod Fortress in Israel’s Golan Heights, halfway up the jutting flank of Mount Hermon, reveals a number of things: justification for the Jordan River Valley’s title as the ‘Land of Milk and Honey,’ the dip between mountain ranges through which the ancient road from Damascus to the Mediterranean ports of Acre and Sidon now no longer runs, the demarcation between Israel (flushed green with irrigation) and Lebanon (largely desolate).
What also appears in the view from this particular precipice, but which would go unnoticed by most visitors, are a few small groves of sycamore trees on the nearer slope (just beneath the rock retaining wall and nearer than the roofs of the Jewish kibbutz community at the intersection of the slope and the valley floor.
I would have paid these sycamore groves no heed if I hadn’t struck up a conversation with a pair of elderly Israelis, a husband and wife who parked their car to tour the ruins of Nimrod at the same time as I did. They brought the sycamores to my attention and explained the hidden significance.
“Syrians,” said the man. “They liked to have shade on their barracks. It’s all that’s left of the places now but those groves are where the Syrian army had set up camp, where they raided down into the valley. This was why we needed to take the Golan in ’67.”
The man pointed out several of the groves to me. I was struck by their proximity to the fertile lowlands of the Jordan Valley. I was struck by how magnificently the cliff from Nimrod and the hills beneath it controlled, in a truly strategic and choking sense, all the terrain around it. Those Syrian positions offered a definite advantage to whomever possessed them.
Before the conversation drew to a close though, the man’s wife made the most striking comment. It has stuck with me exactly because, coming from a nice, gray-haired grandmotherly sort of woman, it bared the true grit and determination of the present-day Israeli mentality. This woman stepped closer to me and said, shaking her finger, “You better believe the Syrians plan to come back here some day.”
Then she turned, her husband in tow, and began to walk into the fortress.
No goodbye. No sweet pinch of the cheek from this old lady. She was all business, thoroughly chilling and — juxtaposed against the beautiful vista, the gorgeous day, the ruins, and the tourist leisure of my time on that mountain — her warning resonated for me as a moment of definite Not Quite Right.