First encounters with the Golan remind an imagined memory of a lunar landscape.
Barren fields, and whistling winds.
Further investigation reveals something else; a ghost town, a war zone.
Traces of man, of destruction, abound. Bunkers, roadblocks, abandoned settlements, discarded missile containers like garbage on the side of the road. Mine fields and lookout towers and shelters and destroyed mosques and graveyards. The whistle in the wind evokes the voices of the dead.
The Golan Heights has acquired legendary status since its annexation by Israel in the brutal war of 1967. A strategic location, a treasured sanctuary or a pawn in a long drawn out game of middle east peace. It stirs up an array of sentiments. For many in the region it is the ideal escape; skimming the edges of sea of galilee, where Jesus walked on water. Seducing locals and tourists to its attractions; vineyards, water parks, skiing on Mt. Harmon or strolling through the Druze towns (captured in ’67) sampling the local delicacies.
The Golan is a nostalgic, national delight.
But as an outsider all this was invisible. Even when the sun was shining the landscape felt sinister. Sometimes, even absurd; stumbling upon remnants of battle doubling as an exhibit for school children, equipped with seating and podiums. I had seen the same exact formula at the Hizbollah museum in south Lebanon. A horrifying yet accurate comparison. As an immigrant, it was not part of my nostalgia, too far from the green, rolling countryside of New England where I spent my summers.
When these pictures were made in the mid 1990's the Golan was a buffer zone between Israel and it's fiercest enemies. For some it was a tangible obstacle to peace where driving from Haifa to Damascus would be less than 2 hours.
Unimaginable then, as it is now.
- Hally Pancer