Sunday 6 October 2013

Meshushim Stream - Israel's not so Giant Causeway, home of Asterix the Hebrew?

We all know that the famous Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland was created by rapidly cooling lava, with a hexagon being the most efficient shape for the crystalline lava to form into. What you might not know is that the Golan has it's own version, too. Admittedly not quite so spectacular but certainly worth a detour, especially if you want to find out if Asterix could have been Jewish. Let me explain a little more...........

The Meshushim (hexagon) Stream is the longest in the Golan, feeding into the Jordan eventually after a 35km journey. It carves its way through the Yehudiyah Nature Reserve, itself worth a serious visit, and after a series of gentle waterfalls arrives at the natural pool, surrounded by basalt walls which have formed into hexagon shapes - meshushim in Hebrew (from shesh = six: geddit?).

The drive up to the entrance to the park is a bit of a bone shaker, but the road is wide and easy to drive. From the car park you have a number of options. The easiest is the walk to two amazing lookout points, where you might see eagles, vultures or even a wild boar (although they are really very shy animals, so they tell us). Another, more strenuous, trail, takes you down to the pool itself and is only recommended for those prepared for the one hour round trip. Take lots of water and obey the signs about not jumping off the rocks into the pool. By the way, the water feels VERY chilly!

So what about Asterix, you ask? Well, the park also has a path leading to one of the few dolmens found in the Golan. A dolmen, as all you prehistory students will know, is a stone burial chamber, usually consisting of large upright stones with a stone lintel, as sort of mini Stonehenge. It would have been covered with earth, making a sort of inverted cup shape, but over the millennia, this has been washed away, leaving just the enormous stones in place. They have been found all over Europe, Southern Russia and even as far as China. Now, Asterix had a friend called Obelix, who was a menhir delivery man and menhirs are the individual upright stones found all over Brittany, the British Isles and elsewhere (think Stonehenge). They may even be likened to the 'matzevot' found throughout Israel. So, is it too much to think that with Obelix delivering menhirs and menhirs and dolmens being much the same sort of thing and menhirs and matzevot being much the same thing, perhaps it should be Asterix the Hebrew?

Even if this flight of fancy isn't your sort of thing, visiting a burial site from perhaps 15,000 years ago is quite a sobering thought.

the Meshushim stream and park  can be found as a turning off route 888 a little north of Had Nes. If you are thinking of taking public transport, it is a VERY long walk form the nearest bus stop on Route 888 and is only recommended for the hardy - with lots of water to drink.

Park Hayarden and Bet Tsaida

There can be few sites in Israel which pack in quite so much, in terms of history, bible, walks, activities camping and geography as Park Hayarden,which includes the biblical site of Beit Tsaida.
Captured from the Syrians in 1967 ( you can still visit their forward lookout points) it is now difficult to imagine what this are must have been like just a few decades ago. 

Since then, KKL had planted the area with eucalyptus groves, then cut them down to make this delightful spot. Subsequently, archeologists from around the world have worked at the site, as it is of major significance to both Judaism and Christianity.

The small excavation site has revealed a Bronze Age Citadel, and we know that the site, then called Geshur, was captured by Joshua (or perhaps not, depending on the enigmatic statement in the Book of Joshua). It then became the home town of one of King David's wives, was destroyed by invaders from the north (nothing new there, then) and was rebuilt as a Roman border town. Lying at the crossroads of major routes north-south and east-west, it is easy to see why it was such a significant location. You can see the remains of the citadel, houses and shrines, all built in local basalt.

A short walk, or even shorter drive, will take you to one of the numerous car parks from where you can take six way marked tracks, in varying length from 400 m to just over 2km. There are numerous picnic spots, barbecue pits and camping areas. The park is situated amid some of the streams which flow into the Jordan and all of the tracks run alongside one or other of them, sometimes more than one. 

You will also see the remains of a ancient water mill and not so ancient plastic bottles, but that's Israel for you! There are fishing opportunities as well, for those of a pescatorial bent. This would be carrying on an ancient tradition, as it would appear that the original Kinneret lapped the base of the citadel, some 1.5km north of the current shore.

Park Hayarden is situated just off Route 888, about 1km north of its junction with Route 87.

Mount Bental -Look out, it's the Syrians.

About one million years ago, the Golan was an area of volcanic activity. The mountains which we see today are often the remnants of the rims of giant, long dormant calderas. So it is with Mount Bental, which is perched high on the Golan plateau, close to the demilitarised zone and the Syrian border. It was there in 1973 that Syrian forces overwhelmed the small IDF lookout post and it was only the bravery of the defending tank units which stopped - and eventually destroyed - the numerically superior Russian trained and equipped Syrian forces. The site which it overlooked has become known as the Valley of Tears, but that as another story. When you reach the site, you are confronted by the original Israeli lookout post, complete with tunnels, viewing platforms and machine gun mountings. Audio points in English as well as Ivrit allow you to imagine what it was like and help you to understand what you are looking at - and where. The land surrounding the mountain is part of kibbutz Merom Golan, which had to be relocated to the 'safe/ West side' of the mountain in 1972, due to the constant shelling from Syrian artillery. The story of the kibbutz and what happened to it in 1973 is also told via audio.
The site also has what is perhaps the highest cafe in Israel, Cafe Anan (Cloud cafe), where the iced coffees were more than welcome! 

Close to the carpark is a signpost, one of a number in Israel, showing you where you are relation to other well known locations throughout the middle east and the wider world. Sadly, this merely serves to show you how far or close you are to major conflict points today. The signpost is surrounded by sheet steel cutout models of soldiers, which merely serves to remind you of the history of Har Bental.

The walk from the car park to the site takes you past numerous sculptures by ares ident of Merom Golan, who has made them all from recycled tank parts. They are witty and well done, but also a sad reminder of the history of this fascinating site. 

Mount Bental can be reached by road just south of kibbutz Merom Golan, off road 959, North East of Katzrin