June 3rd 9AM HaGoshrim Kibbutz
After breakfast we receive a security briefing on the geopolitical region from Avi Melamed, an intelligence expert in Israel. It is impressed on us how Israel really exists in a permanent state of existential danger. The destabilizing role Iran plays is pretty obvious, and our briefing goes into the shia-sunni conflict as the source of much middle-east conflict going back 13 centuries. We also learn how that is explicitly playing out in Syria.
June 3rd 10 AM, Golan Heights
We take the bus to the Golan Heights. I can’t overstate how amazing the bus ride is. We’re driving through the heart of Israel’s agriculture, and the way these people are growing fruits and crops in the desert is remarkable. There have to be thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of miles of irrigation hose and pumping stations. At one point we pass a banana plantation. In the desert. Bananas.
Our intelligence briefing continues at the Syrian Border. As Avi speaks, smoke rises behind him in Syria. Some folks hear shelling, and Avi confirms we’re probably watching Syrian civilians being shelled by Assad’s government.
We then go off-roading though the Golan. It’s a little scary, and the many, many “DANGER, LAND MINES” signs don’t make things any easier, nor do the burnt-out tanks left on the hills from the Yom Kippur war. Our jeeps stop on top of a hill overlooking the Golan, clear to the Syrian Border. On the hill is an old IDF bunker, make of pre-cast concrete sections. From up here. It’s pretty clear just how vulnerable Israel is to shelling from the Golan Heights.
June 3rd, 1 PM Druze village
Apologies, but I don’t remember the name of the Druze village where we had lunch. Lunch was provided by Urfat, a Druze villager who opened her home to us and prepared the goodies. I didn’t know much about the Druze, but I wasn’t surprised there was yet another religious minority in this part of the world.
Looking out of Urfat’s window, we could see a chain link fence along a road behind her house. The fence was the Syrian Border.
Urfat told us about her family, many of which are trapped in Syria, with no way out. The Druze religion, as an article of faith, commands allegiance to whatever country the Druze live in, but Urfat made it very clear she wished her family was with her. I hope she gets to see them again.
June 3rd, 2:30 PM Tel Hai
This reconstruction of an early 20th century outpost was interesting, but felt fake, with it’s astroturf lawn and reconstructed structure. Our guide, Nadav, shared some stories about the early years, and the conflicts of that time between jewish settlers and Arab residents.
June 3rd, 4:30, Afula
Afula is a small city on the “periphery” (ie, anywhere not Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Haifa). Like all small cities, many creative types, and particularly LGBT-folks, leave and go to larger cities like Tel Aviv. To counter this trend, Tarbut, an artist group have been incentivizing artists to keep and nurture cultural life in the periphery. Part of this, in Afula, is a monthly LGBT party called “Get Out”.
We met several folks from Tarbut, at their gallery/performance space, and saw a brief segment on their parties. It was nice to get a corrective to the narrative that only Tel Aviv has gay culture in Israel. We are everywhere.
June 3rd, 8PM, HaGoshrim Kibbutz.
Another amazing dinner, followed by our second Chugim breakout-sessions. Most people wanted to talk about the best way to support the Israeli LGBT community from the states. I honestly told them that there’s too big a need in the US for me to ever envision diverting resources for Israel, as much as I’d like to.