On February 4, 1997, Israel suffered the worst air catastrophe in her history. It was on that day that two helicopters crashed in mid-air near the Lebanese border and 73 of our soldiers were killed.

For years, just about everyone who had been in Israel at the time could tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard the awful news. But as time passes, memories fade — and there were only scattered monuments to help us remember: a garden in the Negev dedicated to two of the victims; a plaque at Moshav Sha’ar Yeshuv, site of the disaster.

It took over a decade to come to fruition, but a new and terrifically impressive memorial site was inaugurated in February of 2008 near Kibbutz Daphne. We were up north on the day of the opening, and came to pay our respects. While there, we watched as relatives who had so tragically lost their loved ones walked slowly back and forth between different portions of this heartbreaking memorial.

Dozens of dramatic sites related to Israel’s modern military history are found within an incredibly small area in northern Israel. Here are seven completely different sites, along with a description of a favorite overnight stop conveniently located right in the middle.

Helicopter Crash Memorial (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Helicopter Crash Memorial (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

1) Helicopter Crash Memorial. In the memorial’s main area, 73 beautiful rock structures are scattered around a bright green lawn, blood-red anemones blooming at their feet. Around the edges of a pool in the center are the names of the fallen soldiers — and from the pool, water flows to another large rock covered with plaques that tell the story of the deadly collision. From here a path leads to the final monument: trees whose “leaves” bear the soldiers’ names. Wheelchair accessible.

Mitzpe Golani (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Mitzpe Golani (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

2) Mitzpe Golani (Tel Faher). During the Six-Day War, the Israeli brigade that had been positioned across from the Golan Heights since 1948 was chosen to capture the Syrian military base at Tel Faher. Called Golani for its long‑term proximity to the Heights, the brigade fought a ferocious battle overrun with military error and studded with superhuman feats of bravery.

From the peak of Tel Faher it is easy to view the Jewish settlements below. No doubt that’s why the Syrians chose this hill, and the one in front of it (Tel Aziziat) as military positions. In order to reach Tel Faher, Golani troops first had to capture Tel Aziziat.

Remaining troops advanced to the nine-meter-wide barbed-wire fence and placed explosives which failed to detonate. Worried about the time involved in cutting through such a thick wall of wire, one incredibly brave soldier lay face down atop the wire, enabling the rest of the force to cross over on his back.

After their tanks and armored personnel carriers were damaged by mines during the advance, the soldiers continued forward on foot up the hill and into the Syrian trenches. Tel Aziziat was taken, but Israel had lost the element of surprise. And due to a mistake in navigation, the men ascended the hill to Tel Faher directly into waiting Syrian guns.

Over half the attack force were killed or wounded on their way to battle. Remaining troops advanced to the nine-meter-wide barbed-wire fence and placed explosives which failed to detonate. Worried about the time involved in cutting through such a thick wall of wire, one incredibly brave soldier lay face down atop the wire, enabling the rest of the force to cross over on his back. Golani troops eventually succeeded in taking the base, but almost all of Israel’s soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle.

Today called Mitzpe Golani (Golani Overlook), Tel Faher is now a living memorial to fallen Golani troops, with trenches, explanations, and an unforgettable view. Wheelchair accessible.

3) Givat (Hill) Ha’ame. Israeli soldiers began manning a border outpost on Givat Ha’Ame, a basalt hill located directly across from Syrian positions on the Golan Heights, after the Independence War. Troops on the hill were frequently involved in military exchanges with the Syrians, who mercilessly shelled settlements beneath the Heights. During the Six Day War, under heavy fire, it was from Givat Ha’Ame that Israel made its first advances into Syria.

Located near Kibbutz Kfar Szold, and named for Henrietta Szold (known as the “Mother” (ame) of Youth Aliya), Givat Ha’Ame was developed as an overlook by the Jewish National Fund. The tranquil hill offers an almost unbeatable view of the Huleh Valley and the Upper Eastern Galilee.

4) Kibbutz Kfar Szold Statue Gardens. During the Peace for Galilee War (Shalom HaGalil) in 1982, kibbutznik Zvi Bass began creating statues out of whatever he found lying around: building rubble, pipes, stones and clay. He put up a striking statue of Moses with his hands held in the air, facing Mount Hermon — perhaps meant to encourage Israel’s soldiers. Unexpectedly, Moses seems to be looking backwards as well, from this direction perhaps a silent entreaty to stop the fighting.

After the war, Bass enlarged the garden, mainly using agricultural tools to create endearing and unusual sculptures. Each is unique, containing humor and human interest. Located just below the Golan Heights, the sculptures overlook a water reserve lushly lined with foliage. Notice how, beneath Bass’s hands, construction debris became a centipede; a plough turns into a dinosaur or a monster — it’s up to you to decide which!

Roaring lion at Kfar Giladi (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Roaring lion at Kfar Giladi (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

5) Second Lebanon War Memorial — Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. On one terrible day in August of 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, 12 reservists were killed by rockets fired from Lebanon into the Upper Eastern Galilee. They had been standing outside the cemetery at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, one of the most symbolic sites in Israel. For it is at Kfar Giladi that a statue of a roaring lion towers over the grave of decorated World War I hero Joseph Trumpeldor.

Trumpeldor was killed defending the beleaguered settlement of Tel Hai in 1920, and is known throughout Israel for his legendary last words: “It is good to die for one’s country.”

The impromptu memorial at the site of the rocket attack has been replaced by a more official monument, its simplicity in stark contrast to the tragedy that took place. Wheelchair accessible.

6) Metzudat (Fortress) Koah — Metzudat Yesha. Sitting on a hill 345 meters above sea level, the fortified police station of Metzudat Yesha was named for its proximity to the traditional Muslim burial site of Joshua Ben Nun (Nebi Yusha). Today the fortress is called Metzudat Koah. It was renamed for the 28 brave soldiers who gave their lives in battles here between April 15th and May 16th of 1948. (The numeric meaning of Koah is 28 while the word itself translates as “strength”).

Yesha Fortress now includes a somber memorial wall and an extraordinarily lovely observation point and picnic area overlooking the Golan Heights, the Huleh Valley, and glass-like fishponds. Wheelchair accessible.

Balachsun memorial, Mitzpor Eitan overlook (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Balachsun memorial, Mitzpor Eitan overlook (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

7) Mitzpor Eitan (Eitan Overlook). Directly across from the Balachsun family home, in Moshav Ramot Naphtali, the JNF’s stunning Eitan Overlook offers a fabulous view of the Golan Heights and the Huleh Valley. It also serves as a moving memorial to the Balachsuns’ son, Major Eitan Balachsun, who was killed while on duty in Lebanonin 1999. Wheelchair accessible.

Galilee Accomodations: Kibbutz Kfar Blum — Pastoral Hotel

In 1943, a group of young pioneers from Anglo-Saxon and Baltic countries began the hard work of establishing a kibbutz in the Huleh Valley. At the time, their new home was only a malaria-ridden swamp far, far away from any trees, roads or houses. In their wildest dreams they couldn’t possibly have imagined how beautiful their settlement – Kfar Blum – would become, nor foresee that the old-fashioned guesthouse they added in 1957 would eventually be replaced by a totally new concept: The Pastoral Hotel, located along the Jordan River and close to all kinds of exciting Galilee attractions.

After completely renovating the guest facilities, and adding a new complex of beautiful rooms with musical themes, Pastoral recently inaugurated its Boutique Hotel – several low buildings in a stunning landscape whose luxurious rooms would put some of our five-star hotels to shame.

Note: We travel frequently with people whose disabilities require special accommodations. We recently tried the “accessible” room at Pastoral’s Boutique Hotel and found it to be the most comfortable and convenient of them all.

—————————————————————————————————–

Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel

Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed, tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.

All rights reserved.