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run for the border
By Dennis Batchelder 8 July 2000

hi guys:

i'm back in israel for another week. yesterday, valery and his wife larissa took me on a trip to see the northern and western borders of israel.

as you probably know, the borders between israel and its neighbors is not like the border between the us and canada. there's a lot of patrols and fences, and a bit more animosity, sustained over the last 52 years with a sprinkling of bombings, invasions, occupations, buffer zones, and other random acts of terror.

anyway, we were coming close to the "finger of galilee". this is where a narrow chunk of israeli territory juts northward, and is surrounded by lebanon on three of its sides.

a bit of recent history: for the last several years, israel occupied and maintained a 10 mile buffer zone in lebanon. this was to protect its borders and cut down on the bombings of the jewish towns close to the border. the israelis supported an 8,000 strong southern lebanon army to help maintain peace. but at the end of may, israel suddenly pulled out. the sla collapsed, and either ran into exile or were arrested. now the border with lebanon is much closer, and the situation for the border towns is much more tense.

valery was relating this history as we approached the border. he mentioned that just two days ago, a lebanese man was shot and wounded as he attempted to cross the finger of galilee and go into israel. this sparked a bunch of protests at the finger, which were still continuing. valery suggested that we stay away from this border.

this was supposed to be a border trip, right? larissa and i thought that we should at least see the border, and we convinced valery to drive to it. when we got there, we saw were two israeli soldiers at a gate, looking at the lebanese fence 100 yards away. it seemed quiet, so we decided to stop and get out.

the soldiers didn't seem too happy for us to be there, but we went over talked to them. it was 40 degrees (104 F) in the shade, and we were standing in full sunlight. they looked hot, so we gave them some diet coke. that loosened them up a bit; they told us to be careful of flying rocks (the lebanese were threw them every now and then); but at the moment it was safe, because everyone in the lebanese town was at the mosque for worship. in fact, we could hear the loudspeakers from the mosque.

but suddenly things changed. the loudspeakers were silent, and then a bunch of lebanese protesters appeared at the border, shouting and waving their arms. the soldiers told us to get away, grabbed rifles, and reported the situation on their radios, asking what to do.

the command came back: shoot in the air if they cross the border, then shoot if they still don't stop. the soldiers called for backup, and started watching the protestors really closely through their binoculars.

we were standing next to the car, watching all of this. it was like we were watching tv. then all of of sudden we realized that it wasn't tv, and our nice, bright summer clothes made nice, bright targets. the border was pretty close, and a sniper could be in any of the windows of the houses about 150 yards away.

valery suggested that it was a good time to leave. we all concurred. none of us wanted to get caught in the middle of a protest. so valery opened the trunk to put away the diet coke.

WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP!!! an alarm went off right next to us! the soldiers spun around, pointing their rifles at us, shouting! we froze, not knowing what to do. i think my heart stopped beating.

then valery realized that it was the car alarm; he forgot to disable it before he opened the trunk. he grabbed his remote and shut off the alarm, showed the remote to the soldiers, and explained what happened. 

talk about a way to cut the tension! we all realized what happened, and i don't know who was more relieved - us for not getting shot, or them for not shooting us! our hearts started to beat again, and the soldiers laughed and waved us on our way.

anyway, throughout the day we stopped at the border with lebanon at the "good fence" and the finger of galilee; the border with syria; and the border with jordan. also, we visited rosh hanikra (a series of cliffs and caves on the sea between israel and lebanon), nimrod fortress (in golan heights; built by the turks to keep out the crusaders in 1227), ate at a druze restaurant (more of them in the next email), and relaxed and bathed at hamat gader (on the border with jordan; hot mineral springs in use since roman times). it was a hot day, but the scenery was just gorgeous, and we really had a good time.


run for the border - israel