A few weeks into my journey in Israel my group was lead to the Golan Heights, which is situated on the border of Syria.
The Golan Heights is important militarily for Israel, and has been fought over multiple times by the Jews and the Syrians. The area was captured by Israel in the Six Day War, but part of the land was given back in 1973. However, United Nations peacekeeping forces still patrol the area. The day I went was made remarkable by a newer Middle Eastern crisis though; the Syrian uprising.
About five minutes into our lecture on the area the sound of rocket fire bellowed through the air. A few moments passed and then another explosion was heard, and then another. We then continued our lecture, a little shaken. And while we were never in any peril, it was the closest any of us had been to warfare.
The entire time the UN peacekeepers and IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers were calm and going about their business with little worry or concern. They smoked cigarettes and some of the soldiers were even taking pictures with the tourists.
In this calm I went up to a counselor and asked him, “Were those explosions coming from Syria?”
“No,” he said “ There are a ton of military bases around here so it was probably just testing from that.”
For awhile I believed this hypothesis. On the bus ride over we were casually passing tanks and riding alongside Humvees. Even for Israel, the military presence was strong in the region. However, one of my friends asked a soldier, a neutral party, what the booms were. He confirmed it was the sounds of the Syrian uprising.
I went back up to the counselor. “Hey I just found out that wasn’t testing. Those sounds were from Syria!” I was dismissed with a simple “Okay,” and we then went on with our day as if nothing had happened.