Saturday, April 29, 2006

Beautiful Quneitra

So there's this town in the Golan Heights called Quneitra. You can only visit it by obtaining a special permit from the Ministry of the Interior (the obtaining of which is a blog post all in itself, but that will have to wait for another time). To get there, you take a regular old service to Khan Arnabah, and then wait inside a small guard shack to have your permit inspected. The guards must work round-the-clock shifts, because the shack is fitted out with sleeping bunks and a small stove.

If your permit is in order, you're allowed to proceed to the town itself, which is currently under UN administration (if you want to know more about Quneitra's history, I advise you to look elsewhere, lest I make a political statement on this blog). There, you are assigned an "interpreter," who doesn't speak a word of English. His main job is to walk you around the town and make sure you don't go anywhere you shouldn't. Ours was very friendly and helpful.

Quneitra is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever visited, which makes what happened to it even more shameful.

Here you can see bulldozed homes in front of the area's prominent hilltop, which is covered with Israeli satellites and such (our friend's GSM cell phone displayed the message "Welcome to Israel" as soon as we entered the area).

This is the hollowed-out Orthodox church. The interior has some Hebrew newspapers plastered on the walls (and some Arabic graffiti, I should add).

A panorama view of the town from the roof of the town hospital, which is quite a wreck these days.

I can't say that I enjoyed my visit to Quneitra - I don't think walking through the bulldozed ruins of a once-normal town can be enjoyed. I did, however, think it worthwhile. The setting of the town is absolutely lovely, and I can really sympathize with the feelings of those Syrians whose families come from the Golan and who cannot live there now.
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maher saloum said...

believe it or wife is from inlaws house is one of those flattened ones..and they got married in that church in 1966. They had their first son in 1967 before they had to escape the city...we know every inch of this town...lots of tragic memories...

Matthew said...

I'm very curious to hear about getting the permit...

Steliano Ponticos said...

the nature there is soo beautiful

Bridget said...

Maher, hearing you say that (reading you write that...?) makes me feel so, so sad. The place was depressing enough without having family ties there.

Brother Perkins: so many permit-getting stories, so little time. I'll see what I can do.

Anonymous said...

hi girl,

I wonder if you can give some information about Khan Arnabah.

It looks like Khan Arnabah is the 2nd city in quneitra district.

Is Arnabah is ruined like quneitra?
how much people are living there?
any school? somethin'?

Anonymous said...

Life is lived forward. What a shame that a dictator with absolute power can't abide by the terms of his father's agreement with Israel and repopulate Syria with Syrians. So Israel flattened the town-- 35 YEARS AGO!

(From Wikipedia: "The agreement provided that the city was to be repopulated to serve as evidence of peaceful Syrian intentions, by creating a hostage to Syrian good behaviour which would encourage the Israelis to pull back further. On 26 June [1974], the Syrian president Hafez al-Assad travelled to Quneitra, where he pledged to rebuild the city and reclaim the rest of the occupied territories.]

Two or three generations of Syrian youths raised to hate and revile a country about which they are fed nothing but negative information. Meanwhile Jordan, Morooco and Egypt have moved on, and even the Saudis and the Palestinian leader or semi-leader Abbas is meeting with the Israelis.

Visit Israel and see flourishing towns and cities, internationally-renowned universities which produce cutting edge artists and designers, world-changing businesses and Nobel winning scientists. Meanwhile what can Syria show off? A ghost town.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty hard to rebuild a place that no one is allowed to go to. Why does the Syrian government not allow those that used to live there, or their descendants, to return?

Katia said...

My father is from there and he cannot wake up from that nightmare..
His dream is t free it and built his house once again