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Mount Bental and Mount Avital

Volcanic action has shaped much of the landscape of the Golan Heights. Driving up the dormant volcano of Mount Bental, adjacent to Mount Avital, provides the opportunity to appreciate the influence of volcanic activity on this part of the Upper Golan, to view Mount Hermon and the Syrian border, and to appreciate the trauma of the Yom Kippur War.

THE WALK

 

Directions: Put into Waze “Mount Bental” and click on “Mount Betal/Tal Al-Gharam.” Drive up the mountain (it is not unduly steep) until you come to the parking lot.  

Admission: There is no admission charge.

Public transport: There is no close bus line. There is a bus from Katzrin to Kibbutz Meron Golan, and it is possible to talk up the mountain from the kibbutz.

Mount Avital.jpeg

What happened to the inside and outside of the volcanoes of Mount Betal and Avital?

 

From as far as the Hula Valley one can see the humps of a chain of dormant volcanos arising from the plain of the Golan Heights. There are 70 of these along the eastern border of the Golan Heights adjacent to Israel’s border with Syria, from Mount Ram in the north to Mount Saki in the south. Since the Six-Day War they have provided a useful defense barrier with Syria, although they were unable to prevent Syrian forces from penetrating the southern Golan in the area of Tel Saki during the Yom Kippur War.  The Syrians were unable to advance, however, in the area of Mount Avital.

Walking along the top of Mount Bental, you are on top of one of these former volcanos. On your right looking towards Syria is the top of the volcano of Mount Avital and below you on your right is the collapsed crater of Mount Avital containing vineyards of Kibbutz El Rom. The inside of craters is a favored site for vineyards, in that vines grow extremely well because of the mineral richness of the soil. Kibbutz Meron Golan below you on your left is in the collapsed crater of Mount Betal.

 

How did all this happen?  Geologically, the Golan plain forms what is called a cyncline (folds in which each half of the fold dips toward the trough of the fold) between the Mount Hermon incline in the north and the Gilead incline in the south, with a basin of sedimentary rock between them. Beneath this basin of sedentary rock were pockets of magna which penetrated this layer of dozens of kilometers to form volcanoes. The magna that erupted formed viscous larva over the sedimentary rock and hardened as basalt rock. This dark basaltic rock is the typical rock of the Golan Heights. Mount Hermon, on the other hand, did not have this covering of basalt and is formed of sedimentary limestone.

 

Volcanic activity first started in the Golan Heights about 1 million years ago. Mount Avital has experienced the most recent volcanic activity of these volcanic peaks, some 100,000 years ago, which in geological terms is quite recent. Both mountains are from the same magna source, which was only able to come to the earth’s surface by blowing off the western sides of these two volcanic mountains.  

 

EXPLORING MOUNT BETAL

  • In front of you is the cafe Coffee Anan (literally Coffee in the Clouds), so called because this mountain is usually covered in a cloud during winter and spring mornings. The name is also a pun on the former UN Security Council President Kofi Anan. On the side of the road are statues made of junk metal created by the Dutch artist Joop de Jong, a member of close-by Kibbutz Meron Golan. His workshop is in the kibbutz. 

  • There are two observation points with recordings in Hebrew or English:

The observation point on your right (as you face towards Syria) provides views of Mount Avital. From here you can see white buildings in the distance. They are on the Syrian border and belong to the United Nations. Within Syria is the deserted town of Quneitra. This town was returned to Syria after the Yom Kippur War as part of negotiations between the two countries. The fields in the Quneitra Valley up to the border are Israeli. The border between Israel and Syria has been the quietest of Israel’s borders since the Six-Day War, although there are now concerns about the military activities of the Hezbollah movement, a protégé of Iran. Note the 10 wind turbines that provide electricity to about 10,000 inhabitants of the Golan Heights. There are also newer wind turbines closer to Mount Bental.

The other observation point and recording is just beyond the wooden balcony of the café. You are now overlooking Kibbutz Meron Golan. This kibbutz was the first settlement built on the Golan Heights after the Six-Day-War. It was established in the center, but then moved to the outskirts of Quneitra. It moved again to its present location west of Mount Bental in 1972, the thought being that the mountain would provide protection from shelling. The kibbutz has since been privatized. The recording explains about the beginnings of this kibbutz, the orchards up to the border, and the Valley of Tears. 

  • Walk up to the bunkers. They were placed here some years after the 1973 Yom Kippur War on previous Syrian fortifications. The position was manned for about a decade, but then abandoned.  In the 1900s the site was prepared for visitors by Kibbutz Meron Golan and the Jewish National Fund. A room within the bunkers presents visually the story of the battle that took place in this area during the Yom Kippur War.

During the Yom Kippur War, Syria attacked the Golan Heights with some 1,000 tanks and 1.500 artillery pieces. Their advance was held up by the Israelis in the northern Golan with only 160 tanks. The Syrians eventually fled, but this was a costly battle for both sides and by its end only 7 Israeli tanks remained operational. From the bottom of the mountain up to Mount Hermon has been named the Valley of Tears to commemorate the bloody conflict that took place here. For a discussion about the front by Tel Saki, where Syrian forces actually penetrated Israel's border, see Tel Saki and the Yom Kippur War.

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Mount Hermon is in the distance. Between it and Mount Betal is the Valley of Tears, so-called because of the many casualties during the Yom Kippur War.

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This model of a boat is made out of scrap metal by the Dutch artist Joop de Jong from Kibbutz Meron Golan.

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