Mount Bental and Mount Avital

Volcanic action has shaped much of the Golan Heights. A drive up the dormant volcano Mount Bental, adjacent to Mount Avital, provides the opportunity to appreciate the influence of volcanic activity on this part of the landscape of the Upper Golan, to view as far as 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.

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What happened to the inside and outside of these two volcanoes?

 

From as far away 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 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. They provide a useful defense barrier with Syria, although they were unable to prevent Syrian forces from penetrating the southern Golan close to Tel Saki during the Yom Kippur War. However, Syria was unable to advance in the area of the Avital Volcanic Park.

 

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 its 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.

 

You will be ascending the dormant volcano Mount Bental. Adjacent to this is Mount Avital. Mount Avital had the most recent volcanic activity of these volcanic peaks, some 100,000 years ago, which in geological terms is quite recent. Volcanic activity first started in the Golan Heights about 1 million years ago. These two 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 mountains.

 

While walking along the top of Mount Bental you are on top of this former volcano. On your right looking towards Syria is the top of the volcano of Mount Avital and below you on the right is the collapsed crater of Mount Avital.  It contains vineyards of Kibbutz El Rom. Inside craters is a favored site for a vineyard, in that the vines grow extremely well because of the mineral richness of the soil. As mentioned, the side of the Mount Bental volcano was also swept away by larval flow and Kibbutz Meron Golan below you on your left is in the crater of the former volcano.

 

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 path 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. 

  • Two observation points have recordings in either Hebrew or English that are worth listening to:

The observation point on the right (facing Syria) provides views of Mount Avital. From here you can see the white buildings belonging to the United Nations on the Syrian border, and within Syria the deserted town of Quneitra. This town was given back to Syria after the Yom Kippur War as part of negotiations. There are Israeli fields in the Quneitra Valley up to the border. The border between Israel and Syria has been the quietest of Israel’s borders since the Six-Day-War, although there is no guarantee it will remain so because of the 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 next observation point and recording is just beyond the wooden balcony of the café overlooking Kibbutz Meron Golan. This kibbutz was the first settlement built on the Golan Heights after the Six-Day-War. The recording explains about the beginnings of this kibbutz, the orchards up to the border, and the Valley of Tears. 

Kibbutz Meron Golan began initially in the center of the Golan Heights, 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. It has been subsequently privatized).

  • Walk up to the bunkers. They were placed here some years after the Yom Kippur War, in 1973, on previous Syrian fortifications. The position was manned for about a decade, but then abandoned.  In the 1900s the site was cleared and 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 here 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 north with only 160 tanks. The Syrians eventually fled, but it was a costly battle for both sides. By its end, only 7 Israeli tanks were operational. From the bottom of the mountain up to Mount Hermon has been named the Valley of Tears to commemorate the bloody battle that took place here. For a discussion of the front at Tel Saki, where Syrian forces actually penetrated the 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 where there were many casualties from the Yom Kippur War.

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