top of page

Join the crowds in the Allawite town of Ghajar

The town of Ghajar was formerly Syrian but is now Israeli. The Lebanese border runs through the middle of the town but everyone ignores it. The people here are well integrated into Israeli society. Ghajar was closed off by the Israeli miliary except to its inhabitants for 22 years but it now has lots of Jewish and Muslim visitors. Why is everyone coming? Probably because it is the only Alawite town in Israel and is an unusual place religiously, politically, culinary-wise and aesthetically. The people here are delighted to see you, but they have some hard thinking to do as to how to maintain the specialness of their town with all these visitors.

Directions: Enter “Ghazar” into Waze. There is street parking.  

Public transport: There is a bus service between Kiryat Shemona and Ghazar.

Statute and fountain at Ghajar.jpeg

     Do you find my website interesting and helpful?

Then you are sure to love my two new books "In and Around Jerusalem for Everyone - The Best Walks, Hikes and Outdoor Pools" and "The Struggle for Utopia - A History of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Messianism". Both books are available on Amazon and in Jerusalem bookstores. Click on each of the titles for information, reviews and purchase information.

There are many special things about this town. It has about 2,700 inhabitants. It is very closely knit and people rarely leave to live elsewhere. The women dress modestly with dresses and skirts but do not cover their hair. The people are well integrated into Israeli society. The community places a high premium on education and there are many doctors living in the community, and even professors who work in Israel. The youth do not serve in the Israeli army but do volunteer for national service. The citizens are relatively well off and you will see many large houses. Note the pastel-hued exteriors of some of the houses, just as one sees in parts of Europe. Some buildings, especially in the center of town, display an Islamic architectural style. The town is clean and nicely laid out with fountains, statues and pretty flowers. So please leave it exactly as you found it.


Entry to the town is restricted from 8.00 p.m. to 8.00 a.m. There is no intention of opening zimmerim (bed and breakfast guestrooms) or hotels.


What to do here? First head towards the promenade. Below the promenade is Lebanon and the Hasbani River. Listen carefully and you can hear the bubbling river. The Hasbani River becomes the Snir Stream in Israel. There are stalls along the promenade for the purchase of drinks and snacks. The town prides itself on its pot-brewed coffee rather than machine-brewed. It also has its own culinary specialties. Be sure to make your way to the very beautiful Peace Garden. Also note the statues at the street intersections and the architecture of the buildings in the center of town.

Hasbani Valley seen from Ghajar.jpeg
Peace garden at Ghajar

View of he Hasbani Valley from the Promenade

The Peace Garden contains religious symbols from different faiths

Surviving between the cracks


Ghajar was conquered by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War as part of Israel’s conquest of the Syrian Golan Heights. Believing it was part of Lebanon, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) withdrew from the town after the war. About half its inhabitants fled to Syria, but those remaining petitioned the Israeli authorities for Ghajar to remain under Israeli rule rather than under the jurisdiction of Lebanon. Hence, 2½ months after the war, Ghajhar became part of Israel. It was annexed by Israel in 1981 together with the rest of the Golan Heights as part of the Golan Heights Law and its citizens were persuaded to take Israeli citizenship.


Israel had maintained a 10-Km deep security zone in southern Lebanon from 1985, but withdrew from this area in 2000 under intense military pressure from the Shiite group Hezbollah. (Hezbollah is a protégé of Iran, is part of the Iranian “axis of resistance” against Israel, maintains an independent army, and effectively controls much of the political life of Lebanon). When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the United Nations set the international border (the Blue Line) through the middle of Ghazar. Their intent was that the town be taken over by Lebanon. But this never happened. In the meantime, the town was conveniently situated for smuggling and it became a closed military zone. Anyone wishing to visit the town had to receive permission from the Israeli military.


Recently, the inhabitants, on their own accord, placed a wire barrier around that part of the town that was officially Lebanese, and the entire town effectively became Israeli.


The inhabitants have dual Israeli and Lebanese citizenship, although many regard themselves as Syrian with Israeli citizenship.


When you walk on the promenade, you can see below you the Hasbani Valley and a white United Nations outpost. These are in Lebanon, which surrounds the town on three sides. Because the immediate military threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon decreased somewhat as a result of a maritime agreement with Israel related to Lebanese offshore drilling for oil and because the entire town was now part of Israel, there was no need for it to remain a closed military area. So, the town was opened up after 22 years. Welcome tourists!

Ghajar and its Alawite faith


Ghajar is the only Alawite town in Israel. Alawites are found mainly in Syria, although there are also communities in Lebanon and Turkey. The Alawite community in Syria is a minority, constituting about 12% of the population. Nevertheless, the ruling Ba’ath party in Syria is Alawite. Its current President, Bashar al-Assad, would have lost power to the Sunni majority in its recent civil war if not for the intervention of Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah, who wished to incorporate Syria into its anti-Israel axis, and Russia which did not want to lose its naval facilities in the port of Tarsus.


Alawism is a secret mystic sect that branched off from Shia Islam, but retains similarities to it. Like Shi’ites, they venerate the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and believe in the divine aspects of the imams that followed him, including a currently hidden twelfth imam. Their religion includes traditions from other religions, including Christianity, Gnosticism and Zoroastrianism. Their Christian customs include the consecration of wine in a secret form of mass. They believe that God manifests Himself in various human reincarnations throughout history and they venerate the saints, prophets and angels of other faiths including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Simon Peter and Ali. Their syncretic adoption of aspects of other faiths leads to an openness to other religions as displayed in their Peace Garden. Their only religious structures are the shrines of tombs.


The degree to which Alawism is a form of Islam has been much debated. Historically, Alawites have been regarded as heretics by both Sunni and Twelver Shia scholars. However, there have been attempts by Alawites in the modern period, including the al-Assad regime, to draw closer to mainstream Islam. Sunni foes of Israel, including Amin al-Husseini, a prior mufti of Jerusalem, also attempted to draw the Alawites more into the Islamic fold for political reasons.

Statue of St George and the dragon at Ghajar.jpeg

Statue of St. George slaying the dragon in the center of town.

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

bottom of page