Israelis Philosophical About Golan's Future The Golan Heights was occupied by Israel in 1967. But in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon, some politicians are wondering whether it is time to return the area to Syria as part of a peace deal. The two sides came close to an agreement in 1993, and again in 1999.
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Israelis Philosophical About Golan's Future

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Israelis Philosophical About Golan's Future

Israelis Philosophical About Golan's Future

Israelis Philosophical About Golan's Future

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The Golan Heights was occupied by Israel in 1967. But in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon, some politicians are wondering whether it is time to return the area to Syria as part of a peace deal. The two sides came close to an agreement in 1993, and again in 1999.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Unidentified Woman: Shalom, and welcome to the Bental Lookout.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOURIST INFORMATION RECORDING AT BENTAL LOOKOUT)

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Unidentified Woman: In front of you is the Kinetra Valley, full of orchards and vineyards.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

SULLIVAN: Come here at night and you can see the lights from the Syrian capital, Damascus, about 30 miles to the northeast. In the opposite direction, the Sea of Galilee and the Israeli town of Tiberius, and to the north, Kiryat Shemona, a frequent target of Hezbollah rockets launched from southern Lebanon during this summer's war.

KOBI MAROM: In my professional point of view, I think that the Golan Heights gives us a very important strategy depth(ph) to defend the upper Galilee Region and the central part of Israel.

SULLIVAN: Former brigade commander Kobi Marom spent 25 years in the Israeli army. As a military man, he understands the reason for keeping the Golan, and for giving it back.

MAROM: If we want to have a real quiet border in our northern part, Syria has to be part of the game. If you want to stop the support that Syria gives to the Hezbollah, the only option is to start negotiating.

SULLIVAN: Israel and Syria have come close to a deal twice before, and some Israelis find the idea of trying again, so soon after the war with Hezbollah, a little hard to swallow.

(SOUNDBITE OF A BELL)

SULLIVAN: Six huge steel tanks line one wall, some venting carbon dioxide from next year's Chardonnay. Twenty-six year old Yishai Alfasi and his brother handle the day-to-day operations in this family-run business. The winery is just a few years old, but Alfasi says it's already produced several award-winning wines.

YISHAI ALFASI: This is the second year that we're producing Chardonnay. The first one was a very big success, very fruity, and a great Israeli summer drink.

SULLIVAN: Alfasi's parents came to the Golan about 30 years ago, answering the government's call to settle the land just won from Syria. The idea of giving it back, of leaving, he says, is painful but perhaps necessary in the long run.

ALFASI: It's not okay. But if we withdraw from the Golan and it will give a very good peace, like you can see in other parts of the world, maybe it would be right for us.

SULLIVAN: His friend, Leor Schalef(ph), couldn't disagree more. The sight of the settlers in Gaza being torn from their homes last year during Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, brought tears to his eyes, Schalef says. He has also lived on the Golan since he was born, and if the government ever gave it up, Schalef says, he wouldn't leave without a fight.

LEOR SCHALEF: I've been traveling around the whole world. There's no such place as the Golan. It's beautiful. It's quiet. Everything here is perfect. There's nothing that can ruin it.

SULLIVAN: And if for some reason the Israeli government actually gave up the Golan, what would you do?

SCHALEF: I would find it hard to live in a country that gave back my home.

SULLIVAN: The former career soldier and brigade commander Kobi Marom is sympathetic to that argument. And why wouldn't he be. Just a few months ago, he opened this up market restaurant and bar on the Golan with a magnificent view over the Hula Valley below. But Marom says he would give it all up, if necessary, for peace - though he isn't happy about the idea.

MAROM: No, I'm not. But in our situation in the Middle East, the vision has to be a national view. So I understand the personal price that me and my family and my friends maybe one day has to pay for this.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

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