He was weathered like an old Florida surfer but as far from surf as can be, here on a hilltop accessed by a single-lane gravelly road where a café cutely called “Coffee Annan” served cappuccino to help buffer the cool breeze outside. He didn’t have coffee, but stood in the lee of the crest of the hill selling honey of a dozen sorts, nicely jarred.
It was the end of the day, sun quickly setting. He was a Druse, about 70, a retired high school math teacher, with good English as well as Arabic and Hebrew. We had climbed steeply up the old volcanic dome to park among other cars where tourists come to see the abandoned battlements perched strategically on the dome overlooking the Golan plains. He sold his honey from the trunk of his sedan. “Honey,” it turned out, was sometimes bee honey, but mostly any fruit – apple, grape, cherries, figs — crushed and cooked allowing natural sugars to ferment. He knew all the Russian names of his assortment of sugars. The bunkers and observation points scattered with tourist information lay just beyond the dozen or so cars parked on the gravel in relative disorder.
Walking to the edge of the battlements on Mt. Betal, balancing our coffee, we could see the strikingly beautiful plains below, the Valley of Tears where Syrian tanks, outnumbering Israeli armor ten to one, nearly broke through to the Galilee four decades ago. With a smile and wonderfully friendly eyes, and a neat mustache white with age, our gregarious Druse told us he had a brother in Lebanon, another in Syria, another in Jordan, another in Israel – gesturing with his hand 360 degrees as if to remind us that each brother was more or less in view, only a stone’s throw away. When he learned I was American, his face lit up as he announced a cousin in Oklahoma City.
Looking down and across the landscape, I could see no clue across the fields or up to the base of the mountains of national borders. Lining up the honey we would purchase, our obliging vendor seemed to be saying that he could live in any of the neighborhoods – they were all the same to him, and he liked them all. The history under and amidst these run down bunkers didn’t lessen his good cheer a bit.