With my last post covering my spontaneous adventure to Juchader – from the khan to the tel to the spring pool – this post is about a planned exploration of the basalt ruins of Nafakh. Noticing the site on the map, and seeing the ruins from the road, I decided that this nearby site would make a great Friday afternoon trip. So, properly packed with gun, phone, camera and water, I set off to walk the kilometre and a half from Sa’ar, the base I was in. Nestled in a grove of eucalyptus trees near HaShiryon Junction on Road 91 in the centre of the Golan, the Nafakh ruins are the remains of a Syrian village built on the remains of a Roman era, and later a Byzantine era, village – a chronological layering of human settlement.
With the spring wildflowers in full bloom, and the snowy peak of Mount Hermon partially visible, the walk was rather refreshing. Before long, I left the road and reached a makeshift gate with some ominous bones dangling from the fence post. I opened the gate and stepped into the thick grass, already seeing some house-like structures up ahead. Similar to the situation at Juchader, the grass was absolutely filled with silky caterpillar nests – and the caterpillars littered the grass. I reached the first house complex and entered the courtyard, heading straight for the dark first floor rooms.
Slightly fearful of encountering a foul beast in the darkness, I proceeded slowly, using my camera flash to illuminate my path. Relieved that the only trace of beast were the few scattered porcupine quills laying about, I left darkness’ cool embrace and headed up the steps to the clearly newer section of the house. With the local Arabs living in this village up until 1967, there are a few modern sections of concrete and metal, however it was the old hewn basalt blocks that interested me more.
Standing up on the second floor, I surveyed my immediate surroundings and mapped out a logical route. Feeling like a kid in a candy shop, I explored the ruins, house after house, enjoying the peace and solitude. Surveying from on high, swishing through the tall grass down below, I made my way through the western side of the village rather quickly.
Then, after exploring a single house at the northwest corner, I heard several loud crashing sounds in succession – the sounds of a large beast breaking dry sticks. Consumed with adventurous curiosity I crept forwards towards the brush from whence the noise originated, always mindful of my retreat path if said beast were to materialise in the shape of an angry boar. I wondered to myself about what it would like being chased and then treed by a foul pig with deadly tusks, and if I’d be able to shoot my way to safety before it was too late. Tenaciously advancing, past the point of a safe retreat, I circled the brush which partially concealed a walled courtyard, and, not seeing anything, climbed up onto a wall to look down at the brush. Nothing. Slowly my heart returned to its normal tempo and I begrudgingly returned to exploring, still unsure where the noisemaker disappeared to. Beginning a whole row of old houses connected one to the next, I came to another courtyard. Peering into a dark room, I noticed a shedded snakeskin draped against the rock wall.
With the feeling that this village exploration might not end before Shabbat were to start, I put a pep in my step and hurried on to the next set of houses, spending less time peering into dark windows. Hearing a strange sound, I spotted a rock hyrax running along a walltop. I pressed on heading east, reaching a structure that didn’t look quite residential. Beyond it, some three kilometres away, Mount Shipon – an extinct volcano – was visible, and below it, a more modern structure. It was then that I noticed the large basalt bunker in between the trees.
I made a beeline for the warlike building, wondering if I’d see any bats inside. I crossed Nachal Gilbon, a small stream, but found myself greeted with coils of rusty razor wire which impeded my process. I then thought back on what I had read earlier that week about a battle during the Yom Kippur War where a team from Sayeret Matkal, under the command of Yoni Netanyahu, were brought in to resist an air-dropped Syrian commando attack on the base Nafakh (just across the road). It was for this battle that Netanyhu received the Medal of Distinguished Service for his valiant efforts in protecting the Golan.
Walking along the razor wire I saw no gaps and decided to turn away and save the bunker for another visit. Heading back to the ruins I came upon a little pool and then more recent ruins of concrete. Making a full circle, and fairly certain that I had covered all, or at least most, of the ruined village, I took a few more pictures and began to head back, enjoying the sounds of songbirds flitting about. It was when I was just about to open the gate that I spotted this interesting display of insect bravado – who will be king of the flower?
Next up: Ein Nashut & the Golan Archaeological Museum.