Saturday, March 8, 2008

Border Town

All text and photos in this post copyright John Zada and John Bell 2008

Majdal Shams is a Druze village located on the northern side of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Its name in Arabic (derived from Aramaic) translates into "Tower of the Sun" and nestles the slopes of the uber-strategic Jebel al-Sheikh, also known as Mount Hermon. Home to roughly 8,000 inhabitants, the town, along with the rest of the Golan Heights was seized by the Israeli Army from Syria in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967.

The town is located along the militarized and heavily mined border that divides Israel from Syria.
Although liberated by the Syrians for a handful of days during the October War of 1973, it has remained firmly under Israel control ever since.

The eastern side of Majdal Shams is perched on an incline facing Syria and the verdant valley through which the invisible border runs. When the town was captured by the Israelis in 1967, Majdal Shams was automatically cut-off from neighbouring Druze villages in Syria with which it had very close ties for centuries. Friends and families alike became separated by that invisible line carved into a landscape that had never before known borders.

Since then, under the intense and watchful gaze of Syrian and Israeli army garrisons, as well as an observer force of the United Nations, Druze families have intermittently gathered on either side of the border to communicate with one another across what has come to be known as "the Valley of the Shouts."

Using megaphones and at times screaming at the top of their lungs, Druze families have remained in touch, exchanging news as well as coming together at times to deliver brides for arranged marriages taking place across either side of the frontier.

The below photos were taken on the Syrian side of the border where a group of students, originally from Majdal Shams but now studying in Damascus, came to make contact with their families across the valley.


A United Nations peacekeeper watching the students from his tower.

Two other peacekeepers keeping on eye on things from the Syrian side.

One of the students yelling to get the attention of residents across the valley.

Residents of Majdal Shams communicating back.

Curious bystanders watching from the Syrian side.

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