EIN ZIVAN, Golan Heights—Kobi Marom squints into the morning sun and gestures at the rolling green hills beneath the Quneitra viewpoint, where the crumbled Syrian city of Quneitra juts up against the Syrian-Israeli border fence. Here, some of the fiercest fighting of the Syrian civil war has played out over the past year. And every time there has been a battle, there has also been a crowd.
“People come here every day to see the show,” says Marom, 54, a retired Israel Defense Forces colonel who now works in the tourism industry and regularly brings groups to this point to gaze down on Syria’s bloodletting. “For people visiting the area, it’s interesting. They feel that they are a part of it. They can go home and tell their friends, ‘I was on the border and I saw a battle.’”
High above a valley in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israeli tourists have a panoramic view of this strategically important location, which is also known as the Gateway to Damascus. Tour groups, fresh from jaunts to the area’s wineries, cherry markets, and artisanal chocolate shops, stop here by the dozens each day armed with binoculars and cameras, eager for a glimpse of smoke and even carnage.
In early June, Marom tells me, the viewpoint was especially packed, as news spread through the Golan Heights’ quiet farming communities that Syrian rebels had overrun Assad loyalists to take control of the United Nations checkpoint on the Israeli side of the border. The rebels held the checkpoint, which was once a humanitarian crossing between Israel and Syria, for a handful of hours, during which tanks barreled through air choked with mortar rounds and smoke. Safe beyond the buffer zone, hundreds of spectators sweated in the heat and gaped at the action below.