Of this photo, Raed writes: "We went with some friends to Umm Qais, in the north of Jordan. From this really high and cool spot, you can see the occupied Golan Hights, the occupied Jordan River, the occupied Lake Tiberias (known also as the Sea of Galilee and to Israelis as Lake Kinneret), the occupied Shaba Farms in the south of Lebanon." Click the photo to open a larger version.
Okay, so apparently today is Memorial Day back in the U.S. That would nicely explain why I've gotten almost no email from that corner of the globe. Have a nice barbeque or something. As for myself, I got myself invited to an all-you-can-eat sushi extravaganza at one of the nicer restaurants in town tonight, but that has nothing to do with American holidays.
Raed in the Middle is the blog of an Iraqi living in Jordan, who acquired some (very minor) notoriety thanks to his connection to Salam Pax of the Where is Raed? blog made famous during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I don't recall how I wound up at his blog, but this one photo grabbed me.
Before you read on, ask yourself this: looking at Raed's picture, where are your eyes and interest most drawn? To the columns in the foreground? Or to the mist-obscured rolling land beyond?
Photography is a wonderful medium for capturing abrupt juxtapositions (like what I tried to do with walls here), but sometimes the images require some explanation before the full impact sinks in. Raed's photo is one of these. On first glance, we have a grey day at the ruins of Umm Qais (or Gadara). But this is a high point in northern Jordan, so the indistinct mountains in the background are of the Golan, sprawling through Israel, Syria, Lebannon, and Jordan. Fraught ground, that is. (There is a much clearer picture of roughly the same vista here.)
Caught in the mist behind the remains of a once-powerful Greco-Roman city, Raed describes most of the background as "occupied," mentioning the Golan Heights, the Jordan River, Lake Tiberias/Yam Kinneret/Sea of Galilee, and the Shaba Farms. Naturally, which of these are indeed under occupation, and by whom, depends strongly on with whom you speak.
The parallels between ancient Gadara and modern Israel are not particularly good, which might be why Raed doesn't suggest any. You wouldn't know it from the comments on his blog, though. After all, Rome was an aggressively expansionist empire, but while Israel is undeniably aggressive, all but the most radical elements of Israeli society actually want the territory it controls to shrink. On the other hand, the Israeli occupation is characterized by planting numerous Jewish settlements which are protected by the IDF, to develop an Israeli population and thus make its claims sticky. While Rome also planted populations with abandon, Gadara wasn't one of them; it was originally a Hellenistic city.
Click the photo above for a (legibly) larger version of this 1989 map of the Golan Heights. The locations mentioned here can mostly all be found on that map. For an overview of the Heights in the context of Israel as a whole, see this map. Both from the wonderful UT PCL collection, as usual.
There is a general consensus that the Golan is Syrian territory occuped by Israel, although Jordan may claim part of it as well. Even Israel concedes this status, but asserts that it's keeping the area anyway so as to stake out the high ground. Very pretty, fertile area, which has remained rather sparsely populated in part due to this uncertainty regarding its future. That, and the land mines. If I get that far north, I'll be sure to take some pictures from a safe distance.
The Jordan River forms a natural boundary between Jordan and the state of Israel, or a future state of Palestine. In fact, the Hashemites (of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) are sometimes called the Trans-Jordanian Palestinians; which half of that name you emphasize depends on whether you are trying to make the case that the West Bank Palestinians already have a state in Jordan, or are a downtrodden people who simply gained oppressors in the west in exchange for those across the river in 1967. Here in the north, the Jordan flows out of the lake and is internationally recognized as Israel's eastern border. A bit further south, and it runs into the West Bank military zone, which is not just occupied, but heavily fortified by the Israelis.
Still, it's odd to think of a boundary as being occupied. Perhaps Raed has in mind the rather disproportionate share of the Jordan River Basin's water that Israel takes.
The Lake of Several Names is also mentioned, lying in the basin between the mountains in the middle and far distance (I think). Yam Kinneret and Lake Tiberias (or the Arabic equivalent) being the most common. I think only the Christians regularly use the Sea of Galilee label. I believe that most everyone who accepts the existence of Israel includes the western shores of the lake in its rightful territory. The eastern shore, however, is in the Golan Heights and is thus correctly seen as occupied. Most maps I've seen put the lake fully within Israel proper, suggesting that Syria only claims the eastern shore, not part of the lake itself. Since the shore itself is a UN demilitarized zone, it may be that even its claim there is considered under dispute.
Finally, in the far (and I'm pretty sure invisible) distance is the issue of the Shebaa Farms. Nobody claims it is Israeli territory, but Hezbollah's beef is that they belong to Lebannon, meaning Israel should have pulled out of the area back in 2000. Israel says they're Syrian, which means it's staying until the matter of the Golan is settled once and for all. I think most everyone will be altogether peeved if 28 sq. km of barley fields manages to scuttle the nacent peace between Israel and Lebannon.