There are rumblings that war is more likely in this region than
it has been in many years, but to ask local residents, it is a time
to sow their seeds and put their family roots deeper into the Golan.
At Kibbutz Afik, the mood was festive as members decked the
dining room with bright decorations for Hanukkah, which celebrates
the miraculous rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the
Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greek Army in 165 B.C.
Some Israelis say they could again be headed for war with the
ancient enemy. Syria says peace can only come if Israel withdraws
from these strategic highlands it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli
Government ministers say Israel must beef up its preparedness
and its defense spending in light of some analysis that Syrian
President Hafez al-Assad, fed up with nearly 30 years of trying to
regain the Golan, might opt for a military offensive to try
recapture a piece of the Heights.
While the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin expressed a
willingness to withdraw from the Golan in exchange for peace,
Benjamin Netanyahu, the new right-wing premier, says the offer does
The 15,000 Israelis who live here say they're more focused on
plans to double their numbers and attract more industry than the
threat of war. Yaacov Gabriel, in charge of security on the
kibbutz, says that their farming cooperative has been ordered into
a state of readiness, just in case.
"They asked us to prepare the bomb shelters," Mr. Gabriel says
calmly, as he lunches on vegetables grown in the fertile Golan.
Most residents say their lives became more secure upon the May
election of Mr. Netanyahu. Since then, resident Marla Van Meter
says the uncertainty that plagued this region in the past few years
has lifted. In a sign of their new confidence, many residents
including Ms. Van Meter, have been planting gardens. "You could see
people putting in new trees, adding porches to their houses after
the elections," she says. "People felt that the immediate threat
In another big boost to settlers here, the government this week
began selling plots of land for 96 new homes in Katzrin, the
largest Jewish settlement. But residents have their own expansion
goals. The "Golan 2000" plan aims to spend $15 million to bring in
10,000 new residents.
When Van Meter, a California native, moved here 13 years ago,
she saw herself and her husband as modern-day pioneers, farming and
settling the northern frontier. To her, that image changed quickly
when Rabin - after making a breakthrough with the Palestinians in
peace talks - began trying to reach a deal with Syria, too.
In response, residents embarked on a big public-relations