The Shouting Hill - what closed borders really mean:
In the aftermath of the Six Day War, many Druze families in the Golan were split in two. Part of the family stayed in what had become Israeli territory; their kin were forced to take up residence in Syria. Anti-tank trenches, minefields and electronic fences were put up between them, on both sides of the border. If anyone was desperate enough to try and cross these barriers, they were intercepted by soldiers on one side or the other. The war was in 1967. The border is still closed.
The Druze are a remarkably adaptive people. Despite the fact that they see themselves as an individual nation, they have a history of unquestionable loyalty to whatever country they happen to live in. The Druze in Israel are Israelis; almost all the men serve in the IDF, and a seemingly disproportionate number of them actually sign on as career soldiers. The Israeli government has marginalized them in many ways, but they do not protest violently. I have no doubt that the Druze in Syria are just as loyal to their own country.
With the same stoicism, they have adapted to the fact that they have no modern means of communication between the split families. Although both Syria and Israel have fairly modern telecommunications, there is no way to call one country from the other. There is no mail, either. But there is one place where the families can get close enough to each other to communicate. This is the Shouting Hill.
The border runs right by the eastern edge of the village of Majdal Shams in Israel, at the foot of Mount Hermon. The forbidden zone, continually supervised by IDF soldiers, begins only a few feet away from the road around Majdal Shams and stretches across a narrow valley. On the other side you can see Syrian outposts and a UN observation post. Every day, regardless of the weather, groups of Druze families begin to gather on both sides in the early morning. They shout across the valley to their brothers, their sisters, their growing children. Sometimes only a few members of the family come. On momentous occasions - birthdays, new births, weddings, deaths - the entire clan will gather.
Sometimes a group of people will come early in the morning, only to wait for hours for their relatives to arrive on the other side. Sometimes they don't show up at all, and there is no way to explain. Sometimes the wind carries away everyone's voice, even with the megaphones some families use. Sometimes the Golan's thick mists obscure everything, and they can hear each other but not see who they are talking to. And sometimes the news is terrible, and they cannot get close enough to comfort each other the way families should. The shouts from the other side can barely be heard, but the air is thick with the emotions they cause. All of this occurs under the emotionless eyes of the soldiers, and there are almost certainly other unseen soldiers listening and recording, to make sure no seditious messages are being passed. The first time I saw this, I wanted to cry. It was the first time I understood what closed borders really meant, and what a terrible, muddled emotional mess the Middle East really is.