On the border with ISIS

Michael K. Lavers, who’s currently in Israel with A Wider Bridge, visited the Golan Heights on Tuesday that overlook the border with Syria. He reports on his experience.

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Michael K. Lavers at the Golan Heights with the Hula Valley and Lebanon in the background.

Blackberry bushes and mint were growing wild along the narrow, rocky path on which the open-air jeep in which I was a passenger was driving on Tuesday morning.

Syrian army outposts that Israel bombed during the Six-Day War in 1967, landmine fields and Israeli tanks conducting drills were among the things that my fellow passengers and I saw while in the disputed Golan Heights. Mountain gazelle and migrating birds even appeared as the jeep drove up the slope.

Blackberry bushes and mint were growing wild along the narrow, rocky path on which the open-air jeep in which I was a passenger was driving on Tuesday morning.

Syrian army outposts that Israel bombed during the Six-Day War in 1967, landmine fields and Israeli tanks conducting drills were among the things that my fellow passengers and I saw while in the disputed Golan Heights. Mountain gazelle and migrating birds even appeared as the jeep drove up the slope.

Our jeep and several others — which resembled a U.N. convoy of sorts — stopped about a half an hour later. Lebanese villages were clearly visible on the other side of the mountains that rise above the Hula Valley in northern Israel. Portions of war-torn Syria that are under the control of the so-called Islamic State were less than 10 miles east of the area in which our jeeps had stopped and my fellow travelers and I were taking pictures, drinking tea and eating cookies.

ISIS has unfortunately become part of my reporting in recent years.

The Sunni extremist group has executed Syrian and Iraqi men who were accused of sodomy by throwing them from tall buildings. Lebanese activists have told me that ISIS has burned men alive they suspected were gay and even hanged a transgender Syrian woman by her breasts. Ayaz Shalal, a human rights activist in the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, has worked with Yazidi women who were raped by ISIS militants after they killed their husbands.

The gunman who killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12 pledged his allegiance to ISIS, even though there is no evidence to suggest it ordered him to carry out the massacre. President-elect Trump in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history reiterated his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
Turkish officials have accused ISIS of carrying out three suicide bombings at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on June 28 that killed 44 people and left more than 100 others injured. My partner and I flew through the same airport last Thursday while en route to Israel.

Staffers with A Wider Bridge, which describes itself as an “LGBTQ advocacy group building connections between the Israeli and North American LGBTQ communities,” have told me they have seen ISIS flags flying above Syrian villages during previous trips to the Golan Heights.

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