Located in Israel’s Golan Heights region, the Banias Nature Reserve serves as a strong reminder that Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights was about a lot more than just punishing Syria and seizing the military advantage afforded by occupying high ground.
You see, Mount Hermon is in the Golan Heights. And the Hermon Spring emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon acts like a sponge, absorbing the rain and snow that falls generously upon it. The precious water then percolates through the limestone until it emerges as springs at the foot of the mountain. These springs create the Dan, Hermon (Banias), and Senir (Hazbani) streams, which are the headwaters of the Jordan River.
Control of water is important everywhere, but particularly so in the Middle East.
Below is Banias and the foothills of Mount Hermon in the background. All of this used to be Syrian territory:
Because this is the Golan Heights, mine fields are scattered all around the western edge of the Banias Nature Reserve. But, it is safe to walk down in the canyon pictured above. And down in that canyon, one finds this – the Hermon Stream:
There is a fair amount of whitewater here, but before the Hermon Stream enters Israel’s agricultural heartland in the Hula Valley, its gradient becomes more moderate. In the Hula Valley, fields are cultivated right up to the banks of the stream.
Several miles to the south, the Hermon Stream reaches its junction with the Dan Stream and the two merge to create the Jordan River:
One of the Banias’ pools is named the Officer’s Pool, and was used by Syrian officers stationed in the area as a spa and social gathering area until the Six Day War. And nearby to that pool is a small dirt road that marks the point where the pipeline used to carry oil from Iraq to Sidon in Lebanon (the TAP line). As they say, transiency is inherent in component things:
This being the Middle East, there is naturally a staggering amount (at least to those of us in the West) of history associated with Banias…
Though there is no mention of the Banias in the Old Testament, it is believed that the area was documented in biblical texts as Baal-Gad and Tel Dan. It appears with the name Banias in historic documents dating back to the third century BCE when a large Hellenistic settlement established itself near the Banias riverbed.
While under Roman rule, Banias was annexed to Herod’s Kingdom and later passed on to Herod’s son, Emperor Philip the Tetrarch, along with the rest of northern Palestine and made into the capital of his kingdom.
Later, the Crusaders saw Banias as a natural border between their kingdom in Palestine and the neighboring Muslim realm, whose center was Damascus. Because of its position on the crossroads between Sidon and Tyre in Lebanon and Damascus, Banias was considered a strategic asset. As a response to the Crusader conquest of Galilee in 1099, the Muslims fortified Banias. But in 1129, due to internal Muslim squabbles, control of the city was lost to the Crusaders. The Muslims finally recaptured Banias in 1132.
After Saladin defeated the Crusaders in the 1187 Battle of Hattin, Banias declined in importance. The Mamelukes fortified the city, but finally abandoned its fortress, which was taken over by belligerent Bedouin chieftains. The once great city became a small village, which it remained until the area was conquered by the IDF in the 1967 Six Day War:
The highlight of a trip to Banias is a visit to its waterfall:
The water flowing downstream from the waterfall… Trees down in the forest along the banks of the Hermon Stream include Mount Tabor oaks, Kermes oaks, Syrian ash, oriental plane trees and willows.
The animal kingdom is well represented also with Syrian rock hyraxes, golden jackals, beech martens, wild boars Sardinian warblers, wrens, Cetti’s warblers, rock doves and many others making frequent appearances at Banias: