Ski Israel

Doug Wallace Issue: Section:

“Slowly the white mountains
of present-day Syria reveal themselves”

There's a ski lift in Israel. More precisely, there's a ski lift in an area of
southern Syria that Israel occupied after Syria tried to invade Israel in one of
the many wars in a time when shalacked, sun glasses-toting Arab dictators still
held the hearts and minds of their people in their hands. That was long ago.
There are decades- old mannequins dressed in Israeli military gear acting as
decoys for supposed Arab snipers that populate the rocks and trees around the
ski slope. They contrast with a giant inflatable snowman set up at the base of
the ski lift to enforce a degree of joviality about the place. What would the
snowman sound like if a sniper's bullet chose it for target practice? With hot
chocolate in hand, I board the lift and ascend the mountain. Slowly the white
mountains of present-day Syria reveal themselves, a mysterious place for me,
since it's the only country on earth so far that has denied me a visa. I get to
the top and awkwardly disengage from the metal chair. Strolling about the
ramparts beyond the ersatz Swedish lodge, I see the military listening centers,
the dishes locked into Damascus. The present chatter must surely reflect worried
self-preservation now, as opposed to bellicose Nasserist bravado of yesteryear.
Descending the mountain, I find myself retreating down with a school bus load of
Arab-Israeli high schoolers, sprinkled out amongst the lift chairs, two-by-two,
jostling, rough housing, laughing. Opposite from us, on the same lift chairs
ascending the mountain are Israeli soldiers, just a couple of years older,
uniformed, quiet, morose, guns in hand, going up up the mountain to begin their
shift at the listening posts. They glance at us. No condescension. No hatred.
Just fulfilling an age-old up-down pantomime that has ravaged this area where
the memories of lost loved ones, lost pride, and lost innocence are frozen in
snow.

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