Gamla- The Masada of the North

Gamla Israel

Josephus  Flavius ( or Yosef ben  Matityahu –  his  Hebrew name), the  famous historian has made  us  familiar with the dramatic  last stand of the  Jewish  rebels  on Masada against the  Roman  Legions  after the  destruction of the  Second Temple.

But according to the  same historian, a  very similar drama  took place on  another isolated mountain in the very  north of the  country.

Gamla  stands perched on  the southern  end  of the  Golan  Heights. It’s humb  back shape  gave it is’s  name as Gamal means Camel in Hebrew. Surrounded by  protective deep  ravines on all sides. Gamla  was  a  Jewish district  town  when the great revolt against Rome broke out in 66 CE.

One thousand  four hundred  years  earlier, Moses conquered this land  from Og the giant of Bashan. Two and  a half tribes requested the lands  to the east of the Jordan river  for their inheritance and so a part of the tribe of Menashe  settled on what is today the Golan heights or  the Biblical  Bashan.

When Joshua divided up the Promised  Land amongst the tribes, cities of refuge used by people guilty of man slaughter, were established on either side of the Jordan.
Gamla may have been  one of these biblical cities of refuge.

Fast  forwarding  again to the time of the Great Revolt we find Gamla as a crucial strategic position. Not only  was it an isolated walled town that  welcomed  rebels and refugees fleeing  the  advancing Roman Legions, it became a symbol  as the Jews defied the Roman Empire.
In addition, it was geographically on the north east  frontier, closest to two possible threats to Rome. First the  powerful and ever threatening Parathion empire was  not  far  from this frontier. The Parthians would  certainly  grab an opportunity  to  weaken  Roman rule on the international frontier by aiding the Jewish rebels.

Secondly, there was the possibility that the   very large and influential Jewish  communities  within the Parthian  borders would organize  expeditionary armies in aid of their brothers in Eretz Yisroel
For these  reasons it was  deemed necessary to make a convincing  example of Gamla  a the very outset.

As  expected, Gamla  held well against he Romans. Roman assaults were repulsed as the Jews rained  death down on the attackers . In a bold  move the Romans  led by their commander managed to tunnel under one of the watch towers and undermined it so  that it  crumbled down into the ravine.
The Romans  then rushed into the gap with  the Jewish fighters pulling  their families up the slope on the roofs towards the hump of the mountain.
Josephus describes how the Romans hotly  pursued them on the roofs and then, suddenly,  due  to the  extreme weight of the soldiers bunching together charging up, the roofs buckled and the soldiers fell into the buildings and  down the slope.
Panic  broke out. In the  thick of the night and  clouds  of  dust the stunned Romans   hacked at each other as they  beat  a hasty retreat out the  walls .

But this was just a tactical victory for the  defenders of Gamla.
The Romans filled in the ravine and brought up the entire army to the walls careful not to  repeat  their earlier mistakes.
What happened  next was inevitable. The Romans slowly made their way up  the slope forcing the defenders to the summit as the  defenders  formed a  protective ring  around their families at  the very top.  Rather than fall into the  hands of the sadistic Romans, they took their  families  by their   hands  and leaped  to the depths  of  the ravine. One can guess  only  imagine the mass hysteria and their final  cries as the ravine  floor rushed up towards  them   towards  certain death. .. Shema yisroel…

Thus Gamla  fell. Four years later the  Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and three years  after that the last strong hold, Masada was the scene of the  famous  last   stand.

For  almost two thousand years Gamla  lie in ruins. Her stones sharing the  story with  no one
It was only  after the miraculous Six Day War of 1967 that  her sons returned to her. When Israeli forces liberated the Golan from  the Syrian attackers above,  Israeli archaeologists  were thrilled at  the opportunity to  explore and uncover that part of the home land. And uncover they did! Dozens of Jewish towns with synagogues, ritual baths,  Hebrew inscriptions… even  one adorning  the study hall of one of the  authors of the Talmud! Rabbi Ekiezer  Hakapar’s !
In  Gamla was   found the oldest  synagogue in the world!
The story  of the  first brave Jewish  stand against the Roman Empire was revealed by Prof Shmirayu Gutman  who I had the honor of speaking with as he uncovered the  site in 1979.  When  he held up a coin found in Gamla which displays   the word “redemption” and a vessel from the Temple, tears came to his eyes as he exclaimed, “now I understand what  all this sacrifice was for.  It was not for Gamla alone  but rather it was for the “redemption” The redemption of Jerusalem and the Jewish People. It was for this they gave their lives.”

And today , Gamala  and the Golan is  back  where it  belongs. No longer forlorn, an orphan occupied by conquerors. Today there are dozens of modern Jewish towns on the Golan and Gamla is visited by throngs of visitors who pay their  respect and learn   from the stones that  have been redeemed from the dust  by returning sons and daughters
No wonder , the  residents of the Golan Heights chose to list   the names of  their sons who fell in the modern wars of Israel on a  dramatic perch over looking Gamla.
Each village and town today has  its name engraved in the stones over looking the  former Jewish strong hold.   Inscribed in the  stones is in  bold letters is:  GAMLA SHALL FALL NO  MORE”