Golan Heights

By Nir Elias

On one of my recent visits to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights I bumped into a group of Israeli cowboys working their herd near the tense frontier with Syria, where a civil war is raging just several miles away.

GALLERY: GOLAN HEIGHTS’ COWBOYS

After taking some photos of the men with the Hermon mountain range in the background, I was able to arrange a full day shoot. Arriving before the crack of dawn, I was welcomed with a steaming cup of coffee by the head cowboy, Nadav. Joined by four other riders, we saddled up and rode out.

Each cowboy made his own fashion statement. Nadav was dressed for the trail – no tassels or frills, just workers’ pants, a button-down shirt and a broad, weather-beaten brown leather Stetson. Alon looked like he had just walked out a fashion shoot, accessorizing his get-up with a Zippo lighter, a multi-tool Leatherman, an extra knife and a pack of cigarettes.

Yakir, who grew up with horses and cattle on a kibbutz, or collective farm, wore a simple t-shirt and jeans with a baseball cap.

I came away from my day on the range with a keen respect for the professional way the men tackled a tough job on rocky terrain. It was a refreshing break from taking photos of some of the more familiar images of the Israeli-Arab conflict and a reminder that unique, individual characters are very much part of the overall story.