They went to high school together, joined the army together, built homes together, grew middle-aged and paunchy together. Their wives are best friends, their children are inseparable. Each wears glasses and an earring in his left ear.
But when it comes to making peace with Syria--and giving up their homes and livelihoods in the Golan Heights after 32 years of Israeli control--Sheffi Mor and Uri Zelzion part ways.
Sheffi, reluctantly, believes an accord is possible. Uri, bitterly, is opposed. "We're like a married couple," said Uri, who, like his best friend, is 40 years old. "We disagree on everything."
They sip their beers and laugh, but each knows this is no laughing matter. For after 21 years in this Golan community, Sheffi and Uri are bracing themselves for a diplomatic thunderclap that both realize would change their lives forever.
As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak prepares to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa in Washington on Wednesday, much of Israel is on tenterhooks. Opinion polls portray a nation deeply divided, torn between the yearning for peace and doubts about its costs.
No Israeli has the slightest doubt that making peace with Syria also means leaving the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981. That is the price Syria has vowed to exact for peace. That is the price over which Israel has begun a raw and emotional national debate. And that is the price on which Uri and Sheffi cannot agree.
Meet Uri first. He is the idealist. His family has been in the land that is now Israel for nine generations, and he was weaned on the fervor of Zionism, the building of a Jewish homeland. As a teenager in the army, he joined a special unit assigned to construct outposts in the occupied territories, and he came to Kibbutz Moran Golan in 1978.
He was 19, proud and patriotic, and he was doing his country's bidding. Successive governments told young Israelis in the 1970s and '80s to come and settle the Golan, and so Uri did. He acknowledges now that it made things easier that the Golan's wide-open spaces were beautiful, that the living was easy--and the kibbutz's communal farms were full of lovely young women from Europe and America who came to volunteer and mingle. Kibbutz Moran Golan grew large and prosperous, raising chickens, cattle and dairy cattle, manufacturing engines and tending orchards.
"All the governments of Israel helped me to come here," he said. "I came not because it was easy, but because I believed in something, I was doing something for the country. This was the purest Zionism, to build the country. This was the ideal.
"And now everything I believed in, everything I fought for is collapsing. You feel your government betrayed you. Now they're telling me: 'Get lost. We fooled you for 21 years. We deceived you.' "
On that deception, Uri says now, he made a life. On land that was once a battlefield seeded with mines, he built a family home, got married, had three children. He opened a coffee shop and crisscrossed Israel on weekends. On vacations, he traveled the world.
He was a bit of a hippie in his clogs and turquoise earring, a bit of a dreamer in his faith that the government would never abandon the Golan. Today, he is more than a bit angry. If Barak makes a deal to return the Golan to Syria--and Israelis agree to it in a referendum--he says he will leave the country for good.
Like many Israelis, he does not trust Hafez Assad, the Syrian president. Nor does he trust President Clinton, whose main motive, he suspects, is not to ensure Israel's security but to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He cannot understand how a genuine peace built on trust can be reached within months. Better, he says, to give it a generation.
"This the quietest border Israel has had for 25 years," he said. "So why rush?"
Now meet Sheffi. He is an idealist, too. But Sheffi's idealism is of a different kind, rooted not in Zionism or personal devotion, but in geopolitical calculus. Like Uri, Sheffi cannot quite imagine a life other than on the kibbutz. But like Barak, he thinks Israel must embrace peace with Syria even if the price is painful.
"The problem is not my private problem," said Sheffi, soft-spoken and low-key, an economic official for the kibbutz. "It's a problem for the whole state of Israel."
For Sheffi, whose parents came from Eastern Europe, the Golan is not about ideology. He settled here simply because he loved it. He wants Syria to prove it is sincere about peace, and he thinks Israel should move cautiously. But in the end, both countries will be winners, he said.
"Even though the process is taking place in the year 2000, the real benefit will be a generation later," he said. "To give or not to give the land is not the point. The point is whether two nations that have been in a bloody conflict for 100 years can live together with open borders and open economies. Of course on one level it's about the land, but there are more important values."
So yes, Sheffi said, peace is worth the price of the Golan. But don't ask him where he would go or what he would do after an Israeli withdrawal. "I don't want to think about it," he said.
Uri, listening intently, nodded.
"What I said is from here," he said, pointing to his gut, "not from here"--his head.
Said Sheffi: "My answer is from my head, not from my gut."
CAPTION: A Muslim resident of the Golan Heights displays a Syrian flag during a peaceful anti-Israeli demonstration at a village near the Syrian border.
CAPTION: A boy waves a Syrian flag during anti-Israeli demonstration in the Golan Heights yesterday--the anniversary of Israel's annexation of the territory.