June 2, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

‘Post’ gives inside look into northern Israeli ghost towns amid endless war of attrition

Reporters Notebook: The area in the mountains between Safed and Meron, which has been frequently targeted by Hezbollah, felt quiet now, allowing to hear birds chirping. It doesn’t feel like war.
June 2, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

‘Post’ gives inside look into northern Israeli ghost towns amid endless war of attrition

Reporters Notebook: The area in the mountains between Safed and Meron, which has been frequently targeted by Hezbollah, felt quiet now, allowing to hear birds chirping. It doesn’t feel like war.

A man in a white shirt emblazoned with images of orange basketballs held an M-16 rifle as he tried to balance a large cup of coffee and his car keys in his other hand. He was trying to open the door to his silver Renault Fluence, standing by one of the few coffee shops that remain open near Kiryat Shmona.

The North of Israel, near Kiryat Shmona, felt deserted. There were cars on the road, but most were people going to essential work – agriculture or soldiers and police passing through. Inside Kiryat Shmona, the city was abandoned, as it has been for seven months now.

A few army jeeps and ambulances were around, and one row of shops was open, selling baked goods, falafel, and shwarma. Other than that, there was no one around. On one street, two cars were burned crisp from a projectile fired by Hezbollah. The playgrounds were empty; it was hard to imagine the sound of children here.

Nearby, on the roads near the Jordan River, paths that would normally be bloated with tourists at this time of year stood empty, with no one at the picnic tables. Concrete shelters have sprung up at bus stops in recent months to provide shelter for people who find themselves on the road, should a siren catch them in the middle.

Near Kfar Blum, an area often targeted by Hezbollah in the Hula Valley, there were a few agricultural workers in the fields with tractors. The area was tranquil and peaceful, mostly because there are very few people here, on roads that otherwise would have more cars and civilians.

To get to the Hula Valley, I took Highway 89, which heads from the Mediterranean over the mountains of Galilee and then spills out into the valley. There was more activity on this road, cutting through Hurfeish, Sasa, and other villages. These villages are populated by Druze and Arabs, and unlike the  =Jewish communities on the Lebanese border, they have not evacuated.

Beautiful silence, horrid landscape

The area in the mountains between Safed and Meron, which has been frequently targeted by Hezbollah, felt quiet now, allowing to hear the chirping of birds. It doesn’t feel like war.

However, down in the Hula Valley, smoke rises from the heights south of where Margaliot and other communities sit along the Lebanese border. One of these areas was targeted in the morning on Sunday morning, starting a fire.

The whole of the Hula Valley seemed exposed to Hezbollah fire; a warplane could be heard in the distance. The Golan Heights loom over, parched and dry, with Mount Dov and Mount Hermon visible in the distance, as is Metulla and the border with Lebanon.

I drove on the roads of the valley, but navigation applications don’t work in this area, as they haven’t for many months. So, I navigated the old-fashioned way, using signs. I wanted to get a coffee and something to eat, but it was hard to find a place and one that was open. I finally found one at Tzomet Goma.

Just as I arrived, explosions broke out in the distance over Kiryat Shmona, reverberating up and down the valley. More explosions followed an hour later as Iron Dome interceptors confronted the threats in the skies above.

This is the war in the North — an everyday thing. Every day, Hezbollah attacks, and Israel responds. However, for the civilians there is no sense of a war that is won, it is simply a daily cycle. There is no clarity on what the future holds here. And it has been this way for months, day in and day out. Every day brings more attacks – missiles, rockets and drones.

The civilians who remained do mostly essential work, like the emergency standby squads of the communities, soldiers, police, or ambulance drivers, as well as work in the fields. There didn’t seem to be many other civilians.

Much like the Hula Valley was drained a century ago, life has been drained from this valley. The swamps were drained to make way for new communities carved out of this valley by the Jewish pioneers who came here. What remains is the remnants of the Hula Lake, a once impassable area of reeds and swamps full of malaria. Today, the lake is a park.

But it is one that no one visits because of the war. It has thus reverted, in a way, to how it was before settlement. It is not the only place being grown over – the paths near the Jordan River are overgrown, the kayaking signs bleached in the spring sun, and there are no kayaks or summer activities. 

The North faces an endless war of attrition, one in which nobody wins.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power