Thursday, 1 November 2007

Echoes from the Past - Kiryat Shmona

Today I met two visitors, a young Israeli surfer and his girlfriend, who have been staying in GL (General Luna) for some time now. Cloud 9, our local surfing break, is popular with Israeli surfers, particularly because Indonesia (which, quite frankly, has better surfing spots) does not allow entry to Israeli tourists due to the Israeli Government's treatment of Palestinians.
Surfers, on the whole, are a good bunch, an apolitical lot, but, inevitably, conversations with Israelis turn, particularly in my case, and in my house, to the Israeli/Palestinian issue.
We had an entirely friendly and polite, but sometimes heated discussion, in which the girl, a resident of Tel Aviv, brought up the 'terrible situation of her relatives' in Kiryat Shmona, right in the north of Israel, by the Lebanese border.
The name of the town rang a bell in my mind, but I didn't know much about the situation there now, so I've checked the facts:

Wikipedia says, verbatim:
Kiryat Shmona (Hebrew: קִרְיַת שְׁמוֹנָה‎, "City of the Eight", alternatively spelt קריית שמונה) is a city located in the North District of Israel on the western slopes of the Hula Valley on the Lebanese border. The name was named for the eight people, including Joseph Trumpeldor, who died in 1920 defending Tel Hai. Today, about one-third of Kiryat Shmona’s population of 22,000 are younger than 19, and the majority of its inhabitants are Jews, particularly of Moroccan descent.
On May 11, 1948, the Haganah rejected the request by the residents of al-Khalisa request [sic] for an "agreement". Villagers fled from their homes after hearing news of the fall of Safad and sought refuge in Hunin. In later weeks, a few of them decided to return in order to dig up money they had buried in their land, or to harvest some of their tobacco and grain. They reported that the Israeli forces had burned and destroyed many of the houses.

The settlement of Qiryat Shemona was established in 1950 on the village site as a transit camp for immigrants who worked mainly in farming. Stone rubble from the houses marks the site whilst the school, village mosque and minaret, as well as the Mandate government's office buildings stand abandoned. The level land surrounding the site was cultivated by the settlers and has continued to be done so.
Kiryat Shmona has been the scene of several attacks from Arab terrorists operating from across the Lebanese border.

On April 11, 1974, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, sent three members across the border from Lebanon to Kiryat Shmona. They killed eighteen residents of an apartment building, including many children, before being killed in an exchange of fire at the complex (see Kiryat Shmona massacre).
The city continued to be the target of attacks after this, including Katyusha rocket attacks by the PLO in July 1981, a Katyusha rocket attack by the PLO in March 1986 (killing a teacher and injuring four students and one adult), and further Katyusha rocket attacks by Hezbollah during 1996's Operation Grapes of Wrath. The citizens of the town had suffered almost daily attack from the mid 70's until the year 2000, when the IDF left Lebanon. In the years 2000-2006 the locals suffered loud explosion noises every few weeks because of Anti Plane rockets launched at IDF planes flying nearby.
During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, the city often received media attention because of its being the frequent target of multiple Hezbollah Katyusha rocket attacks. On July 13, 2006, Kiryat Shmona closed its courts due to the ongoing danger of rocket attacks. The next day, three Hezbollah rockets landed in the town. On July 17, Hezbollah launched more Katyusha rockets that hit Kiryat Shmona and neighboring towns. The night of July 17, as a barrage of Hezbollah rockets were launched into northern Israeli communities, a Katyusha hit a house near Kiryat Shmona. During the war, a total of 1012 Katyusha rockets hit Kiryat Shmona. Approximately half of the city’s residents had left the area, and the other half who remained stayed in bomb shelters.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To which I would add:

  • Al Khalisa, the original Arab village on the site of Kiryat Shmona, is no more, erased, forgotten, like another 400 or so villages after the Nakba of 1948.
  • The Kiryat Shmona Massacre of April 11, 1974 was a result of 3 members of the PFLP-GC infiltrating the town from Lebanon, getting besieged by the IDF in an apartment block, and killing the residents before being killed themselves. I cannot excuse the actions of the PFLP-GC, but then, I cannot excuse the incompetence of the IDF in getting their own citizens killed during the siege.
  • The 1974 PFLP-GC raid (and a similar incident at Ma'alot) were the direct excuses for Israel's punitive air raids on Beirut for some time onwards, one of which, later that year, killed the eldest son of my own daily house cleaner, Umm Ahmad, as related in my previous post A Terrible Anniversary.
  • Those subsequent collective punishments are mentioned absolutely nowhere in the published narratives on Kiryat Shmona (or Ma'alot).
  • I completely concur with the Israeli condemnation of the attacks on the two Israeli settlements, but find it extremely difficult to concur with the apparent erasure of any Israeli mention of their subsequent vengeful retributions on the capital city of their neighbouring sovereign nation.
  • From 1982 until 2000, the Israeli Army fully occupied a belt of Southern Lebanon, but apparently failed to prevent rocket attacks (claimed, but unspecified, in the Wikipedia article).
  • From 2000, following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon after defeat by Hezbollah, a purely local Lebanese resistance group, until July 2006, the IDF continued to overfly southern Lebanon, in the complete absence of any viable Lebanese air defence. As the Wikipedia article details, the locals suffered loud explosion noises every few weeks - because of Anti Plane rockets launched at IDF planes flying nearby - but no deaths or injuries.
  • On 12 July 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon. The conflict killed more than a thousand people, most of whom were Lebanese civilians; severely damaged Lebanese infrastructure; and displaced 974,184 Lebanese. After the ceasefire, some parts of Southern Lebanon remained uninhabitable due to unexploded cluster bombs (about a million of them), fired in the very last days of the invasion.
  • Hezbollah retaliated with rocket attacks on Northern Israel, as detailed, on 13 July 2006, Kiryat Shmona closed its courts. The rockets frightened the living daylights out of the residents of Kiryat Shmona, half of whom fled, and half of whom stayed in bomb shelters.
  • The Wikipedia article claims 1012 rockets hit Kiryat Shmona during that month-long invasion and retreat, but gives details of only 4 of them, one of which ' hit a house near Kiryat Shmona'. Not a single resident of Kiryat Shmona was injured or killed.

Perhaps this small story may persuade you to agree with my utter lack of sympathy for the 'poor little besieged Nation of Israel' myth.

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