'We want security, not a false sense of security'

Civilians in Israel’s north lobby world leaders to make Hezbollah keep UN truce lines

Terror group refuses to withdraw forces as agreed in 2006’s UN Resolution 1701, making southern Lebanon a stronghold; Lobby 1701 works to prevent a repeat of the Oct. 7 massacre

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Nisan Zeevi, far right, with other Lobby 1701 members at a ceremony to commemorate the battle of Tel Hai in 1920 on March 21, 2024. (Courtesy)
Nisan Zeevi, far right, with other Lobby 1701 members at a ceremony to commemorate the battle of Tel Hai in 1920 on March 21, 2024. (Courtesy)

Nisan Zeevi worked for nine years to develop the Upper Galilee region. He founded Lobby 1701 this past December to save it.

Lobby 1701 is a citizens’ group that has appealed directly to US President Joe Biden, French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, and the international community to demand the implementation of United Nations Resolution 1701. The resolution called for a permanent ceasefire between the Iranian-backed proxy group, Hezbollah, and Israel, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. It also specified the creation of a demilitarized zone between Israel’s northern border and the Litani River in Lebanon.

Despite the presence of UNIFIL, the United Nations International Force in Lebanon, Hezbollah has violated Resolution 1701 for the past 17 years, turning southern Lebanon into its stronghold with an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.

Almost immediately after the October 7 massacre — when some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians — Hezbollah began striking Israeli communities and military posts. Since then, some 80,000 residents have been evacuated from 43 communities in the Upper Galilee and northern Israel.

On Wednesday, a Hezbollah rocket barrage killed a 25-year-old man in Kiryat Shmona named by media reports as Zaher Bashara, a resident of the Druze village of Ein Qiniyye. So far, the skirmishes on the northern border have resulted in eight civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 10 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Lobby 1701 is calling on the international community to use all its diplomatic means to pressure Hezbollah to abide by Resolution 1701 and withdraw its forces to the Litani River. That hasn’t happened yet. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has stated that if diplomacy doesn’t work, Israel will push Hezbollah away from the border by force. That hasn’t happened yet, either, said Zeevi.

“The facts show that diplomacy and UNIFIL have been unable to take Hezbollah’s rockets, military equipment and weapons out of people’s homes and underground bunkers in southern Lebanon,” said Zeevi, a former vice president of Margalit Startup City Galil, a group that had encouraged business and educational development in the Upper Galilee to attract people to the region. Yet now, the Upper Galilee has become a closed military zone.

Nisan Zeevi, founder of Lobby 1701, in front of the gate at Kfar Giladi. (Courtesy)

“We’re kicked out of our homes,” Kiryat Shmona resident Bat-Hen Lavi, a Lobby 1701 member, recently told Israeli TV news channel i24. “If the UN is unable to back this resolution to guarantee our safety, then we will press the government to solve it by military means.”

“Resolution 1701 clearly states that there is not supposed to be any terror organization south of the Litani,” said Dror Gavish, 40, a mental health officer in the IDF’s Northern Reserve Division, who has stayed on in Kibbutz HaGoshrim while his family have become “internal refugees.” Gavish said the US, France and the UN signed the resolution, yet Israel never demanded implementation of it. People in Israel’s north had a false sense of security that ended abruptly on October 7.

“We saw what our brothers and sisters went through in the south,” Gavish said. “We could be next, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

Gavish said the situation has become “unbearable,” and Israel must do “whatever it takes” to allow Israelis to return to their homes.

The Misgav Am Lookout, damaged by Hezbollah rockets. (Courtesy)

“If the United States government persuaded Israel to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in 2006, we expect it to support Israel now,” Gavish said.

Mediators from the US and France have been trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution to prevent what many predict would be a devastating war with thousands of casualties on both sides. But Sarit Zehavi, founder and president of the Alma Education and Research Center in Northern Israel, said that Hezbollah is “doing everything it can to drive Israel into a war.”

“We’re just waiting for Hezbollah,” said Omri Sofer, a Lobby 1701 member and commander of the Local Defense Unit in Kibbutz Misgav Am, located on a hilltop on the northern border. Instead of a demilitarized strip inside southern Lebanon guaranteeing Israel’s security, the evacuated north has become the security strip.

“We’re the shield of Israel,” Sofer, 41, said, less with pride than distress. “We’re on the frontline. We don’t want to be the shield. We want soldiers to guard us and they’re not. There are no soldiers between us and Hezbollah.”

He said that the first responsibility of a state is to defend its citizens.

“It’s like a contract,” Sofer said. “And in Israel, that contract was broken on October 7.” When he patrols the kibbutz, he sees the houses and visualizes them after Hezbollah has burned and destroyed them, much the same way that Hamas wrecked devastation to communities in the south.

“It’s just luck that the October 7 massacres didn’t happen here,” Sofer said. In fact, Hezbollah had planned to attack Israel in this way, according to Orna Mizrach, former deputy head of the National Security Council, but Hamas “stole” the idea and committed the atrocities instead.

Zeevi said that from an “optimistic angle,” the fact that the October 7 attack didn’t happen in the north “gave us a second chance to prepare ourselves.”

Omri Sofer, center, with a banner of thanks from children for the Emergency Response Team at Kibbutz Misgav Am. The children have all been evacuated and only the team is in the kibbutz. (Courtesy)

‘The government doesn’t see the north’

While the war with Hezbollah hasn’t started officially, Lobby 1701 members say that the abandoned communities and daily attacks are proof that the war is on. From March 17 through March 23, Hezbollah fired 76 mortar and artillery shells into Israel, along with 14 precision-guided missiles, and nine UAV infiltrations. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded. And that was only over one week.

In the town of Metula, 130 houses have been damaged by Hezbollah rockets. Mayor David Azulay, who has spent almost all of his time in the town’s war room since October 7, has the grim task of calling evacuated residents to inform them that their houses have been damaged.

Everywhere in the picturesque town are signs of war: bombed buildings, collapsed structures, shattered windows. Azulay is bitter about what he sees as the Israeli government’s abandonment.

“The government doesn’t see the north,” he said by telephone with The Times of Israel. “They don’t help us with our economy, our culture or our security. We continue to be rocketed. Nobody tells us anything, and we’re left in the dark.” He sounded frustrated — and exhausted.

What are his thoughts about Lobby 1701?

“I support every group that is trying to find a solution for us,” Azulay said.

Knesset members touring the north from left, Eliyahu Revivo, Yoav Segalovich, Lobby 1701 member Omri Sofer, Efrat Rayten and Merav Goldich of the Misgav Am Emergency Response Team. (Courtesy)

Knesset member Efrat Rayten toured the north with Lobby 1701 members recently. She initiated the Caucus for the Rehabilitation of the Northern Communities, citing that the heads of regional councils, civic organizations and local initiatives came to the aid of the residents.

She said she also met citizens “with incredible resourcefulness and initiative, who are frustrated by the lack of attention and uncertainty. They want answers, they want security, they want their lives back.”

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rayten demanded the establishment of a Northern Directorate, “but the government is dragging its feet on the issue. How long will it normalize this terrible routine?”

Nisan Zeevi speaking to a group of diplomats in Tel Aviv: ‘It’s impossible to rely on a diplomatic solution to the situation with Hezbollah.’ (Courtesy)

Zeevi said that he started Lobby 1701 with some of his best friends in the area to push the issue of permanent security in the north. The group, which he said represents the 80,000 evacuated Israelis, has been covered by a variety of foreign media, including Le Figaro, The Daily Telegraph and CNN. They’ve received messages of support, but no concrete action. When he hears anti-Israel protestors saying, “From the river to the sea,” he thinks, “from the border to the river.”

MK Yoav Segalovich, former deputy minister of internal security, also toured the north with Knesset members Rayten and Eliyahu Revivo.

Segalovich said that a national plan for the north is something “we are demanding together with Lobby 1701.”

He called for a comprehensive plan that addresses the economy, employment, academia, culture and the return of biotech and hi-tech companies, but there is nothing in the state budget to cover it.

For nine years, Zeevi encouraged 85 startups to start up in the Upper Galilee. He encouraged young families to move to the area and they did. “We thought we were living in Tuscany,” he said. No more.

Residents have been informed that they cannot return to their homes until July 2024, but a military source said that the date is more likely to be January 2025.

Zeevi said that thousands of families will never return if there is still a threat from Hezbollah.

“We can no longer be convinced by another shelter, fence or Iron Dome,” he said. “We want security, not a false sense of security.” He added that if people don’t come back to the region, it means that “Hezbollah has effectively occupied the north.”

And Gavish added, “If we give up our homes on the border, then nobody in the State of Israel is safe.”

Most Popular
read more: