'A day of mourning in the frontline towns'

Northern residents plan to ‘disengage’ from Israel in Independence Day protest

Residents and communities to hold a series of protests against government’s inability to allow some 60,000 residents, evacuated due to border fighting, to return to their homes

Smoke rises from a rocket fired from Lebanon into northern Israel as it is seen from Kiryat Shmona, May 5, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Smoke rises from a rocket fired from Lebanon into northern Israel as it is seen from Kiryat Shmona, May 5, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Residents of northern Israel will mark Independence Day next week with marches, demonstrations and a symbolic secession from Israel to protest the government’s inability to enable thousands of displaced citizens to return home, officials said Friday.

Around 60,000 residents of towns and villages along Israel’s northern border have been forced from their homes since October due to near-daily cross-border rocket and anti-tank missile attacks by Hezbollah and other terrorists in southern Lebanon. The attacks have persisted despite constant Israeli warnings that it could launch a war to push the threat away from the border and return normalcy to the region, with most evacuees facing the prospect of remaining homeless for the foreseeable future.

“This year, Independence Day is a day of mourning in the frontline towns. In the frontline towns, there are no lives. No people. No families,” said Mateh Asher Regional Council head Moshe Davidovich.

Among the protests planned for the country’s 76th anniversary, which will be marked Monday night and Tuesday, eight towns in close proximity to the Israeli-Lebanese border will lock their gates in a symbolic action. At the same time, meanwhile, demonstrations are being planned to block major intersections in the north, the Walla news site reported.

“Yes, [we’re protesting] on Independence Day,” Shlomi Regional Council head Gabi Na’aman told Walla. “We are facing a government that doesn’t know how to decide what and how, and there’s a tough feeling that the government has disengaged from us – so we are disengaging from it.”

On Thursday, a group of northern municipal and regional officials organized into the so-called “Frontline Forum” announced that they would mark Independence Day with a symbolic secession from Israel and found the “State of the Galilee.”

“Flags will not be hung on balconies” in the State of the Galilee, said Davidovich, who heads the forum.

He added that locals would join city officials at major road junctions for demonstrations “over the loss of direction and the lack of focus of the Israeli government.”

“All the heads of the frontline authorities will organize together with the residents and cleanse the government from within us,” Davidovich told the Ynet news site, expressing anger and distrust in the national leadership. “We will create a process of disengaging from the irresponsible government that has given up on the most beautiful part of the country in Israel, and we will take action soon.”

According to Walla, the protesters were galvanized into action over reports that Netanyahu responded dismissively to concerns that northerners could still be displaced once the school year begins on September 1.

“So what if they return to their homes a few months after September,” Hebrew media quoted him as telling a recent cabinet meeting.

Mateh Asher Regional Council chairman Moshe Davidovich. (CC BY-SA Kobi Gideon/GPO, Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, the government plan for the rehabilitation of northern Israel is set to be voted on in the cabinet next week. However, Ynet reported Friday that northern residents are highly dissatisfied with the proposed resolution.

According to the report, a proposed plan was devised by the Prime Minister’s Office’s Director-General Yossi Shelley but was scrapped after it was discovered that northern municipalities were not involved in the planning.

Work began on a new plan that would supposedly take into account the concerns of northern residents. However, Davidovich, who also serves as chairman of the Mateh Asher Regional Council, sent a letter to Shelley saying that their comments were still being disregarded.

Davidovich said the plan does not provide details regarding what funds will be allocated to each town, and that will lead to infighting between northern municipalities over funding.

“The plan boasts about projects and budgets that already exist in government offices, but makes sure to ignore every emphasis, project, and need that we raised,” Davidovich wrote.

One issue raised is the NIS 1.4 billion ($375 million) the plan provides collectively to all northern towns for protection from rocket fire, while Kiryat Shmona — which has been hit many times since the beginning of hostilities with Hezbollah on October 8 — requires on its own NIS 2 billion ($536 million) to adequately deal with the issue.

Another complaint is that the program provides no tax benefits to northern residents, thereby disincentivizing residents and businesses from returning to the bombarded area.

“On January 23, Netanyahu was with us in a meeting and promised that within ten days a plan for the north would be passed, including a budget of 3.5 billion shekels,” Davidovich told Ynet. “Five months have passed and no budget has been transferred. They are playing with us. The businesses in the north have collapsed, the displaced residents are helpless, and there is no response from Jerusalem.”

A damaged home following a rocket attack in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, May 5, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Nisan Ze’evi, the founder of the “1701 Lobby,” an organization seeking to remove the threat of Hezbollah from Israel’s northern border and named after the UN Security Council resolution that the Lebanese terror group regularly violates, told Ynet: “Instead of listening to the needs [of locals], government officials present an embarrassing plan that only drives more and more residents away from the Galilee. If a decision is passed without a clear definition of the needs of the frontline communities, new budget sources and a plan for the rehabilitation of towns in the Galilee, Hezbollah will be able to declare an absolute victory.”

The government responded to the Ynet report, saying that the long-term rehabilitation plan will be designed with local communities and according to their needs.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in nine civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 295 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 59 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 60 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

There are an estimated 60,000-80,000 Israelis who remain internally displaced since the beginning of the war, which broke out on October 7 following the terror group Hamas’s attack on Israel in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 252.

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