In Washington, residents of Israel’s north highlight continued instability and Hezbollah threat

A delegation from northern Israel is in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with U.S. officials and Jewish community leaders

Residents of northern Israel, many of them evacuated from their homes or facing consistent rocket fire and threats from Hezbollah in Lebanon, are visiting Washington, D.C., this week in an effort to highlight the ongoing displacement and instability that they face, and the looming threat on Israel’s northern border.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, who helped arrange the trip through the organization that he formed after the Oct. 7 terror attacks, the Israel Advocacy Group, said that he’s hoping the delegation is able to elevate and bring greater attention to the issues in northern Israel — something he said few Americans are currently aware of. The group is planning to meet with members of Congress and the administration.

“Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless for eight months now, under constant rocket fire, large parts of the Galilee set on fire, dozens of people killed and wounded, and the potential here for a much, much greater conflict than that which has been raging in the South,” Oren said.

Speaking to Jewish Insider during the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum, delegation members highlighted the degree of destabilization they’ve faced since Oct. 7. Some have been displaced from their homes, while others who remain live under daily rocket attacks. Several worried that their displacement will become permanent, effectively shrinking the size of the country, with or without an actual Hezbollah invasion.

Judith Javor, 77, has been a resident of Metula for 30 years, with no idea when she’ll be able to return home. Her husband died of a stroke in December, and she had just hours to enter Metula under cover of night, with an IDF convoy, under missile fire, to bury him in “the most surreal funeral that you could ever imagine.”

“I can’t set up a headstone, I can’t go visit him, I can’t do anything,” Javor said. But Javor said she also counts herself lucky that she was able to bury her husband in Metula at all; others have not been able to do so, including family members of soldiers killed in action.

“I’m in Tel Aviv, [a] very nice apartment, and if you look at me externally, somebody who doesn’t understand [might ask], ‘What’s she complaining about?’ But I can’t go home. I’ve got no idea when I can go home,” Javor continued. “Everything you can think of, you have to start again. And it’s this never ending story, when [will it be over]? It’s difficult. You put a brave face on it, but it’s really not easy.”

Miri Armon lost her home to a direct hit from a Hezbollah missile, as did her brother, she told JI, the recollection bringing her to tears.

Karin Aviv, a resident of Kibbutz Matzuva, spent two weeks after Oct. 7 staying with friends, followed by four months in a hotel. She is now renting an apartment in an area of the north that is not evacuated, but is still close enough to the border that they hear sirens and explosions on a daily basis.

“Some areas are closed — war zone — and there’s no agriculture. [It is having a] very, very huge impact on financial [situations], security, education,” Aviv said. “Our kids don’t go to their schools, their friends live in different parts of the country, so the real close friends — they’re not together.”

She also noted that families will soon have to make longer-term decisions on their displacement — deciding, before September, where they will live for the coming school year.

“If they decide not to come back, or if they can’t come back because of the situation, then they’re going to spend the next school year in a different area,” Aviv said. “The kids will have new friends, and who knows if the families will decide to return home the year after.”

The mayor of Kiryat Shmona, Avichai Stern, raised this issue in an interview with eJewishPhilanthropy last month, warning that failing to resolve the situation on Israel’s northern border by the start of the school year would make it almost impossible to repopulate the evacuated city.

“If we don’t open the school year here on Sept. 1, it will be a disaster,” Stern said. “If people sign up their kids to study for the coming year somewhere else — no one is going to take a student out in the middle of the year. And if you’ve been living out of the city for a year or two, you’ll already be embedded in your [new] community, in the school. Your kid will have friends. And it will be much harder to bring them back.”

Karmelle Lang and her three children have had to move multiple times in the last eight months. She is still living and working remotely out of a hotel room, managing HR for a company based in Kiryat Shmona, many of whose employees are also displaced.

“Making the kids OK while making work people OK and still trying to get the job done as much as possible, it’s been tough,” Lang said. “Now we’re heading into the summer, and we are getting asked where we want to put the kids next year, and everything is up in the air. So hotel life and [being] unsure of what’s happening tomorrow has been very stressful.”

David Zigdon, a resident of Kiryat Shmona and CEO of the MIGAL Research Institute, warned that the ongoing displacement and destabilization has set back industry, agricultural development and start-ups in the region by a decade.

“This is our big problem now, to convince startups to come back,” Zigdon said. “The population … likes to work in high-tech, in biotech, in food tech. And now, when they have no [choice of] where to work, the good population will immigrate from the north to the south. And this is a big problem for Israel, at home, that we are going to shrink.”

He said that there’s a clearer plan to help evacuated southern communities return to normal, but “in the north, we know nothing.”

Nitsan Daniel, from Kibbutz Kfar Szold, just over three miles from the Lebanese border, emphasized that “this is not the final goal for Hezbollah … they want to invade the Galilee, they want to get over the Israeli towns, army bases. They are saying it out loud.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and delegation from northern Israel attend American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum

Yael Shavit, a resident of Yesud Hamalah, said that she felt it was important for the U.S. to hear from residents of the north personally.

“We are not here personally for ourselves. We talk for our people and because we live on the border under rocket fire … we don’t know when it’s going to end,” Shavit said. “That’s why we’re here, to answer questions and talk to people and explain [to] them … about the situation from [a] personal view. We represent everyone — tens of thousands of people.”

Oren told JI that, should Israel need to launch more extensive military operations in the north or in Southern Lebanon, it’s important that the world be aware of the threat and the situation there.

“It could get much, much worse because Hezbollah is creeping south with its rocket fire,” Oren said. “One of Israel’s great fears going back to 1948 is a war of attrition because we can’t win a war of attrition. Our enemies can. And what Hezbollah is doing now is a war of attrition. And they have an immense advantage in that. And they’re pressing that advantage to the fullest.”

AJC CEO Ted Deutch told JI that it’s critical for people to “understand firsthand what Israel is facing,” highlighting that the attacks in the north have received little public attention.

“We need to be prepared for what may happen as these attacks continue by Hezbollah,” Deutch said, “and at some point, Israel may face no choice but to respond forcefully.”

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