Israel's Western Galilee under fire following rocket barrage - reporter's notebook

This community has been under threat of rocket fire for years.

 The damage done by a rocket attack in the northern Israel town of Shlomi, on April 6, 2023. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
The damage done by a rocket attack in the northern Israel town of Shlomi, on April 6, 2023.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

In Shlomi, along the border with Lebanon in the Western Galilee, a rocket fell in the street next to a small shopping area that includes a bank, a law firm and a sandwich shop that specializes in baguettes.

The stores were closed because of the Passover holiday but a nearby gas station was open. A truck that supplies gas to the station drove by just before the rocket fell, said one of those who was near the scene when it happened.

This community has been under threat of rocket fire for years. Residents say that while many homes have bomb shelters, some areas are not protected. Some of the younger people have only a vague recollection of the 2006 war when many had to flee after a month of fighting with Hezbollah.

Now that fear looms again. Some are worried that the tensions will spoil tourism, much needed to boost the economy that has been hard hit in the region. Residents were angry on Thursday after the attack. They gathered near the bank, whose windows had been shattered, and demanded that calm be restored. They were angry that rockets were being fired during Passover.

Shlomi, Betzet damaged by rocket barrage

I arrived in Shlomi two hours after the rocket fell here. The road led me from the Krayot near Haifa, along the coast and then inland. The town lies beneath a ridge that forms the border with Lebanon. It is in a valley that spills out into the Mediterranean.

Damage done by a rocket attack in Betzet, April 6, 2023. (SETH FRANTZMAN)

Shlomi has a population of some 7,000. Nearby Nahariya is one of the central cities in this region, but Acre to the south of Nahariya is only a 15-minute drive away. This area is historic as well. On a hill above the site of the rocket impact are an old church and tomb of an Arab Christian community that existed here before 1948, called Al-Bassa.

The area of the impact is near an industrial zone, but there is also a synagogue here; children gathered at its gate to watch the goings-on as media and security forces gathered at the site.

A group of state inspectors also arrived to record information from the business owners regarding the damage. They will be compensated. The damage mostly appeared to affect windows and a sign, as well as part of the street and a neighboring building, whose roof was smashed up by shrapnel. By late afternoon the bank was boarded up.

Down the road from the impact in Shlomi is the small community of Betzet, a moshav founded in 1951. It only has a few hundred residents. An open yellow gate greets visitors and there is a sign directing them to a gallery. There are several roundabouts along the way and then a new neighborhood at the end of the historic community. Here, a rocket landed on an agricultural shed and caused a fire.

A white van was badly damaged; firefighters operating their truck were still dousing the site hours after the impact. Across the street is a kindergarten with a sign for the children’s book Trofoti, the Gruffalo in English. It was another example of how a rocket can badly affect civilian areas.

There were no children at the kindergarten due to the holiday and a few residents gathered to see the fire truck at work, including a father and his young son. For the kids the scene was a novelty; for the adults, the memory of past wars was conjured up. Several people stood in small groups discussing where they had been in 2006, or in 1982 during Operation Peace for Galilee and its aftermath.

As darkness encroached, the hills between us and Lebanon became jet black. The Café Joe at the nearby gas station loomed large; I went to grab a strong cup of coffee. Calm had returned momentarily as news arrived of an incident in Metulla, along the Lebanese border in the east.

A small municipal vehicle that cleans streets began working. A laborer at one of the nearby factories ambled into the coffee shop and asked for two large bottles of Coca-Cola and two packs of Noblesse cigarettes. Passover was over, the stars were out and a planet could be seen in the night sky.