Thousands visit North to view damage

It's still too dangerous to hang around, soldiers say.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Thousands flocked to the North Saturday to view the damage left behind by the war against Hizbullah and show solidarity with local residents. In the northern town of Metulla, the border fence was packed with tourists taking pictures of themselves with the Lebanese village of Kafr Gila in the background. Families with kids and dogs, lovers holding hands and bikers in groups all poured in Saturday morning, many of them unfolding maps and trying to figure out which village in Lebanon they were looking at. Just past noon though, after IDF tanks and armored vehicles still patrolling the area got stuck in a traffic jam, soldiers brandished a military order and forced the tourists out. Underscoring the fragility of Monday's cease-fire, the soldiers said it was still too dangerous to be here. Ayala Shalom said she wanted to see Lebanon as well as the devastation to her country. "It's supposed to be green, but it's black now," said Shalom, 23, who toured the area with her family from Tel Aviv. Other tourists were more interested in seeing life get back to normal in the picturesque northern hills, which are normally a popular tourist destination at this time of year. There was much criticism during the war that the government didn't do enough to help the tens of thousands of citizens of the North who were forced by Hizbullah rocket fire to flee or live in bomb shelters for more than a month. "We came here to give them a push [of encouragement]," said Eitan Sade, 39, who traveled with a group of 12 families from central Israel to relax at Kibbutz Gonen, near the border. The kibbutz was crowded with visitors swimming in its pool and eating ice cream. He said his group wasn't interested in going on tours of sites hit by rockets, which was offered by the kibbutz management. "We're not here to see disasters, we saw enough on the TV," he said. Jerusalem residents Anita Clark and Patty Mitchell, who work for a Christian charity that helps people harmed in Palestinian terrorist attacks, said they were trying to see the border area now because they thought there would be a war here again soon, making it impossible to visit. "We were so saddened to see the tanks heading south," Clark, 64, said of watching military vehicles withdrawn from Lebanon returning to bases. "It's not finished, there's still work to be done." "This is just a momentary lull because nothing was resolved," added Mitchell, 56. The military's decision to push tourists away - and the sentiments expressed by many returning soldiers over the past week - seemed to be colored by the same perception. "It looks like it's quiet, but it's not," said a soldier who held a military order declaring the border area at Metulla a closed military zone. "It's still very dangerous. They still have guns and [Hizbullah] flags. They're not shooting now, but they can." Earlier, a handful of tourists made their way through an apple orchard to another spot in Metulla, where just 15 meters away, Lebanese villagers could be seen through a barbed wire border fence, doing some of the same things. At least two Lebanese men stuck out their tongues. One put his thumb in his ear and wiggled his fingers. Many flashed victory signs, and one blue minibus traveling on a road had a picture of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbullah leader, pasted onto its back right window, facing Israel. After about 20 minutes, two IDF soldiers emerged from the orchard and told everyone to leave. "We don't want any problems. The shooting stopped just a few days ago," one of them said. The soldiers smiled and waved at a group of Lebanese villagers who stopped to look over, but shouted at them to keep going when they looked like they wanted to approach for an interview. The villagers obeyed and drove away.