Fortress of strength

Metzudat Koach, a mandate-era British fortress built by Jews, offers a breathtaking view of the Hula Valley and beyond.

Metzudat Koah 88 248 (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
Metzudat Koah 88 248
(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
Perched on the Naftali mountain range in the Galilee, Metzudat Koah affords visitors one of most spectacular views of the Hula Valley, ranging from the patchwork of fields and fish ponds far below to the Golan Heights opposite. The Hula Valley is part of the Syrian-African Rift, which was formed due to seismic activity. From the Metzudat Koah observation platform, one can map the course of the Jordan River, meandering through the kibbutzim and moshavim as it makes its way to the Sea of Galilee. In some spots, trees planted along the river's banks make the task easier. The water shimmering in the dozens of fish ponds and the Argamon Nature Reserve's lake and the orchards blossoming in purple, pink and white are all part of the stunning view from the fortress, which was the site of a bitter battle fought in the War of Independence. Overlooking the Hula Valley mosaic of today, it is difficult to picture the crisscross of reed-filled waterways and malarial swamps, home to water buffalo and wild boar, that the Jewish settlers in the 1880s found when they bought land and founded Yesud Hama'ala. They began a desperate struggle to drain the swamps and build a community. Metzudat Koah ("Fortress of Strength") is situated close to the tomb of Nebi Yusha (Prophet Joshua) and sometimes known by that name. It's a formidable building, used these days by the Border Police. Although similar in design to the British-built Tegart forts constructed in Palestine during Mandate times, Metzudat Koah - although commissioned by the British - was constructed by Jewish workers in the Histadrut Labor Federation-founded construction company Solel Boneh. The fortress is smaller than most Tegart forts and features an uncharacteristic round turret. A bright orange sign, with Hebrew text on one side and English on the other, explains Metzudat Koah's history. A group of soldiers on an educational field trip spread themselves out on the tables overlooking the view of the Hula below. They make notes as their guide, another young soldier, relates what happened here just over 60 years ago. The British Army had evacuated most of this area of the Upper Galilee by the middle of April 1948. Key points were taken over by Arab forces, including Metzudat Koah, commanding the main road in the area as well as the roads to the Jewish settlements of Moshav Ramot Naftali and Kibbutz Manara. In the evening of April 15, 1948, soldiers from Golani, Palmah and local community militias attacked the former British fortress, which was held by well-armed Arab forces. They arrived in two armored cars and two Egged buses covered in metal plating. After meeting exceptionally strong fire, during which four of the Jewish soldiers were killed, the forces withdrew. Five days later, the 3rd Palmah Battalion made a second attempt on the position. They broke through the barriers, reaching the fortress walls. Two soldiers were badly wounded and, awaiting their evacuation, delayed the detonation of explosives intended to break through the wall. During the evacuation of the wounded, the soldiers came under extremely heavy fire and 22 Jewish fighters were killed. A memorial wall commemorates the total of 28 soldiers who lost their lives before Metzudat Koah was eventually conquered. Koah has a double meaning, as in gematria it corresponds to "28," and the word in Hebrew means "strength." As they pick up their pens, paper and guns, the soldiers seem to be in complete awe of what went on six decades earlier at this strategically important hilltop. Taking a last look at the unattractive concrete fortress, one cannot help but ponder the fact that Jewish workers in pre-State Israel had labored so hard to build what years later would take so many Jewish lives in battle.