Israel's Northern Towns Want Economic Aid, Security

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel is planning to develop communities along its northern border despite the threat that its planned withdrawal from south Lebanon in July could bring fighting much closer to home.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak promised on Monday that an economic and social development plan for Israel's northern "confrontation-line" communities would be presented to the government by the end of April.

The head of the "forum of confrontation-line communities," Shlomo Buhbut, told that Israel was obligated to "strengthen" the north of the country, not just with tanks, but with "economic and social" assistance.

The forum, which represents about 300,000 Jewish and Arab Israelis who live along the border, is asking that not only its security but also economic and social needs be considered.

Buhbut explained that northern residents were less concerned about terrorist rocket attacks than about the fact there may not be homes and jobs for their children when they grow up. It was far better, he said, to have civilian communities in the area than military outposts.

On the other hand, residents are concerned that all they have built up over the years could be destroyed in a few attacks.

Buhbut said most northern residents were not against an Israeli withdrawal from the 10-mile wide buffer zone it has maintained for the past 15 years as a means to prevent cross-border terror attacks. However, they wanted a "withdrawal with wisdom."

"The Middle East is crazy," he said. It's clear that [the Lebanese Army] will not fill the vacuum that Israel leaves when it re-deploys from south Lebanon."

Israel had hoped to leave the security zone as part of an agreement with Lebanon, but the collapse of Israeli-Syrian talks scuttled the possibility of reaching an agreement with the Syrian-controlled government in Beirut.

Last week, Israel sought the help of the United Nations in securing the area in terms of UN Resolution 425, which provides for an international force to oversee an Israeli withdrawal.

Violence Continues

Residents of Moshav Margaliyot were shaken on Sunday when a Katyusha rocket slammed into their community. Dozens of chickens were killed, but no one injured, when a Hizballah rocket - apparently intended for a border outpost - landed on a chicken coop. spoke with the secretary of the community - located only 50 yards from the Lebanese border - just last week and was told that the community wanted specially built security rooms be added to each home.

Ironically, Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with representatives from the community in Jerusalem before the attack on Sunday and promised to set up an inter-ministerial committee to examine its special needs.

A statement from Barak's office later said that the government "intends to meet its commitments to the confrontation line communities." It also noted that the communities had certain "social and economic expectations."

Eitan Davidi, chairman of the secretariat of the community, told that Margaliyot would wait to see the outcome of the ministerial committee's examination of their situation.

In the meantime, Davidi said, the mood on the moshav, or collective farm, was "not good." The people were "bitter" after Sunday's attack.

Hizballah claimed responsibility for the attack on Margaliyot and earlier vowed to continue an escalation of attacks against Israel even though Israel is preparing to leave.

Hizballah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Friday the fighting would continue "if one centimeter of Lebanese soil remains under occupation."

Barak said the Katyusha attacks had "no bearing" on the pullout from Lebanon. If attacks continued after Israel re-deployed to the international border, he warned, Israel could "justifiably retaliate."