Some 30 border towns are nearly deserted due to tension between Israel and Lebanon

Netanyahu’s government responds to the growing violence with the evacuation of 10,000 residents in an increasingly militarized region. The town of Kafar Yasif bids farewell to the last Arab-Israeli victim

Basel (left) receives condolences at the funeral for his father, an Arab-Israeli construction worker who died on Sunday in an attack by Hezbollah.
Basel (left) receives condolences at the funeral for his father, an Arab-Israeli construction worker who died on Sunday in an attack by Hezbollah.Luis de Vega
Luis de Vega

Fifty men surround the two sons of Mufed Sanoono, 57, during his funeral. This is the latest Israeli civilian killed amid growing violence on the border that separates the north of this country from Lebanon. “God wanted to take him away,” explains Ziad, 27, the youngest son of this Muslim family, during the last farewell to his father inside a mosque in Kafar Yasif. A 24-year-old Israeli soldier also died on Sunday in the same region in a similar attack from the neighboring country. That death brings the fatalities to 17 since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas on October 7.

Israeli authorities on Monday ordered the evacuation of Shtula — where Sanoono was killed in an attack by the Hezbollah guerrilla — and 27 other towns located within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of Israel’s border with Lebanon. In total, about 10,000 people are affected and have been offered temporary accommodation. EL PAÍS has verified that although these border towns are practically deserted, they have not been completely evacuated yet despite the fact that, according to military sources, it was mandatory to leave before Monday night. The area is heavily militarized and abundant movements of troops and army vehicles are on view.

The town of Hanita stands on a wooded promontory that forms a perfect balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and an ocean of greenhouses that grow crops. A group of soldiers heads down a steep forest track up the mountain from that town. They are equipped with backpacks and other equipment and headed towards the nearby demarcation line between the two countries. In the town of Shlomi, located down the mountain, Johnny, 37, is preparing to leave his home and relocate with his family, following the government’s plan. At a nearby roundabout, Teresa, a South African national, waits for her company van to go to work. She explains that both she and her husband are aware of the evacuation plan, but that no one, for the moment, has forced them to leave their home. Some of the people consulted by this newspaper did not want to provide their last name or age. Others, not even their name.

Fifteen kilometers (9.3 miles) further east, Shani, a 37-year-old soldier, is part of the checkpoint that guards the access to the road that leads to Zarit, where a 24-year-old soldier died on Sunday, and to Shomera. Shani is co-owner of a restaurant in Tel Aviv, but on October 7, the day of the deadly Hamas attack on Israeli territory, he rejoined the army as a reservist. His partner maintains the business afloat these days, doing humanitarian work to help civilians and soldiers with food.

Diversity and fear

Mufed Sanoono was a resident of Kafar Yasif, a town of about 40,000 inhabitants, the vast majority of them Israeli Arabs. Kafar Yasif, about 15 km (9.3 miles) from the border with Lebanon, is not affected by the government’s evacuation plan. A bakery in the center of town reflects the diversity of a local population divided between Muslims, Druze and Christians, while there is an almost total absence of Jews. The manager of the store serves a constant trickle of customers while highlighting that there is a certain amount of fear due to the latest incidents in the mountains that line the border. “People, as a precaution, are buying more bread,” he says. Among those who are purchasing large bags of the round pita breads and sweets of various types are several Muslim women and a man named Pieer, who has rosary beads hanging around his neck and tattoos of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ on his right arm. “Yes, we feel a certain amount of fear,” admits a Christian woman.

Not far from that bakery, a hall adjacent to the Abu Baker Al Sadek mosque was holding the final farewell for Mufed Sanoono on Monday. He is better known, following tradition, as Abu Basel (the father of Basel, the name of his firstborn son). His burial took place on Sunday afternoon, a few hours after a missile from the Shiite guerrilla Hezbollah hit this construction worker in the town of Shtula and injured three of his colleagues. Basel, 33, and Ziad, his younger brother, were receiving condolences along with other family members. The eldest, however, says the family is feeling neglected by the authorities — there was one call of condolence — and believes that his father would have had a very different farewell if he had been Jewish. Not even the media attended the funeral. “Only you,” he says.

“He went to work like any other day and, suddenly, we began to see on social media that someone from Kafar Yasif had died in an attack. Soon word spread and they started calling us,” explains Ziad, who prefers not to talk about security issues or problems of coexistence between Muslim and Jewish Israelis. “Finally, we found his body in the hospital.”

“Our lives are worth less. That’s how it is,” says Ehab Yahia, 43, one of the attendees, who, after 19 years in Sweden, returned to Kafar Yasif last February. There are things that have not changed in all this time, he points out, such as the fact that it is more difficult for Arab-majority communities to receive money from the government for schools, children’s activities, sports facilities or for street cleaning. “I’m not afraid to say it […] And in some cases, funds are diverted to the settlers,” alluding to the more than 500,000 Israelis who occupy large areas of the West Bank. Yahia even talks about “discrimination and apartheid,” but also underscores that not everything is bad, because “there are many who end up as doctors or engineers in European countries.”

“But the most important thing is peace. We have to achieve it, because here, on this Earth, there is space for all of us to live.”

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