The Seven Lost Villages

Nasrallah's next demand is likely to be the return of seven tiny villages near the northern border that were abandoned by their Shiite inhabitants in 1948.

Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah and his followers occasionally mention the fact that in 1948 the "Zionist entity" annexed several Lebanese villages, expelled their residents, stole their property and destroyed their homes. He is referring to seven villages that were part of Mandatory Palestine, and whose inhabitants were Shiite Muslims. At the time they were called Metawalis, a name almost certainly derived from the word wali, which in Arabic means "to be loyal and holy"; the loyalty is to Caliph Ali and his descendants, who are central to Shiite Islam.

Although Nasrallah's principal demands are Israeli withdrawal from the Shaba Farms and the release of Lebanese prisoners, it is clear that when circumstances allow, he will demand the return of these villages to Lebanon and the return of the refugees to their lands.

Between 1916 and 1923, struggles, mainly diplomatic, took place over setting the northern border of Mandatory Eretz Israel, which is the present border line. The main players in the dispute were France, which had received the mandate over Syria and Lebanon, and Britain, which had received the mandate over Palestine-Eretz Israel. Other political groups also were involved, such as the Zionist Histadrut and representatives of the Arab National Movement, which was then just starting out.

When the border was finally drawn, there were several Shiite villages on the Eretz Israel side. According to the population registries of the end of the British Mandate period, a small community of about 4,000 Metawali Shiites remained in Eretz Israel. Some researchers believe this group originated in Persia, and that they arrived in South Lebanon in the seventh century, at the initiative of the Caliph Muawiya. There is no proof of that.

The northernmost of the Shiite villages is Ibel al-Qamah, which was located about two kilometers south of Metula. Until it was destroyed in 1948, this little village stood on the ancient tel of the biblical city of Avel Beit-Maakha, which is mentioned in the book of II Samuel. Metula-born archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov remembers that there were few families in the village, half of them Christian and half Shiite. He says there was a small church in the village, whose bell served after 1948 to summon the members of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi to their dining room.

At the time there were rumors that the Shiite mukhtar of Ibel al-Qamah, Abu Sheikh, had a lover with whom he met secretly in Metula. According to Ben-Dov, in 1948 Abu Sheikh went on a pilgrimage to the sacred burial site Nebi Yusha (today the Yesha Fortress, west of the Hula Valley). On the winding road ascending to the grave the bus was attacked by a unit of the Palmach (the pre-State Jewish commando force) and Abu Sheikh was killed. Despite that, Ben-Dov testifies to the exceptionally good relations that prevailed for many years between the residents of Metula and their neighbors, the Metawali farmers.

Nebi Yusha was one of the important gravesites of holy men visited by the Metawalis living in the hills of south Lebanon, hills that were then called Jebel Amal. Magen Broshi, former head of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, was a Palmach man, and a member of Kibbutz Maayan Baruch in 1947-48. A fluent speaker of Arabic, he hiked in the surrounding villages and once participated in the regular hilula (pilgrimage celebration) at Nebi Yusha.

According to Broshi, surrounding the grave were several houses of the Metawalis who were in charge of the compound, and members of the small Bedouin tribe who hosted and protected him lived nearby. Broshi particularly remembers how strictly the Metawalis observed the laws of purity. They avoided eating with anyone who was not a Shiite, and this custom distanced them from the Sunni majority in the region.

In any case, Broshi says he often visited the largest Shiite village in Eretz Israel - Hunin. The village was located on the spot where Moshav Margaliot stands today, on a hill west of Kiryat Shmona. Some of Hunin's houses were built with the stones of the large Crusader fortress called Chateau Neuf (in Arabic, Qal'at Hunin), whose central section is still standing. Mustafa Dabar, an Arab from Jaffa who was exiled in the 1948 war, wrote in his encyclopedia, "Our Land of Palestine," that on the eve of the war, almost 2,000 people lived in Hunin.

Three additional Shiite-Metawali villages were located within the boundaries of the British Mandate. The first, Qadas, was small, and stood adjacent to Nebi Yusha, near the tel of the bibilical city of Kedesh Naftali. To the south stood the village of Malkiya, adjacent to the kibbutz of the same name, where the only battle against the Lebanese Army was waged during the War of Independence.

During that same battle, Rehavam Zeevi commanded a Palmach unit while the unit of the Lebanese army was commanded by Hazim Khaladi, a scion of a famous Palestinian family from Jerusalem. Khaladi was a professional soldier, who fought in the ranks of the British army during World War II and afterward served as the commander of an officers' training school in Damascus. Later he returned to his home in East Jerusalem and served as the director of the Jordanian tourist bureau in the city. After the Six-Day War, Zeevi, who was then the head of the IDF Central Command, met him, and they went together to Malkiya and recalled the 1948 battle.

Southeast of Malkiya, on the northern highway near present-day Moshav Avivim, stood the village of Salha. The village was known for its Taggart fort, which was built by the British in 1938 as a garrison fort at the height of the Arab rebellion, as part of the plan for building the "northern fence" to separate Eretz Israel from Lebanon. The fortress - like those in Nebi Yusha and in other locations in the Galilee - was named after British police officer and engineer Sir Charles Taggart, who initiated their construction after have acquired experience in suppressing insurgencies in India. The residents of the Shiite villages in Eretz Israel, which were part of the Safed district, fled in May of 1948, with the capture of the Arab part of the city of Safed by Palmach forces. The refugees crossed the border to the nearby Metawali villages in south Lebanon. Broshi recalls that at least in one instance he and his friends distributed leaflets in the villages of the Upper Galilee, asking the residents not to leave.

In the late 1970s, when the Israeli government opened the Good Fence, and many of the villagers of South Lebanon began to work in Israel, archaeologist Ben-Dov visited Nebi Yusha and was surprised to discover the holy site had been cleaned and renovated somewhat. It was obvious to him that some of the Metawali workers were coming to prostrate themselves on the grave of the holy man.

When Nasrallah and Hezbollah talk about the Shiite villages under Israel's jurisdiction, they mention two additional ones, which were located in the Western Galilee: Tarbikha, which is now the site of Moshav Shomera, and the town of Al-Bassa - now Betzet - whose residents were Metawalis and Christians.

The comprehensive book "The Arabs of Eretz Israel" written in 1947 by Yaakov Shimoni (in Hebrew), also tells of Shiites from South Lebanon who came during the British Mandate years to work as laborers in Haifa. They even had a small clubhouse in the lower city. As far as we know, none of them remained in Israel.