Beaufort

February 2008

While growing up in Israel in the seventies, the name “Beaufort” had an evil, scary, distant, and curious sound to it, much like Petra, Baal-Beck, Damascus, all the places we knew were off limits. We, young Israeli teens felt we would never ever get the opportunity to visit them. The ancient crusader fortress, only ten miles north from Israel’s northern boarder can easily be spotted from many areas in the Galilee and the Golan. Everyone knew that the FATAH terrorists used the fort as a stronghold and a base to launch katusha missiles at the Galilee all through the seventies.

But in Israel it is hard to predict the future, and you never know if it will be war or peace that will bring you closer to destinations that you could only dream of. My first visit to the Beaufort occurred one summer day in 1983 when I was a young sergeant in the paratroopers patrol unit. My unit was located on the outskirts of Nabatiyah in southern Lebanon, and our men were dispersed to outposts all over the region. Our patrol unit was responsible for escorting all transportation between the outposts, and back and forth home – to Israel.

We were considered a lucky and fortunate unit, because this allowed us privileges such as being excused from the long endless guard routines, and it also enabled us to spend a night in Israel once a week. The morning a convoy was to enter Lebanon we had to be there for the preparations at 4.00 am.

The convoys consisted of an average of ten vehicles including three personnel trucks, two water tanks, a couple of supply trucks, and a tanker with diesel gas. One jeep led the convoy, and the second jeep secured the convoy from behind. Our two pairs of jeeps ran this routine of convoys up and down from Israel and through the outposts for about three months, until we were relieved by another unit.

One of the outposts on this distribution line was Beaufort. As I mentioned earlier the legend of Beaufort haunted us throughout our teenage years, and was even amplified by the events of June 1982. During the first week of the Lebanese war, the Golani Brigade Commandos fought a fearless battle on this mountain and lost six men, including the commander, Goni Harnick. One day after the battle, the world witnessed the famous and surreal scene broadcast all over the world of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon landing on the Beaufort via helicopter and asking the soldiers embarrassing questions. That scene was for many Israelis evidence of the lack of knowledge that the two leaders had regarding what really had happened.

So now, after all that heritage, history and burden of emotions, I finally made it myself to this famous site. The road takes a steep turn in the center of the village of Arnun, and a short but steep ascent takes you up to the glorious site. Your first impression is, why did they have to overshadow this Gem with this military scruff? The fort is on top of a mountain overlooking a sheer drop of one thousand feet deep to the Litani river. Way away down below you can see the narrow river flowing gently between two meandering canyon walls, covered with lush Mediterranean shrub. The vistas are incredible; the entire Galilee region is spread to the south, and the Lebanese town of Marge-Ayoun and the Baqaa Valley to the east. The pastoral mountain ranges leading to the Mediterranean Sea are to your west.

On the highest spot of the hill there they stand – the majestic ruins of the ancient crusader citadel that gave this site its name – Beaufort – meaning the pretty fort in French. And a few meters away from the fort, is the massive army post, a rubble of concrete structures all placed in a messy formation all piled on top of the other during decades of building, destruction and rebuilding.

The convoy enters the central courtyard, and while the units take care of their business – exchanging men for fresh ones, downloading equipment, and filling tanks with fuel, we had a chance to roam around the site. In 1983 south Lebanon was not such a dangerous place. The threats were mainly of limited pockets of terrorists still in the region, and Hezbollah did not yet exist so the atmosphere was quite safe. I remember climbing into one of the towers of the ancient fort for a closer look. There were signs in Hebrew warning against doing so, as the place was full of booby traps and unexploded ammunition. But one of the local soldiers volunteered to act as a guide and took us around the fort, to the places that were safe. The feeling was outstanding. Here we are, standing in this legendary place, overlooking half of the world. How lucky can you get?
After a couple of hours we left Beaufort and continued our supply line duties. From that day on, I visited Beaufort twice a week leading the supply and personnel convoys. It was still exciting for the next couple of times, but then it became routine. I even remember that towards the end of the term we were getting fed up with this particular site, because it was very cold and windy, and our open jeeps had no cover to protect from the weather….

When I first watched the movie “Beaufort” I was shocked!!! This scary, death filled place was not at all the place of my memories. By the year 2000, after eighteen years of IDF presence, Beaufort had turned into an isolated prison surrounded by an invisible enemy. The beautiful pastoral vistas are still there, but the vibes are terrorizing.

The film “Beaufort” tells the story of a platoon of IDF soldiers chosen by history to be the last Israeli troops to man the mountain. This tremendous burden is on the narrow shoulders of a young 20 year old lieutenant, Liraz Liberty. It’s a shocking and powerful film, but it’s the closest way you can ever feel or understand the routines, the lives, the thoughts and dreams of young Israeli men who have been given the impossible task of fighting for something, and then being told one clear morning that their presence is no longer needed.

The film, directed by Joseph Cedar and based on the novel “Im Yesh Gan Eden” by Ron Leshem, has already won many prizes, and is nominated for the Oscar in the category of best foreign film. The film is the opening event at UJANNJ’S 10th annual Israeli Film Festival, celebrating Israel at 60. It will be shown at the Kaplen JCC in co-sponsorship with the JCC’s Israel Connections Department on March 1st at 8.30 pm. For more details and a full brochure – log on to www.ujannj.org