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Metula - At the crossroads of history

Metula- a town at the crossroads of history

Over the millenia, the Metula area has been an Israelite, Aramean, Arab, Crusader kingdom, Lebanese and Mandate Palestinian possession, before eventually reverting to Israel

Metula is a picturesque village that one drives through on the way to the Mount Hermon ski resort and is Israel’s most northerly town, bordered by Lebanon on three sides, north, east and west, as you can see on the map.

Metula is situated on a 160 metre high hillock with views of the surrounding Galilee Mountains and Mount Hermon, as well as the Hula and Ayun Valleys. The location of Metula would have placed the town in close proximity to the Biblical cities of Dan and Abel Bet Ma'akha, forming a triangle in an area known as the Galilee Panhandle, an appropriate name as the map indicates

Abel Bet Ma’akha

Abel Bet Ma’akha, which is currently identified as an archaeological site known as Tel Abel Beth Maacah, lies about 2.5 kilometres south of Metuala. Abet Bet Ma’akha was strategically situated at the crossroads overlooking the route of the ancient passage connecting Sidon in Phoenicia (Lebanon) via northern Israel with the Bekaa Valley (Lebanon) and Damascus in Aram (Syria). Abel Bet Ma’akha’s first historical mention is in the Amarna Letters as having been conquered and then destroyed by Pharaoh Thutmose III around 1450 BCE. Following that event, Abel Beth Maacah is referred to in the Bible as an Israelite city, which was later captured by the Arameans and then retaken by Israel. Following the Roman occupation which ended in 638 CE, Abel Bet Ma’akha fell under Muslim Arab control, as did most of the Middle East. Many of the archaeological discoveries on the Tel have resulted in a better understanding of the relationship between Israelites, Arameans and Phoenicians.

Archeological dig at Tel Abel Beth Maacah

Dan, the biblical city

The city of Dan predates Abel Beth Macaah by about l,000 years, with the oldest artefacts found there dating back to 4,500 BCE. The city appears to have been destroyed a few hundred years later, before reappearing at about the same time as Abel Beth Ma'akhah. The city of Dan also changed hands between Egypt, Israel and Aram until it was eventually destroyed by Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III between 735 and 730 BCE, although there is evidence that cultic ceremonies still took place there for some time after the destruction of the city. The area in which the city stood is now referred to Tel Dan. One the most significant artefacts to have been found is known as the Tel Dan Stele. Fragments of the Stele containing a number of lines in Aramaic were found embedded in an ancient wall that has survived to the present time. The legible lettering engraved on the Stele refers to the killing of Jehoram, a son of Israelite King Ahab who reigned from around 870 to 850 BCE. Ahab is referred to as a king of the House of David, corroborating biblical texts describing the event. The Tel Dan Nature Reserve has become an important and popular tourist destination in Israel.

The Dan River is a significant tributary of the Jordan River

Remains of the Biblical City of Dan - site of the discovery of the Dan Stele

How Metula reverted to Israel

The region in which Metula is situated was not slated to fall within the boundaries of Mandate Palestine, nor of a future Jewish homeland. The League of Nations placed Metula and surrounds in the French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon in 1920. The residents of Metula, which had been established in 1896, actually voted in the first elections for the Lebanese Representative Council in 1920, before changes to the borders resulting from the Paulette-Newcom agreement. The Golan Heights were removed from Palestine and transferred to Syria, while the Metula region was excised from Lebanon and ceded to Mandate Palestine in terms of Paulette-Newcom, in defiance of the League of Nations decision on the matter. One of the strange aspects of Palette-Newcom was that while the residential area of Metula was transferred to Palestine, the fields which the residents cultivated to earn their living, remained in Lebanon. There was no restriction on the Jewish farmers crossing the border to tend their fields until Israel's 1948 War of Independence, after which Lebanon closed the border. Needless to say, the Six Day War of 1967 saw the Golan Heights revert to Israel. Hezbollah is currently conversely disputing the validity of the ownership of the Metula region that was ceded in terms of the Paulette-Newcom Agreement.

Metula - a Jewish village

Metula was established on land purchased in 1893 by Baron Edmund James de Rothschild from a Lebanese Christian landowner named Jabur Bek Junbalat. Metula was initially the Druze village of Umthallah, farmed by Druze tenants who leased the land from Junbalat. During 1895 a Druze revolt against Turkish Ottoman rule erupted and the Umthallah villagers all left to join the rebellion, heralding the end of Metula as a Druze village. Rothschild arranged for 59 families from Zichron Yaakov and Rishon LeTsiyon to relocate to the newly established village, with the first settlers arriving in Metula on 17 May 1896. Problems arose when the Druze tenants returned from the rebellion with demands to reclaim the leased land. They were eventually paid compensation for the loss of their farming land by Rothschild.

The first pioneers settlers in Metula

A street scene in Metula at the start of the 20th Century

Mandate Palestine Metula

During the Second World War, Metula became an important British Army base in the preparations for the attack on Nazi Vichy French and German troops that had control of Syria and Lebanon. The British army recruited large numbers of Jewish residents of Palestine to serve in various units under the command of British officers. This was prior to the establishment of the Jewish Brigade, which was staffed by Jewish officers, including the Brigade Commander, Canadian born Brigadier Eric Benjamin. One of the British units recruited in Palestine and based at Metula was an engineering company designated as the Artisan Works Company, an element of the Corps of Royal Engineers. The company under the command of a Major Karan (probably Jewish) was tasked with building defensive fortifications at Metula on Mandate Palestine’s northern border with Lebanon. Hebrew was the common language of command used by this unit, which leads me to believe, without confirmation, that Major Karan was Jewish.

Metula as an Israeli town

Metula has endured many terrorist and other attacks emanating from Lebanon ever since the end of the 1948 War of Independence. These attacks intensified after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) established bases in Lebanon following its expulsion from Jordan during 1970. Throughout the seventies and early eighties attacks on Metula and other Israeli interests, local and abroad continued, culminating in the attempted assassination of Ambassador Shlomo Argov at the Grosvenor Hotel in London on 3 June 1982, by Palestinian terrorists. Israel retaliated by launching a military campaign codenamed Operation Peace for Galilee ( מבצע שלום הגליל ), which eventually resulted in the PLO and other terrorist groupings fleeing Lebanon. During 1985 a massive car bomb killed 12 Israeli soldiers and wounded 14 when an IDF convoy was targeted close to Metula.

Lebanese Hezbollah designs on Metula were back in the news when the IDF launched Operation Northern Shield on 4 December 2018, to identify and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels. Military sources reported that the terrorist organisation intended to infiltrate terrorists into northern Israel through these tunnels. During the course of the operation, a total of 9 tunnels were located and destroyed. One of the tunnels was intended to allow a terrorist force to enter Metula, with the objective of occupying and holding the town for as long as possible in order to enhance the prestige of Hezbollah.

Despite the terrorist attacks, Metula has remained an idyllic rural village in a panoramic setting, with bed and breakfast establishments attracting many visitors. Metula mayor, Yossi Goldberg, was able to convince the Jewish Agency and several Canadian Jewish communities to fund the establishment of a sports and recreation centre in Metula. Goldberg's ambitions came to fruition with the opening in 1990 of a multidisciplinary Canada Centre sports and recreation facility in the town. Foremost among the centre’s facilities are two ice skating rinks, which meet international standards making it possible for Israel to host numerous multinational ice skating competitions since then. The centre also boasts squash courts, heated winter and outdoor summer swimming pools, basketball courts, a firing range, table tennis facilities and a fitness centre as well as a children's pool, water slide and trampoline centre. The Canada Centre is run as a self supporting non profit organisation.

The tourist facilities available in Metula are enhanced by the Ayoun River which rises about 10 kilometres north of Metula in Lebanon and flows past the town through the Ayoun River Valley. The river has three magnificent waterfalls as well as rapids, listed in order as you travel south from Metula; these are the Ayuon waterfall, the Mill waterfall, the Cascades and the Tanur waterfall. which are all in the Ayoun Nature Reserve which is just south of Metula. The nature reserve in the Ayoun Valley is an important and popular tourist destination.

The spectacular Ayoun waterfall on the Ayoun River at Metula

Israel and you - Tours - Photo: Adiel lo

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