The Rosh HaNikra area on the Mediterranean coast in the Western Galilee includes three islands, a nature reserve, a beach, a national park, and an infrequently used land crossing operated by the Israel Defense Forces and UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). It is the northernmost sea border of Israel and the southernmost sea border of Lebanon and is the only part of the Ladder Range of Tyre which is inside Israel.
Rosh HaNikra is referred to by the Jewish Sages (CHAZAL circa 200 BCE to 500 CE) as “Sullam Tzur” (“The Ladder of Tyre”). In a Midrash from Beresheet Rabbah, Chapter Lamed Tet – 39, Verse Het – 8, in which the Jewish Sages critically interpret Beresheet (Genesis) Chapter 12 Verses 5-7 it is written: “Rabbi Levi said: “At the time that Abraham walked through various lands, he saw the inhabitants (of those lands) eating, drinking and spending their time frivolously. He (Abraham) said: ‘May I never have a share in any of these lands’. And so Abraham arrived at Sullamo Shel Tzur (The Ladder of Tyre) and saw its inhabitants busy plowing at the time of tilling the soil, and planting at the time of cultivating the soil. He said: ‘This is the land that I would ask of G-d as my portion’. And the L-rd said to Abraham: ‘Unto thy seed will I give this land’.” This Midrash is used to support the view that the Patriarch Abraham entered into the Land of Israel at Sullam Tzur which is identified as Rosh HaNikra.
Looking at the views from the top of the Rosh HaNikra’s modern visitors center it is easy to understand how its awe inspiring beauty bound Abraham to the Land of Israel.
There is Biblical evidence indicating that after Abraham’s entry Rosh HaNikra has served as a border and crossing point into the Land. The Book of Yehoshua (Joshua) contains a reference to it at chapter 13 verse 6 where it states that “Misrafot Mayim” is a location just south of Rosh HaNikra and that it was within the borders of the land allocated to the Israelite tribe of Asher. It is mentioned again in history books which record that in 333 BCE, Alexander the Great quarried into the side of the mountain in order to build a stairway passage for his troops. The historical march of time saw many conquerors and trader caravans enter the Land through the coastal road near Rosh HaNikra. Among them were the ancient Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab and Crusader armies and traders. After one of the Arab conquests the location was given the Arabic names “A-Nwakir” and “Ras-an-Nakura”, the Hebrew name “Rosh HaNikra” was derived from the Arabic name and both mean “head of the grottoes”.
The visitors center showcases a spectacular series of grottoes which are easily accessed via a short and very steep cable car ride down along the side of the white chalk cliff face.
The lower section of the visitors center also brings into clear focus “The Elephant Leg” formation, a natural sculpture which is at the cliff’s edge and is the only point in Israel where a mountain descends into the sea without a sandy seashore.
Additionally the visitors center includes a view of the modern history of the location. During the British Mandate in the Land of Israel (1918 to 1948) the British paved a new road which erased all evidence of the ancient route.
The engineering units of the British Army from South Africa and New Zealand also constructed bridges and railway tunnels which were part of the rail track laid for passage between Beirut (Lebanon), Haifa (Israel) and Tripoli (Libya). The rail line was opened for passenger and freight traffic on 24 August 1942 with an additional civilian train line opening in early 1947. Today the upper tunnel houses the visitors center’s theatre and exhibit area.
Prior to the official end of the British Mandate it was feared that the Western Galilee would be cut off from the rest of Israel by invading Arab forces who would use the rail line to transfer troops and arms into the region. The Carmel Division of the Hagana (which was the largest military branch of pre-State Israel) blew up the western end of the lower bridge and tunnel on the night of 14 March 1948. Today that area is still sandbagged and closed off bearing silent witness to the Hagana’s Carmel Division daring defensive action which assisted in keeping the Western Galilee safely connected to Israel.
We modern Israelis, the spiritual descendants of those Hagana fighters and more importantly the actual descendants of our Patriarch Abraham, know that G-d gave us this beautiful land as our eternal inheritance.
So it is that from the height of the Rosh HaNikra cliffs
and from the Mediterranean Sea below it
ever under the Right Hand of G-d, the Israel Defense Forces stand guard over the land which is our rightful portion on earth, the beginning of our redemption – The State of Israel.
(All photographs for this blog post are original works by Isa David-Ben-Rafael and are owned by IsraeLightly)