Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Beaufort

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by Ron Leshem

Beaufort by Ron Leshem X
Beaufort by Ron Leshem
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2007, 368 pages
    Feb 2009, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Beaufort Castle

Beaufort Castle, the setting for Beaufort, sits on a high, rocky outcropping in southern Lebanon (map). Known in Arabic as Shqif Arnun ("High Rock"), it soars 1000 meters (more than 3000 feet) above the Litani River Valley. Its commanding, 360-degree views have made it perfectly suited for a command post or lookout, and it has been used as such for over 1000 years.

Not much is known of Beaufort's early history. Given its ideal location, scholars believe it may have been used in Biblical or Roman times as a military outpost. Arab occupants enlarged it; and the French Crusaders, who occupied it beginning in 1139 BCE, made further refinements to its structure. Passageways and underground chambers were tunneled into the rock, and an inside cistern was excavated to hold the fort's water supply.

In the early 1980's, Hezbollah used Beaufort as a missile launch site, shelling settlements in Northern Israel from its heights. The Israelis led a successful attack on the fort, capturing it in 1982. The battle signaled the start of the first Lebanon War. Israel defended Beaufort until the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) retreat on May 24, 2000, at which time it was heavily damaged by explosives set by Israeli troops as they abandoned the site.

The Four Mothers Movement

In Beaufort, Ron Leshem references The Four Mothers Movement as one of the precipitators of Israel's retreat from Lebanon.

On February 4, 1997, two IDF helicopters transporting soldiers to Beaufort collided in mid-air, killing 73 soldiers. The crash debris landed in the front yard of a school that Rachel Ben-Dor's children attended in Northern Israel. Ben-Dor's oldest son was also a soldier in Lebanon at the time, and several of his former classmates, now soldiers, died in the crash. This traumatic experience led her to form a grass-roots protest group with three of her friends (also mothers of young men fighting in Lebanon), which became known as the Four Mothers Movement.

Their major point of contention was that the Israeli government had been promising to withdraw from Lebanon since 1985, but had taken no steps toward that end. The group started with small local rallies, but soon gained both publicity and popular support. The movement attracted men and women from across all occupations and political persuasions, and consequently was able to put significant pressure on the government. When Prime Minister Ehud Barak gave the order to withdraw the troops in May 2000, he claimed one of the reasons was the public pressure brought about by the Four Mothers Movement.

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Article by Kim Kovacs

This article was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the February 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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