On the northern coast of Israel, bordering the sea and Lebanon is a place like no other in the country. Welcome to Rosh Hanikra.
The Book of Joshua mentions "Misraphot Mayim" as a place south of Rosh HaNikra that was the border of the Israelite tribes of the time (13:6). Jewish sages referred to the cliff as "The Ladder of Tyre". After the Arab Conquest in the 600’s the site was later renamed A-Nawakir ("the grottos"). The Hebrew name, Rosh Hanikra, is the translation of the later Arabic name "Ras-an-Nakura". They both mean Head of the Grottos.
The Rosh Hanikra grottos are cavernous tunnels formed by sea water hitting against soft chalk rock. They branch off in various directions with some interconnecting segments. In the past, the only access to them was from the sea and experienced divers were the only ones capable of visiting. Luckily, today a cable car takes visitors down to see the them. A walk through the grottos is a beautiful way to spend part of a day up north.
And in Israel something always happened everywhere and Rosh Hanikra is no exception. Throughout history Rosh Hanikra served as a passage point for trade caravans and armies between Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Africa.
During WWII when the Vichy French government in Lebanon fell in 1941 the British decided to build a bridge and two tunnels at Rosh Hanikra as part of the Haifa-Beirut-Tripoli line which was used for transporting goods. This line was part of the system which led from Egypt through Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and to Turkey which then connected to Europe. With today’s political situation it’s hard to believe such a line ever existed, but it did.
The bridge and tunnels in the Rosh Hanikra area (including those in Lebanon) were built by engineering units of the British army from South Africa and New Zealand. A sign from the days they were built can be seen at the site.
During the War of Indendence the Western Galilee was cut off from the rest of the country and the Jewish forces feared that the Arabs would use the line in order to send men and supplies to fight the Israelis. In order to remedy the situation the r
ailway bridge was destroyed by the Camel Division of the Hagana. The tunnel portal leading to Lebanon has since been sealed.
Inside one of the tunnels there is a movie which tells the story of the building and destruction of the bridge and tunnels. The tracks are still there and the movie is shown on the wall which seals up the tunnel separating the two countries.
Rosh Hanikra was also the location where Israeli and Lebanese officials negotiated and concluded an armistice agreement in 1949 which ended the Lebanese-Israeli component of the 1948 War of Israeli Independence.
Oh, one more thing about the grottos – watch out for the fruit bats! Actually they’re harmless.