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Fringe Israeli group sparks outrage for sending balloons telling southern Lebanese to evacuate

Ori Tzafon is calling for Israel's borders with Lebanon to be redrawn and for settlements to be established in southern parts of the country
Drones and balloons with the messages were sent over the Lebanese border [Ori Tzafon]

A fringe Israeli group has sparked outrage after it deployed balloons to southern Lebanon that carried messages ordering residents to evacuate.

Ori Tzafon, also known as the Movement for Settlement in South Lebanon, sent the ballons from the Israeli settlements of Hanita and Adaamit earlier this week, urging Lebanese residents to leave the 'Jew-owned land.' 

The leaflets were written in Hebrew and Arabic and instructed residents to evacuate to western parts of Lebanon.

"Warning! This is Israeli land and belongs to the Jews. You must evacuate immediately," read the leaflets which included a map of southern Lebanon with arrows pointing to areas westward.

"Did you notice the arrows? They point from Lebanon to the sea," one social media user wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to the image on the card pointing to the evacuation direction. 

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Many ultra-Orthodox and other Israelis believe the borders of Israel should stretch into Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, as well as encompass the entirety of the occupied Palestinian territories.

"When did God promise Israelis Lebanon too?! I must have missed it!" posted one user on X. 

The decision to deploy the leaflets is the latest in a series of actions the group has taken to redefine Israel's border up to the Litani River and protect the country's north from Hezbollah rockets. In recent months the group has organised protests, marches to Lebanon, and most recently, a conference. 

Around 300 people attended the online conference, dubbed the ‘First Lebanon Conference’ which invited a series of speakers to address to growing "evidence" that connected Israelis to the land. 

Among the speakers was Netanyahu’s brother-in-law, Hagai Ben-Artzi, who in a conversation with an Israeli news site ahead of the event said issues relating to Lebanon stemmed from the May 2000 withdrawal by then president Ehud Barak in accordance with a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

"They sold our stupid people the illusion that it is possible to live in the Galilee when Hezbollah sits at the head," Ben-Artzi said.

As part of the ‘practical element’ discussion at the conference, the Israeli paper reported that one attendee suggested the possibility of using Napalm bombs as an effective means.

"Napalm is the most effective tool to deal with and expose what Hezbollah is planning in the forested area," one of the speakers said in response to the suggestion.

"When these fortifications burn down, there will be a spectacular fireworks display of explosives."

While the conference was initially a Zoom call, organisers later decided to switch to Youtube and live-stream the remainder of the event, where it racked up just under three thousand views.

Divisions in Israeli society

On X, Israelis were divided over the conference and such messaging, saying they "undermine Jewish self-determination within Israel".

"The name of the movement is biblical: Awake, O North Wind! (עורי צפון) taken from an ancient, beautiful piece of love poetry (Solomon's Song 4:16) turned into another despicable genocidal war propaganda slogan," said another user.

"Will someone stop these maniacs, please? They're killing us all!"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war and securing the release of the captives held in Gaza has widened the rift in Israeli society.

There are regular protests calling for the removal of the Israeli government, whilst fringe sentiments have also gained in popularity during the war, which has killed nearly 38,000 Palestinians.

Calls for the resettlement of Israelis in the Gaza Strip have also increased, with many calling for the return of Gush Katif, a former Israeli settlement in Gaza that was cleared out in 2005 by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. 

‘We will conquer that territory’

The movement first rallied in April with a modest membership of around ten people according to a report by Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. However, it seems to have steadily grown, with the virtual conference clocking some 300 attendees

A Jewish settler told Haaretz: "Look at how many civilians are now evacuated from their homes because they can't live in the north. As I see it, our call to our enemies - for Gaza as well as in southern Lebanon for Hezbollah - is: Whoever messes with Israel will lose the territory they attack us from.

"We will conquer that territory, we will settle that territory and we will protect our civilians. If they dare attack us, we'll take more. We'll stop conquering when you stop attacking us." 

Another settler added that settlements were the only way to secure Israel’s safety, adding that Arabs “only understand force”.

Hostilities along the Israel-Lebanon border have been ongoing since the start of Israel’s military assault on Gaza in October 2023, with tens of thousands evacuated on both sides of the border.

Around 450 people have been killed in Lebanon. 

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