Postcard from Nablus: Israel’s biblical mountain base is its eyes to the East

The height allows Israel to monitor the land that is home to many of its enemies

Mount Ebal, seen from Mount Gerazim. Getty
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Mount Ebal, one of the highest points in the occupied West Bank, has never been an easy place to visit.

Its other name, the Mountain of Curses, comes from Old Testament times and is a fitting description of the position it currently holds in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The place is now home to a hugely significant Israeli military base.

On a trip there in the spring, Brig Gen Amir Avivi, a former senior commander in the Israeli military, extolled the mountain’s strategic value for his country: “Without this base, Israel has no eyes to the east.”

Gen Avivi was talking about the mountain’s vital role in allowing Israel to monitor what is going on in neighbouring lands, home to many of its enemies.

Enemies such as Syria, which on Wednesday hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a worrying sign that Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, is consolidating its influence on the country’s borders.

Or Lebanon's Hezbollah, which fired more than 30 rockets into Israel last month, as regional tensions boiled over during Ramadan.

But the outpost also plays a crucial role closer to home.

Even as winds buffeted the mountain at high speed, the Muslim call to prayer suddenly and loudly interrupted Gen Avivi.

It came from the city of Nablus, over which the mountain looms, where Israeli forces on Thursday killed two Palestinians accused of the murder of three members of a British-Israeli family last month.

Another Palestinian, who Israeli forces said aided the attackers, was also killed.

Just south of Nablus, the town of Huwara also witnessed deadly violence that day, when a Palestinian woman was killed after she stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier.

The small town hit international headlines in February when Israeli settlers rampaged through it, burning Palestinian property and homes.

It came after the murder of two Israelis near the town on the same day.

To Mount Ebal’s north lies Jenin, a Palestinian city which, like Nablus, is home to a new generation of militants.

Only last week Israeli forces launched a large operation there, detaining a person on suspicion of “terrorist activity and use of illegal weapons”.

The mountain also provides a view to many of Israel’s main cities, including Tel Aviv.

Standing at its summit gives a rare but revealing glimpse of how small is the arena in which these regional tensions play out.

That is what makes a visit to the Mountain of Curses so strange, and what makes its biblical name seem particularly apt in 2023.

Updated: May 11, 2023, 10:28 AM