Kiryat Shemonah (Heb. קִרְיַת שְׁמוֹנָה; “City of Eight”) is a town in northern Israel, in the Hula Valley, founded in 1950 when a local camp for new immigrants (ma’barah) was transformed into a permanent residential area. In 1953, it received municipal council status, and in 1974, it became a city with an area of about four sq. mi. (10 sq. km.). The name Kiryat Shemonah commemorates Joseph Trumpeldor and seven others who fell in 1920 in defense of neighboring Tel Hai (Kefar Giladi) against an attack led by notables of KhāliṢa village, which stood until 1948 on the site of what would later become Kiryat Shemonah.
In 1953, Kiryat Shmona was declared a development town, and its growth was driven by the arrival of immigrants from Yemen and Romania, but later, waves of immigrants from North Africa, in particular from Morocco, arrived.
The town grew from 3,300 inhabitants in 1954 to 6,000 in 1956 and 10,000 in 1959, although the lack of solid economic foundations caused a much larger population turnover. The population then reached 15,300 in 1969 and stabilized somewhat. The oldest part of the town, in the valley between the narrow basalt ridge (the “Snake Head”), had small houses with adjoining auxiliary farms. Later, the central part of the town developed with multistory dwellings on the mountain slope to the west.
In the 1980s, knowledge-intensive industries such as medical product development, biochemical-agricultural research and development, advanced electronics and computerized metal processing established factories in the city.
In the mid-1990s, the population was approximately 19,000, and by the end of 2002, it had risen slightly to 21,600, of whom 18% were new immigrants; 30% of the city’s population was younger than 17. In 1969, the local industry began to develop, e.g., a spinning mill (the most prominent enterprise), a fruit-packing plant and other plants based on the region’s farming produce, and textile factories. Some enterprises were initiated by the Upper Galilee (i.e., Hula Valley) Regional Council, which has its seat at Kiryat Shemonah.
In the initial years, most of Kiryat Shemonah’s workers were employed as farm laborers in the vicinity. This type of employment diminished in the 1960s, although the Hula Valley settlements, including kibbutz factories, were still important sources of work for Kiryat Shemonah inhabitants. The beginning of the settlement of the Golan after the Six-Day War furthered the town’s development. However, the city suffered severe economic problems, with income considerably below the national average. The town served as an urban center for the rural settlements around it.
The geographical location of Kiryat Shemonah makes it an easy target for rockets fired from terrorist bases in Lebanon and Syria after 1968. In one of the most horrific incidents in the country’s history, 18 people were killed and 16 injured when a terrorist squad from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) infiltrated the city on April 11, 1974.
The city continued to be the target of attacks. The escalation of attacks on the city at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s led to the Lebanon War. The economic situation worsened during these years, and many residents left the city. The shelling – mainly by Hezbollah – continued after the war’s end.
A Katyusha rocket attack by the PLO in March 1986 killed a teacher and wounded four students and one adult. On November 25, 1987, the “Night of the Gilshonim,” terrorists killed six soldiers and wounded ten more at a military base near Kiryat Shemonah. On June 24/25, 1999, two residents were killed when Hezbollah fired a salvo of rockets into the center of the city.
After Operation Shalom HaGilil (Peace for Galilee), Israel conducted two additional operations: Accountability and Grapes of Wrath to stop the Katyusha firing on the northern settlements.
During the Second Lebanon War (July - August 2006), the city was again the target of rocket attacks. Most of the city’s residents left the area during the war, and the 5,000 who remained stayed in bomb shelters, turning the city into a ghost town. Up to May 2000, when Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon, the city was hit by 4,000 shells, causing 24 casualties and wrecking nearly 7,000 apartments and 250 cars.
Since the withdrawal, the Upper Galilee area, including Kiryat Shemonah, has enjoyed relative quiet.
The town has a cable car link with Manara above in the Naftali mountain range and also is home to an activity center and toboggan run located in the south of the town. The Kiryat Shmona Historical Museum is housed in what was formerly the al-Khalsa Mosque. The Tel-Hai Academic College north of Kiryat Shemonah offers academic and continuing education programs for approximately 4,500 students.
The population today is just under 23,000.
Levenberg, Pirkei Kiryat Shemonah (1964); E. Spiegel, New Towns in Israel (1966).
Map: Ynhockey, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Photos: City center - Ynhockey, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Museum - Drormiler, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
College - Gil Bar-On via Wikimedia Commons.
Cable car - Oren Peles Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.