On Fearful Sounds in the Dark
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
When I was fifteen my older brother left home and I inherited his bedroom, actually a little wooden shed at the far end of the garden that we called "the bungalow". It was a moment of independence that I relished, having until then shared a room with my younger brother, but I discovered that there was a certain cost to this coveted autonomy. The bungalow stood beneath a fig tree and a large lemon tree, and during the night, probably with the aid of a resident possum, a lemon or a fig would on occasion come down on the roof. Being, even then, a very light sleeper, and also already in possession of a lively imagination, I heard these noises with some trepidation, in particular on Saturday nights after having stayed up late to watch "Night-Owl Theatre" or "Outer Limits" on the television. Every knock on the roof became an imagined alien landing.
For a number of years residents of settlements along the southern border of Israel adjacent to the Gaza Strip complained of hearing knocking in the night. The sounds came from Palestinians who were tunnelling under the border. Through one of these tunnels, militants from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigade entered an Israeli army base in 2006, killed two soldiers, wounded two others and kidnapped a soldier named Gilad Shalit, who they subsequently held captive for five years. Like the settlers in the south, residents of villages along the northern Israel-Lebanon border complained of hearing constant knocking sounds. For a considerable while their complaints were ignored, or at least not dealt with. The authorities apparently deemed it unlikely that the rocky terrain along the northern border would be possible to tunnel as easily had been done in the sandy south. When the residents' complaints were finally taken seriously, a number of tunnels crossing the northern border were indeed discovered.
The cave fortress of al-Habis (Habis Jaldak) is located across the Jordan River east of Tiberias, overlooking the Yarmuk river valley. Probably built by the Franks in the second decade of the twelfth century, it was held by them until 1182 when it was occupied by Saladin's troops led by his nephew, Farrukh Shah and the amirs of Bosra, Baalbek and Homs who were returning to Damascus from an invasion into the Galilee. A few months later the Franks made a determined effort to regain the fortress. But this was no typical castle. It was built onto a cliff side, excavated in the rock on three levels, one above the other, and could be approached only by a very narrow and dangerous path adjacent to a sheer precipice. Being thus virtually inaccessible, the only effective way to take it was to tunnel through the rock from above. The Franks did this, working day and night. This effort, and how it affected the occupants of the fortress is described by William of Tyre:
The work had now reached a point where the almost incessant blows of the hammer permitted the garrison in the cave no rest. As the strokes redoubled, the whole mass seemed to shake and tremble, so that the dread lest a forcible entrance might be effected gave way to apprehension that the whole cave, shattered by the repeated blows, might suddenly collapse and crush all within... Finally, after the siege had lasted for three weeks or a little longer, they sent an embassy to the king, and, through the intervention of the count of Tripoli, obtained permission to depart freely to Bostrum.*
*William of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, New York, 1943, vol. 2, 22.21, p. 484.