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For Israel's Displaced, Life Goes On

Jerusalem Journal

Posted: July 27, 2006

By Arieh O'Sullivan

Tomorrow a family is moving in with us. He's an old buddy from the army who lives on a kibbutz in the Galilee with Raya his wife and three kids. Every time a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket overshoots Safed, it lands on his kibbutz. "The last time we had to use our bomb shelters was before the Six Day's War," said my new housemate Adam, a carpenter. "It's been going on for two weeks. We need a break."

We don't know how long they will stay or how long this will last. But the country has opened its arms to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis fleeing the shower of Katyusha rockets in the north. At least I'm lucky. I know my refugee family. Others, like Debby, our indispensable office manager at the ADL Jerusalem headquarters, are taking in families they have never even met before. Debby is from the Haifa Bay area and has two teenage daughters who are terrified. It is a scene being repeated across the nation and the newspapers are filled with offers. Moreover, restaurants and hotels are offering them discounts. Their children are embraced by day camps.

At first glance, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Netanya and Beersheba look normal. The cafes are filled and the streets are teeming with people. But looking closely you notice that many are glued to radios and fixated on the news. The crowds are no doubt also a result of the fact that about a third of the country has been displaced. They are refugees.

The international media doesn't seem to mention the Israeli refugees. But here most of them learned not to expect sympathy from the foreign media. Just a few weeks ago, MK (Labor) Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister and good friend of the League, told a visiting ADL staff mission that the world always recognizes Israel's right to defend itself …until we exercise that right. Then they condemn us.

So here we are again. Israel faces unprovoked attacks on its sovereign territory, and the world condemns us. Except the United States.  In a way, the mood in Israel is similar to that in the U.S. after September 11, 2001. Even if you aren't directly affected by the Hezbollah rockets, the vast majority of the public feels the pain and supports the iron-fisted campaign to strike at our "Osama Bin Laden", a.k.a. Hassan Nasrallah. For more than two weeks now, Hezbollah has been lobbing rockets at northern Israel.

They have targeted not just the Jews, but also the Muslim, Druze and Christian towns and villages. Not everyone has left the Galilee. Hamodie, an Arab affairs analyst at the ADL Israel Office and a Druze, just returned from his village a few kilometers from the Lebanese border. He had gone to celebrate his brother's wedding.

"When the guests came the sirens began wailing warning of another Katyusha attack. 'Not now' I thought," Hamodie recalled. "But people continued to come. It was a traditional Druze affair and we had over 2,000 guests. We were afraid that at the meal, the sirens would go off just as they were about to bring the food to their lips and ruin their appetite. But they didn't."

He recalled that when they went to fetch the bride from her family, sirens were blaring and rockets landed in the fields around the village. One hit inside, but miraculously didn't explode.  "Police warned us not to hold the wedding because Druze villages had been particularly targeted because of their commitment to Israel and service in the IDF.  But we all prayed for an umbrella and faith seemed to have worked.
None of the rockets harmed anyone," said Hamodie, who is also a captain and company commander in a reserve armored division.

Two days ago, the day after the wedding, Hamodie received an emergency call up and rushed to his base near Kiryat Shmona in the Galilee Panhandle. As he arrived, Katyushas landed in the fields, setting them alight. The nearby Dalton winery, which the ADL staff mission had visited just a few weeks ago, was hit, destroying some of the stacks of oak barrels aging wine for years.

After two weeks, Hezbollah had fired more than 1,400 rockets into towns and cities in northern Israel, killing at least 18 civilians, and the death toll continues to rise.  In Haifa, Police Chief Nir Meriesh painted a dire picture of the city, saying about half of the quarter million inhabitants had left. Speaking by telephone, Chief Meriesh sounded calm and strong: "I'm doing well, but it's hard for Haifa. The streets are deserted. The city is more or less shut down. It's very sad," Meriesh said.

The rockets that fall on Haifa are among the most powerful Hezbollah has and there has been a lot of destruction. Haifa has been hit by 70 so far. The only warning is the siren. After it goes off, you have forty-five seconds before the rocket hits. But Meriesh said that even these few seconds of warning save many lives.

Meriesh has hosted numerous groups of U.S. law enforcement officers visiting Israel on ADL law enforcement missions and many have contacted ADL to relay their concern and pride for Chief Meriesh and the people of the city.

Rachel, head of the education desk at ADL in Israel, had plans to vacation this August to Safed to soak up some holy air. Hezbollah has viciously targeted this ancient city, hitting it almost daily with fatal barrages. "We told the children we aren't going now to Safed and we'd keep them safe," she said. "But we still haven't canceled our reservations. Even if it's delayed, we are going to return to the north and give them our business; perhaps by Sukkot, definitely by Chanukah. But we'll be there."

And so should we all.

Arieh O'Sullivan is the Director of Communications in ADL's Israel Office.

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Background: Attacks on Israel's Northern and Southern Borders

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