Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Brief lull in rockets unnerving for some

Nahariya residents come out of shelters

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Omri Levy, 9, has spent nearly three weeks of his summer vacation in bomb shelters in Nahariya, while Katyushas fall nearby. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Tuesday, August 1, 2006
Page A - 6

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Nahariya, Israel -- Residents of this town in northern Israel were unsure how to enjoy their first day without rocket fire in three weeks.

Although the Israeli army ordered everyone to remain in their shelters, the sudden quiet and brilliant sunshine drove scores of people outdoors -- many for the first time in days.

At public air-raid shelter No. 394 in the middle of a low-rise housing complex, the 35 men, women and children who have been sleeping underground since July 12 were wary that the sudden absence of rocket barrages might signal yet another Hezbollah trick.

"I'm more scared of the quiet than I was when a Katyusha exploded nearby yesterday," said Etty Hadad, 57. "I'm worried that Hezbollah are just waiting until we all come out the shelters so they can start again and kill more people."

Hadad said she had sent her children and grandchildren to safer places while she shared the underground shelter with her neighbors. Her brother-in-law's electrical goods shop in the same block was destroyed by a direct hit on Saturday.

All over town, houses, high-rises and other buildings showed the scars of more than 350 Hezbollah rocket attacks in the past 20 days. But Hadad said she had no intention of leaving town, as more than half the 56,000 residents have done.

"I love Nahariya. I was born here. I will not become a refugee. I won't let (Hassan) Nasrallah laugh at us," she said, referring to the Hezbollah leader.

Inside the shelter, the residents sleep, eat and spend their days in two rooms. During the day, the mattresses are stacked up and the iron bedsteads, three tiers high, are folded into the wall.

"We are scared. Nasrallah has robbed us of our privacy and stolen the children's summer holidays. But at least we have air-conditioning," she said. "The soldiers who are fighting for us in Lebanon have it much worse."

Nahariya is just 6 miles from the border -- a flight time of just seconds for a rocket -- so there is no advance warning before the bombs start exploding.

"First you hear the whoosh, and then the boom. It's very scary," said 9-year-old Omri Levy, who has not been above ground since the fighting began. The boy said he was bored and frightened after spending nearly three weeks of his summer vacation 20 feet below ground.

"I want to be prime minister when I grow up, and I would cut off Nasrallah's head," he said.

At noontime, municipal workers arrived with fresh food supplies for the shelter. Another visitor was Dina Tal, head of adult education for the local community center, who has been bringing psychologists to help the residents with the pressures of living in the shelters for so long.

"We had one mother with small children who was so panic-stricken when the Katyushas started falling she couldn't move at all," she said. "The psychologists are showing the parents how to calm their children, and how to spend the time together in creative activities like painting and drawing."

Dr. Tzipi Morvay, director of social services at the Western Galilee Hospital on the outskirts of town, said this was the first war in which more than 1 million Israeli citizens had watched as rockets fell around their houses, killing and wounding them in their own neighborhoods.

"Two-thirds of more than 1,000 people we have treated since the fighting began displayed signs of acute stress," Morvay said. "They may arrive at the hospital without physical injuries, but they are fearful, crying, shaking and some cannot even walk."

She said the extended time spent in the cramped underground bomb shelters was taking its toll on Israelis' mental health.

"People are fighting over food, over their places in the shelter. The affluent people mostly left town," she said. "Those who remain lack money, or are elderly, or may have other social problems, and their daily stresses are only increased by having to live in the shelters."
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Etty Hadad says she is more scared of the quiet than the attacks themselves. But, she says, I will not become a refugee. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

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