katyushas 298 .88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
The rumble of revenge is the only sound you hear. Constant cannon firing that is occasionally intercepted by the explosion of Katyusha rockets. Other than that, Kiryat Shmona is deadly silent.
A stillness has enveloped this ghost town. It sticks to the streets, it hugs the pavement, and it carries with it a foreboding that things are going to get worse.
There is simply no one here. Even the dogs have stopped barking. Local veterinarian Dr. Bronislav Liflyandsky bends down to cut a hole in the top half of a plastic bottle. He pours water from into it and places it in the shade of a tree, just off the deserted main road.
"About 70 dogs have been abandoned," he says, climbing back into his blue and gray station wagon. "Often I find them underneath buildings, where they've gone into hiding. They are scared, particularly when they hear the loud noises. Their owners obviously didn't think they'd be gone so long - two, three days at the most."
His black shirt now smudged with the crumbs of dog food, Bronislav maneuvers his vehicle slowly down the deserted road. Once a day, whenever there's a lull in the firing, the Russian-born vet, armed with information from concerned neighbors and the police, goes in search of the distressed dogs. They're the only sign of life in a town that has seemingly ceased to exist.
Streets are empty, shops are closed. The deafening silence is punctuated only by the strong winds - and heavy gunfire.
Of the town's 25,000 citizens, only around 5,000 are estimated to still be here.
Luba Romanova, head of the regional council, confirms that people are scared, tired and stressed. "It's the continuous sound of blasts that gets to one, even the Israeli cannon firing makes such a huge noise," she sighed into the telephone, exhaustion evident in her voice.
"For five years since Israel withdrew from Lebanon, we've not used bomb shelters, we thought the danger was over. The city council has not spent enough money on maintenance of shelters, and as a result, many of them are in a very bad way."
At the end of one road, sandwiched between two residential buildings, is a tiny cigarette stand - the only visible sign of life. The local driving teacher, Moti Evan-Tzur, dramatically ponders my question over a long puff of his cigarette. Exhaling, he tells me he's not scared. Certainly when he compares the dozens of rockets that fell when he was a little boy with the "one-at-a-time now."
Kiryat Shmona has so far been hit by about two dozen rockets. "In the morning we have two hours to go buy something, and then I go back to the bunker. I spend my day watching television, going to the bunker, coming back from the bunker, hanging out with neighbors, and working at my computer. It's boring. But I think this operation is the best thing possible," says Evan-Tzur. "Before, we made cosmetics, now we'll finish them off."
A ten minute drive away, Metulla's luxury Beit Shalom guest house stands silhouetted against the smoky mountains. Miriam Hod is at her wit's end. One week ago, the ten suites of these two grand 110-year-old houses were booked to capacity until the end of August. Now they're empty.
"This is the money we live on during the year. I cannot do anything, cannot take responsibility for bringing people here. It's war." The nearby fruit groves are also falling to ruin. With no one to pick the fruits, they simply drop to the ground and lie there. "Here in the North, we hear everything, we see everything. It's all around us."