Moshav Avivim still stands determined during tensions
"We ask the government to support the army and give it another month to do the job."
Fifty-five-year-old Ya'acov Ivgi, decked out in a steel helmet, combat belt and M-16 rifle, did not seem perturbed by the fact that a mortar shell had recently exploded inside his moshav of Avivim and that soldiers stationed nearby were firing tank and artillery shells at Hizbullah forces less than one kilometer away.
While others huddled under the roof of the communal area, Ivgi stood out in the open, rushing to the sheltered area only when he heard the shriek of an incoming Katyusha.
Nevertheless, he maintained that Wednesday was Avivim's worst day so far in the current fighting with Hizbullah and one of the worst days in the history of the long-suffering community.
Earlier in the day, two IDF soldiers were killed and nine wounded in a clash with Hizbullah forces on the Lebanese side of the border. The forces had been sent in to destroy a Hizbullah outpost directly opposite the moshav.
The outpost was originally built by the IDF and abandoned intact after prime minister Ehud Barak ordered a hasty withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.
Ivgi is a member of the emergency squad that is on call 24 hours a day to guard against Hizbullah infiltrators and to make sure moshav residents enter their bomb shelters and safe rooms when there is an alert.
Four-hundred people live in Avivim. About half of them - including almost all of the women, children and elderly people with health problems - have been evacuated from the moshav, according to Shimon Biton, head of the Avivim residents' committee and a member of the emergency team.
The able-bodied men have stayed behind to protect their homes and look after their poultry.
Biton is tough and determined. He lost his father in 1970, when Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Syrian-sponsored Saeka organization fired two bazooka shells at a school bus, killing 12 Avivim residents, most of them children, and wounding about 25.
"We ask the government to support the army and give it another month to do the job," said Biton. "We are prepared to sit in shelters all that time."
Nowadays, there are as many soldiers as farmers in Avivim. A few days earlier, soldiers prevented an infiltration of Hizbullah fighters presumably attempting to seize hostages from Avivim.
On Wednesday, Israeli troops fired tank and artillery shells at the well-entrenched Hizbullah fighters while they replied with mortar shells and Katyushas. During this exchange, a second mortar shell hit a structure within the moshav, causing no casualties but setting off a large fire.
Earlier in the morning, at Dovev - another long-suffering moshav 12 kilometers west of Avivim along the northern border - a group of about 20 elderly residents waited in a plaza outside the community buildings for a bus that was to take them away from all the explosions and tensions.
About 90 percent of the moshav of 520 people have already left. As in Avivim, they too describe past week as the worst time in their history.
Although none of the houses have been hit so far, four Katyusha rockets landed just outside the perimeter of the moshav, including one that destroyed four fruit trees and another that fell 50 meters from a house.
Iranian-born Eliahu Kadusi has spent the last 40 years in Dovev. He fell in love with Galilee because it reminded him of the area along the Iraq-Iran border where he was born - the same hills, the same cold weather and snow.
For these same reasons, Kadusi does not want to leave Dovev despite the dangers. "I like it here," he said.
It is not the first time the moshav has been evacuated. The farmers also had to leave during the 1982 Lebanese invasion and Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996.
Moroccan-born Mima Peretz has lived in Dovev since 1953 but she too does not remember anything as bad as this. "This is no life," she said. "It has never been like this. I'm afraid to hang out my laundry or go to the grocery store."
Despite the fear of sudden death and the stress caused by ear-splitting explosions, 56-year-old Yoseph Waknin has decided to stay, at least for the time being. "I have to look after my chicken coop," he explained. "I have 1,700 chickens." Among other things, Waknin has to collect the eggs, and make sure the chickens have water and feed.
He and other farmers complain that the chickens have stopped giving their usual quota of eggs because they have been terrified by the loud noises.
"Usually, I produce 10-11 wagon loads of eggs per month," he said. "This month, I'll be lucky if I have seven or eight."
But perhaps the biggest problem faced by all those remaining along the northern border is the lack of sleep. The residents are virtually sleepwalkers who live on almost no hours of sleep. "As soon as I put my head down on the pillow and fall asleep, an artillery gun goes off and I'm wide awake again," said Ivgi.