Bystanders look on at the remnants of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet shot down by Syrian forces, February 2018.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REURERS)
The sirens that woke up northern Israel on Saturday blared just north of the Haifa bayside suburb of Kiryat Yam, where I was staying for Shabbat. Twenty kilometers away an F-16 crashed and pilots ejected over the Galilee. However for most residents in the area, even those awakened by the crash and the sirens, things returned to normal by breakfast time. They’ve lived under Hezbollah rockets before, and they know the threat.
In Kiryat Yam, where there were no sirens, Shabbat observant locals walked to synagogue, unaware of the threat unfolding that morning. As I drove toward the site of the crashed F-16, the roads were starting to get clogged with the usual families going out for bike rides, hikes or a day at the beach. The road from Shfaram to Kibbutz Harduf was blocked by police trying to keep away curious onlookers from the crash site. So traffic was routed through Adi, a community founded in 1980 whose streets are lined with modern “villas,” i.e. single-family detached homes.
Residents were out doing a scavenger hunt, trying to find various plants and rocks. They scampered beneath the shrubs and among the blooming red and yellow flowers. Even as Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet detailed the latest on the injuries of the F-16 crew members and concerns that there might be more air raids on Damascus and retaliatory rocket fire, most chose to ignore the breaking news.
In Harduf, the community was holding a large picnic overlooking the mosque and houses of Arab el-Ganadi, an Arab community that abuts the kibbutz. Here too the families, with their strollers parked on a dirt road and their tables festooned with cola and juice, were not looking for the bomb shelters. Just over the hill, near the entrance to the village, a field was burned from parts of the crashed plane.
A large sign that reads “Adi-Harduf access road” had been scorched in the fire that resulted from the crash. Parts of the plane had come down just a dozen meters from residences and large cowsheds. Pieces of what appeared to be engines and other debris were scattered about. Dozens of soldiers, police on horseback and fire crews in hazmat suits stood around, waiting for their next orders. Eventually those orders came and they asked the public and news crews to move back so there could be a controlled explosion of some of the wreckage.
A resident of Harduf overlooking the crash site from some cowsheds said he was awakened by a loud “boom” earlier in the morning. There had been no sirens, he said. The community was founded in 1982 when Israel’s Operation Peace of Galilee was launched in Lebanon.
He didn’t seem concerned about the threat of conflict, but the road closure was an inconvenience. He hoped it would open soon. “So, when do you join the air force?” he asked two youths from the community walking by while he waited.
Back at the beach in Kiryat Yam in the afternoon the beach was crowded. Men towed their jet skis down and another paddled out to sea on a stand-up paddle-board. Kids dug a pit in the sand, intermittently screeching as they tried to avoid a large dead jellyfish that had washed up. If there were war clouds, it was not their central concern.
Several older men watching the little waves flop on the beach from the safety of a nearby promenade commented on the situation. “So if there’s sirens we go to the shelters? Where’s the closest?”
The decision of most people in the North to go about their daily routine comes does not come from complacency, but rather experience.
In 2006 almost 4,000 rockets hit throughout the Galilee, damaging 6,000 homes and killing 43 civilians, according to the Foreign Ministry website. Many residents of the area either served in the conflict or know someone who did, and some fought in Lebanon before the 2000 withdrawal. Many know someone who was wounded or killed in Israel’s wars. They stand to be called to the reserves as their families go to the bomb shelters. But until that happens they would prefer to spend the day eating with family, hiking, looking for flowers or driving ATVs.