Reporter's Notebook: 'From this ground, I am not moving'

Safed residents are braving the flurry of Katyushas. About 250 have landed in the city and its environs.

By DAN IZENBERG
August 2, 2006 23:54

 
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I was given the address of the wrong Katyusha. I had asked for directions to the area in Safed where a woman was seriously wounded on Wednesday when a piece of shrapnel lodged in her neck. Instead, I was directed to the downtown area, where the only casualty was a 70-year-old woman who had been rushed to Ziv Hospital after a Katyusha exploded a few meters outside her home. But the case of mistaken identity taught me that most Katyushas have a story of their own, even when they do not kill or physically wound. If that's the case, Wednesday must have been a day for stories all over the North. According to press reports, almost 200 Katyushas and missiles landed, some of them as far south as Afula, killing one person and wounding seven, four of them lightly. Safed had more than its fair share. According to city councilman Moshe Ohayon, about 30 rockets landed in the city and its environs. By the time I reached the site of the Katyusha, the area was deserted and the red-and-white police tape that had isolated the area had come loose at one end and was dragging on the sidewalk. The rocket had burrowed a deep hole in the ground which was only slightly wider than the its diameter. Its remains had been removed by police and rescue workers, but evidence of the damage was everywhere. The back window of a car parked in a lot 20 or 30 meters away were blown out, leaves and branches of a nearby tree were strewn all over the ground and the windows and plastic blinds of nearby apartments had been blown out. Some of those blown out windows belonged to Moshe Shmilevitz, 72, whose home was only about five meters from the blast. The windows almost killed his wife, he told me. "I was outside when the sirens went off," Shmilevitz recalled. "I ran home because I know how frightened my wife gets. I ordered her to stand in a corner of the room, as far as possible from the windows. Then I threw a blanket and pillows over her and stood beside her." Shmilevitz was cut by flying glass, but his wife, Rahel, suffered the brunt of the explosion. He pointed to shards of glass and plastic on the floor and said they had landed on his wife. "The blanket and pillows may have saved her," he explained. When he wanted to leave the room to see what other damage the house had sustained, his wife began to scream that she would die if he left her side. An ambulance whisked her away to Ziv Hospital and from there she was taken to Kfar Hamaccabiah, in Ramat Gan, to help her recover. Shmilevitz said his wife had only returned to Safed two days earlier. She had left after the fighting broke out and stayed for a while with her two sons and then with her daughter. "She was afraid," he said. "She was right, here's the proof." Nevertheless, the Katyushas pursued her wherever she went, and ultimately she returned home on Monday. Shmilevitz, on the other hand, has not left Safed since the shelling began. "I can't leave," he said. "I'm not afraid." Neither, it seems, is Boston-born Binyamin Aryeh, who lives on the opposite side of the Katyusha hole from the Shmilevitz family. "I'll either be above ground or below ground, but from this ground I'm not moving," he said. Aryeh, 58, has lived in Safed for the past seven years. He returned to Israel seven years ago, after living in the US for the previous 20 years. He is a gardener who manages the plant nursery just across the street from his home. When he heard the sirens in the morning, he decided to close up early and was in the supermarket when the Katyusha struck. The blast lifted the roof of a mobile structure inside the nursery grounds, blew off all the leaves of the young trees fencing off the nursery and blew away saplings inside the grounds. But Shmilevitz is hardly bothered by what happened. He served in the US army in Vietnam in 1968 and says he is familiar with the Katyusha since those days. "It makes a lot of noise but it doesn't do a lot of damage," he explained. Aryeh was impressed with the conduct of his sky-blue parakeet, Tweety, who was perched in its cage hanging on the wall outside the house when the rocket landed. The blast blew out a window beside the cage, but Aryeh found the bird unperturbed, with a piece of glass stuck in the cage. He also has two dogs, Coco and Brownie, who are not as blas about the explosions and sought his comfort when another Katyusha exploded while the four of us found refuge in Aryeh's safe room. Another neighbor, who identified himself as Roger, has also stayed in Safed despite the shelling. "Look, where could I go? It's not that I'm brave. But I'm not afraid, either." Roger, 65, has not worked since the fighting began. He said he likes to take long walks around the city but hasn't done much of that either lately. However, he continues to run errands, such as banking and food shopping. Wednesday's rocket was the fourth to hit downtown Safed since the fighting began. On July 13, two rockets landed on the roof of a large and relatively new building, Merkaz Tzlil. The third landed on the roof of a nearby three-story commercial building. I was alone when I arrived at the site of the latest downtown Katyusha hit. But I soon noticed local sightseers driving by and pointing to the site, or walking up to it and looking in awe at the hole it had created. One of them, Itzik, held up his cellphone and took a photograph. He told me proudly that he had taken pictures of most of the Katyushas that had hit the city, and then scrolled down his phone to show me one of his favorites. "How many rockets have landed in the Safed area since the fighting began?" I asked him. "About 250," he replied, without blinking an eyelash.

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