Eyewitness: The Katyusha war has moved beyond us

I am finding it hard to remember what day of the week it is, and I have given up counting Katyusha hits.

By R.Z. FREEDMAN
July 19, 2006 01:19
3 minute read.
bomb shelter in nahariya 298 ap

bobm shelter in nahariya. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Monday was the fifth day that we spent inside our Nahariya home, and the fifth night we spent in the security room. I am finding it hard to remember what day of the week it is, and I have given up counting Katyusha hits, although we have heard two more within the last few minutes. Yesterday I jumped on my bike as soon as the police officer in his patrol car announced that we could leave our shelters for one hour to shop for food. I was surprised to see that so few people had taken advantage of the opportunity to escape the confines of their apartments and shelters. Some residents have left, of course, especially those with young children, but I think that most residents of Nahariya are still in town. They seemed not, however, to be stirring from the protection of their shelters and homes. My first destination was our local fruit and vegetable store. But as I approached, I could see that it had been severely damaged. Its door and windows were smashed, and both the storefront and the interior were blackened. A large hole in the top floor of the building told the story. It had been hit by a rocket that set off a fire on the electric utility pole next to the store. My second destination was a pita bakery in the center of town. I found it intact but closed. Looking through the windows, I saw the store was in disarray, with halla and Shabbat cakes strewn across the counter. It looked as if the bakery had been left in haste. Several boarded-up stores on the town's main street, around the corner from the bakery, suggested a possible explanation. The guard standing in front of one of them told me that the damage was the result of a Katyusha hit, pointing to a spot a short distance away where the rocket had fallen. Taking advantage of the few minutes remaining in the time we were allowed to be outside, I walked my bike down the main street toward the sea. There was a little traffic but almost no pedestrians. A TV crew, a rare sight in normal times here, was packing up its equipment beneath the eucalyptus trees near the town's principal hotel. There was not a single sidewalk onlooker to observe their departure. The mood in town was different than it had been only 48 hours earlier, but it was difficult to pinpoint what had changed. It was quiet, of course, but that doesn't capture it. The town felt vacant, as if, like the bakery, it had been abandoned, which of course was not true. I think that what I was sensing was a feeling of surprise that had, at least momentarily, taken my breath away. We had become, in a way, used to the first stage, the warnings, the Katyushas. But instead of petering out as in the past, the situation had grown worse and moved beyond us. Nahariya is no longer on the front line of the Katyusha war. We know that Karmiel has been hit, and Safed, and Tiberias. And, of course, we all know about Haifa and the eight men who died in Sunday's attack. The war has spread across the North, and it has even spread south to the country's third-largest city. Suddenly Haifa is on the front line, physically, because it marks, for now, the southern boundary of Hizbullah's rockets, and psychologically, because few thought Hizbullah would actually attack a large city. The TV trucks have moved south. I would happily have Nahariya lose its notoriety as a place where rockets fall. I am quite happy with the city's official emblem that depicts it as a place where sun and sea meet. But I am alarmed at what this sudden change of status means. The Katyusha war has gone far beyond us. This means that we are all more vulnerable to the machinations of Hizbullah than we wanted to think. It also means we are facing a Hizbullah that is more lethal than we had thought, backed by a confident and belligerent Syria and an Iran eager to flex its muscle as a regional strongman and a defender of Islam. By growing beyond us, the war has drawn this little town deeper into the turbulence of Middle Eastern politics.

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