Jews, Arabs mourn their dead together in Haifa

'We have no place to go,' city's Arab residents lament over the lack of communal shelters

By
August 7, 2006 23:59
3 minute read.

 
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A day after they were killed trying to protect their grandchildren from the barrage of Hizbullah-launched rockets that hit Haifa, Lebiba Masawi, 68, and Hanna Hamam, 62, were buried in a joint ceremony in their home city on Monday evening. Throughout the afternoon, relatives and neighbors mourned together in their small, stone Catholic church that stands a few blocks from the site of the attack. Sitting outside the sanctuary, Hanna's nephew, Amir, said that his uncle was the kind of man who opened his home to the neighbors. Often, they would sit in his courtyard, talk, drink coffee and play games. Among his many visitors was Lebiba. The two had lived across the street from each other for most of their lives in the Israeli-Arab neighborhood of narrow streets and old stone buildings called Wadi Nisnas. Over time, Lebiba and Hanna also became in-laws. On Sunday night, the pair sat outside together as their grandchildren played nearby. When rockets began to fall, they quickly gathered their grandchildren and ushered them into Hanna's house, described Amir. It was representative of the way he lived his life that "he died saving his grandchildren," said Amir. He added that his uncle was a good person who loved everyone and enjoyed life. Standing and taking the hand of well-wishers, including his fellow members of the police force, Suheil Masawi held a tissue in his hand as he spoke of his mother, who he described as a deeply religious woman. The missile attacks in the last few weeks had frightened her, Suheil said. He had urged her to leave the city for a safer place, but she had wanted to stay because her doctors were nearby. She was recovering from surgery and needed constant checkups, he said. Suheil last saw his mother earlier that day when she came to visit his wife who was recovering from eye surgery. On Sunday evening when the missile struck, he saw the smoke rise from the direction of his mother's house. When he arrived at the scene, he was told his mother had been killed instantly. His son was also lightly wounded, he said. A neighbor of Lebiba, Hilwe Androus, 77, who sat in her living room greeting well-wishers coming to check on the family, said that the whole attack was like a dream. "We sat here drinking coffee and watching television when we saw a red ball of fire," she said. They barely had time to make it to the interior room under a stairwell where they cowered for safety. "We have no place to go," said Lolita Androus, 28. Many in the neighborhood complained about the lack of communal shelters. Amir said that he was angry at the city on this score, and added that he believed the city had done a better job of protecting its Jewish residents than its Arab ones. The missile did not discriminate between Jews and Arabs, but the city did, he added. City spokeswoman Netta Drorie Wils rejected such claims. She said the Haifa Municipality felt it was safer for residents to move quickly to secure spots in their home rather than try to race to a communal shelter. Wils noted that a number of people had died on their way to communal shelters. More to the point, she added, in Haifa the warning time was very tight. There were only 30 seconds to a minute between the time siren wailed and the time the missile hit, she said. For that reason, it was better for people to head to a stairwell or an interior room, Wils concluded. Home Front Command spokesman Arik Speter concurred. He said this was true for Haifa, but not for communities further north, whose residents were indeed safer in shelters. The residents of Wadi Nisnas were not the only ones to suffer a loss on Sunday. In the Tel Regev cemetery, hundreds of mourners stood in the hot midday sun on Monday to bid farewell to Roni Rubinski, 30, of Kiryat Motzkin. Rubinski, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, died from shrapnel wounds when a rocket hit close to his workplace in Haifa on Sunday. At the funeral, his family members hugged and kissed his shroud-covered body that lay on a metal stretcher in a small metal shed prior to burial. They screamed and sobbed as if to call him back from the dead. One woman fainted and was laid out on a bench. A second yelled out "Why? Why?" as she stood over the body.

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