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(photo credit: AP [file])
The second barrage of Katyusha attacks in four weeks struck Kiryat Shmona hard Tuesday night, causing damage to two buildings and injuring four people lightly.
The political damage, however, inflicted on the three front-runners in the race for prime minister far outweighed the stairs that were broken in the concrete apartment block on Rehov Yehuda Halevi.
Clusters of people that gathered around the pink-walled building repeated over and over that they were disappointed - disappointed with the political leadership, with the military response, and with election promises that were rarely translated into policy.
Kiryat Shmona, a northern Galilee development town, is considered a bastion of Likud support. The mainly second- and third-generation, mostly Sephardic population proved its support in election after election for the party of Begin, the party that they believed represented security and an answer to what they perceived to be the Ashkenazic elitism of the Labor Party.
"I supported Binyamin Netanyahu in the past. And I supported Sharon. This time I'm not voting, but I have no problem if Netanyahu wins," said Dalia, 45, who was asleep in her apartment less than 100 meters away from where one of the rockets landed Tuesday night. "But I won't vote for him," she added, "because he also caused damage economically. In terms of security, I think he's good, but in terms of economy and social issues, he wasn't good."
It is the Kiryat Shmona dichotomy. Dalia, like many others gathered in front of the building with the gaping hole, said that both factors were important in Kiryat Shmona.
"The Katyushas are part of the problem. The biggest problem is that people flee. There's no jobs in the area. I think it's related when people don't work, wander around all day and then get Katyushas at night. They go to the center of the country," said Avi, a father of young children who lives in the building that was hit.
"I plan to vote for Sharon and no one else," he said emphatically, "Because he's the only normal candidate who can lead the country. He's proved that. Bibi said a lot of things, but doesn't necessarily carry them out."
Avi, whose father was killed by a Katyusha in 1977, said that, in spite of his faith in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he was not satisfied with the military response to the attacks. "I would want a stronger response, not like last night," he said, referring to IAF air strikes against a PFLP base in south Lebanon. "That was child's play. We need to give them twice as much as they give us so that they learn - if they give us one, we give them ten."
"The only thing the government can solve with money is to fix things that are broken," he added. "I think they have to do something in Lebanon. If a person was asleep in the house and was killed, what would money help?"
While there was little agreement as to which candidate, if any, could solve the town's economic problems, almost all agreed on the appropriate response to the security situation.
Although acknowledging that he had seen "worse situations than today," 48-year-old Shimon Halevy agreed with Avi about the solution. "They begin, we respond. It's like a children's game. They play with us and we play with them. Just as we get hit in our houses, they need to get hit in their houses. Not like the IDF, which hits empty houses."
Members of the younger generation concurred. "What do I care about income tax?," said 21-year-old Yossi Priente, who finished his army service in the air force last month. "The government can help us by blowing them all up. What, we don't have civilians and children who are hurt? If we can't solve this in ways of peace, then through attacking. As long as there isn't peace - and there won't be - there won't be a solution."
Priente had been at a wedding when the rockets hit, and described guests pushing to exit the wedding hall for fear of additional rocket strikes. "Can you imagine? The bride and groom? Their wedding was ruined," he said.
Although they support an aggressive military policy, neither Halevy nor Priente feel that they can trust the Likud.
"I'm not voting for anyone. I don't trust anyone," said Priente.
"I won't vote for anybody. There's no one. There is no solution. Nobody fulfills their promises," Halevy agreed. He said that, following the attack, he went out into the street to inspect the damage and met the city's mayor, Haim Barbivai who was first affiliated with Likud and then Kadima.
"The mayor was here and said they would solve all the problems last night, but last night people slept in their cars because they couldn't get to their houses," said Halevy. "The mayor said 'everything will be okay.' But it won't be."
In this largely working-class town, former Histadrut leader Amir Peretz held a certain sway, but even his supporters had trouble seeing him as a strong candidate for security issues.
Moshe, 37, a father who describes his profession as 'worker,' said that the answer to Kiryat Shmona's problems is to ignore the security situation. "No politician has a defense solution," he said, concurring with his 34-year-old wife, Vicki, who said, "No politics can solve the situation of Kiryat Shmona and Hizbullah. It's always been a problem and always will be."
As his elementary school-aged children gathered around him, Moshe smiled. "I'm voting Peretz. There's only an economic solution. Sharon and Netanyahu just make promises. The biggest problem in Kiryat Shmona is the economy. When we're strong economically, we'll be strong in security."
Yossi Ohayun, 51, another lifetime resident, agreed that if he voted, he would vote for Peretz. He too was disillusioned and didn't believe that even Peretz's victory would yield positive results for them.
Dalia, the self-proclaimed steady Likud supporter, agreed that "Peretz is good for workers, for the regular people, but he's not good for prime minister. I'd like to see him as Social Affairs Minister."