Bombs over Nahariya

A British-born resident looks back at her early days in the city and hunkers down to withstand the present.

naharia 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
naharia 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When we came to Nahariya in 1959, the border with Lebanon five kilometers up the road was pointed out to us as a feature of the area. It was not considered to be a problem. Old timers who had been here before the boundaries were set talked with nostalgia of skiing holidays on the heights overlooking Beirut. They longed for the reinstallment of the Orient Express from Paris to Damascus. A test for daring high school boys was to slip over the border from where they were returned by grinning Lebanese policemen. Sheep and goats strayed - with guidance, it was suspected - over the unmarked line straddled by lookout posts on both sides. We promised ourselves that when things settled down we would visit Ba'albek, where the alphabet was invented. Many Lebanese I met in various places outside our country assured me they had no hostile intention toward Israel. "We want to build up our commerce," they told me. "Business, shipping, tourism. Some of the Arabs call us 'The Jews of the Arab world.' Well, why not? Is it a sin to want to be well off, buy jewels for the wife and send your children to good schools?" Gradually all this changed. The Lebanese no longer set their own agendas. As easy-going people, they were pushed into attitudes not their own. Still, they did not regard us as enemies. We cared for their sick and trained their army, but the force of reaction proved too strong and the windows of cooperation slowly closed. I once went to Lebanon illegally using my British passport and stayed there for a week. It's a beautiful country. This is not the first time there have been rocket attacks on Nahariya from Lebanon, but we've never sustained such a barrage. The violence seems to have jumped a scale, and reality has changed. For the belligerent organization Hizbullah, the temptation is to damage a neighbor, kill a little, steal a little. Preen themselves on their invincibility. With outside help they built up their weapons - loving gifts from rich neighbors. We had many warnings about this accumulation easily seen from this side of the border and many debates about whether to destroy it in the bud. But that would be considered provocation and condemned in Europe as war-mongering. So it was that last Thursday morning we were awakened by the fearful, familiar and unmistakable boom of explosives. It all began very suddenly, and nobody was prepared. Fortunately, I had done my shopping the previous day. Once heard, never forgotten. There is a great crack, always followed by a breathless, windless pause. Police appeared in the streets, telling citizens to go into the shelters. But before this advice could be taken, there were more explosions - five in all, then one more. One was in the new expanded part of town, miniseconds from the extended hospital, nursing school and rehabilitation center. It smashed its way onto one of the new well-built blocks, causing Monuce Lehrer to fall from her shattered balcony to her death. The new immigrant from Argentina, in her fifties, took a direct hit from a rocket. She leaves a husband and a daughter. The funeral took place in her hometown in Argentina. Another missile took out the coffee shop in the town center, maybe two seconds by air from my own house. Another demolished a greengrocery. It was empty. Two ear-splitting bangs, then all was quiet until one enormous noise the next day. This is my sixth war. I participated in the first one (World War II) as a truck driver in England. Three times I volunteered at an emergency weapons store in Nahariya. In 1982 my son, who was then a soldier, disappeared into Lebanon and we didn't hear from him for eight days until a fellow soldier turned up with his laundry. Damascus radio was reporting that Nahariya had been destroyed - we were shelled then, but not to the extent of this week. Two people were killed in that shelling. People are much more anxious this time. All these situations have a certain similarity. Then I had sons and nephews of military age, but there's always somebody to worry about. There isn't a family in Israel without a relative or a friend's relative in the army. Out of nine apartments in our building, four are now empty after their owners left for safer parts of the country. A couple who recently moved here from New Zealand has gone south to stay with in-laws. "When we bought this flat, we thought what a nice peaceful little resort this is," they said. They certainly never expected anything like this. Across the road Susie is worried about her 12 cats. None of us are having much fun. Ticka, our dog, is distracted and will not be left on her own. "They hide from the noise, you know," says Susie. "They're afraid." Well, join the club. "Need any food?" I ask, "Thanks, I'm stocked up on cat food for awhile." We are all on good terms and help each other. As soon as there was a loud explosion, my neighbor Ziva came to check that I was okay. The shelter downstairs is now clean and equipped with chairs, a telephone, lavatory and water. I don't think anybody's slept in it yet. Normally it's locked and used for furniture storage. On Thursday neighbors moved all the unnecessary furniture out. Apartment owners have gathered in the shelter for coffee and to exchange news. Everyone has been invited elsewhere: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Negev, California, London, Toronto. We discuss the offers. So far, no takers. We admit that we are not an asset to the war effort. Old, going blind and very slow, I have little to contribute but feel I have to stay. "I'm not going anywhere," is a common refrain. Everybody says that this time we've got to eliminate Hizbullah, even if it takes several weeks. The Europeans are saying that we are overreacting - but ask Mr. Putin how he reacted in Chechniya. We're a worry to our families and, yes, we are sometimes a little scared. But shall we leave our habitat to become a ghost town? Ya'akov, the corner grocer, promises that he'll open his shop tomorrow. He feels he has a duty to the community. The least we can do is support him. I stay at home most of the time and only go into the streets briefly - I would be a nuisance in an emergency, anyway. The streets are quiet. The smooth warm sand and cool dark sea are empty. Everywhere there are police. "You should be in the shelter. Why are you out just now?" asks a policeman. Indeed, there is nothing to be out for. The post office is closed as are the banks and shops. The exception is the Penguin Caf , which was established in the early 1940s and now is catering mainly to journalists. Ilan Oppenheimer, the owner and grandson of the original one, claims to have never shut down in times of trouble. As I write, there is a tremendous crash followed by that "whoosh" like a gigantic sigh. The windows rattle. The shell landed just down the road next to a school, thankfully on holiday. The streets look dreary, unhappy. Old newspapers blow in the wind. The police are very active. If they see someone in the street, that person had better have a good reason, like my neighbor who needs an injection at the hospital every day. You can't walk the dog right now. We have an energetic local council and a lively main street with colored lights in the trees. Now it's ghostlike, although the river's still running. It's all very sad. People with small children have taken them farther south. The railway is not running, though buses and taxis are. There is no panic, only a terrible regret that our little town, with its shady main street and river flowing down the center, should be the target of such indiscriminate hatred. The town will bounce back after it's all over, but it will take time. This is a tourist resort, after all. The Lebanese complain that we have ruined their tourist season. Ours is ruined, too, and it may be years before visitors feel safe enough to come back here - or there. We did not want this to happen, but the lives of each one of our soldiers is as precious to us as that of our own children. They are our own children. We do not urge them to tie on an explosive belt and go out to blow up a crowd. We go to great lengths to protect them and rescue them from danger. Our soldiers are not expendable, so our reaction to their kidnapping is direct and forthright. Sadly, we can no longer regard the Lebanese as potential friends. No matter how many missiles there are in reserve over the border, our resolution is unshaken. If the Luftwaffe didn't get me, I am sure I will survive the Hizbullah.