Optimism in the face of Katyushas

"The conflict has been an ongoing part of life in Nahariya as long as most residents can remember."

katyusha nahariya 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
katyusha nahariya 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Wednesday began as a normal sort of day. I was on my bike, pedaling from our Nahariya home up to Rosh Hanikra, the white cliffs where the border with Lebanon meets the Mediterranean. I set out before 7 a.m., and the sun was bright but not yet high enough in the sky to make it hot. There were a few other cyclists, some people walking, and the rocks jutting out into the water were dotted with fishermen. The sea, many shades of blue, was calm. As I was enjoying my morning ride, an ambush was taking place just a few miles east, along the border. It would leave three soldiers dead and two taken prisoner, and the toll would eventually rise to eight dead. I knew none of this as I biked back down the coast to Nahariya. But at mid-morning, our daughter-in-law called to tell me that there was an alert in the North and I should be careful. Shortly thereafter I could hear the boom of naval guns and what sounded like land-based artillery as well. As news began to arrive of what had happened that afternoon and evening, I could see helicopters swirling around the line of ridges that mark the border and could hear the rat-tat-tat of heavy machine guns. There were no Katyushas on Wednesday, but I think that most of our neighbors, all of them veteran Nahariyanim, expected them to come. On Thursday morning they did. I heard the first ones - four, possibly five. A woman sitting on her balcony was killed and others were wounded. The windows and storefronts of eight or nine small businesses situated on a lane off of the town's main street were blown out. The town stopped, the shops closed, the children's summer programs were suspended. Not many people entered bomb shelters at that point, instead returning home and remaining there or heading south to friends or family out of the line of fire. Some went to Haifa, which was thought to be safe. My wife, who had left for work in Haifa before the Katyusha attack, made her way back home early, a trip made more difficult by Israel Railways' decision not to allow trains to continue north from Acre. That afternoon in Nahariya reminded me of Yom Kippur. Nothing stirred, or almost nothing: At the building where the day's fatality occurred, representatives of the government agency that looks after compensation for the victims of terror attacks were already busy assessing the damage. They were a reassuring sight, marching along with their tape measures and clipboards. On the lane hit by the Katyusha in the town center, workmen and shop owners tried to make sure that their damaged businesses were secure, at least for the night. They walked amid burned-out gas canisters, a gutted car, broken glass and rubble only meters away from the rocket's point of impact. Two men nailed a piece of wood to cover an exposed window, then stood back and surveyed the scene. Nahariya is a very orderly place, neat and carefully maintained, and the scene must have struck them as quite surreal. I could say that this all brought the conflict home, but the truth is that the conflict has been a permanent and ongoing part of life here for as long as most residents can remember. People seem to have a different set of expectations here. It has taken me some time to see this. Unlike in the US (where I was born and grew up) and in Canada (where I spent much of my life), here they accept conflict as the norm. Even the thought of irresolvable conflict does not seem strange to them. This view, for reasons I do not fully understand, does not translate into hand wringing or a mentality of complaint. People here are strangely resilient. They don't think that much will change, but they do not give undue power to a fearful future. Quite the contrary: my neighbors betray a sense of optimism, admittedly one that often seems unsupported by objective facts. This sense of buoyant unreality appeals to me. It is one of the reasons I like it here. On Thursday night there were more Katyushas. One whooshed scarily close over the roof of our house, landing some blocks away and hitting an apartment that was empty at the time. We threw a mattress onto the floor of our security room and slept there. The houses on our lane were dark and quiet. We could hear the sea distinctly, a reassuring sound. Friday morning, trucks fitted with loudspeakers told residents of the town to remain in their shelters. There were yet more Katyushas mid-day, and as I write this I can still hear the booming of the artillery to our north. I am not sure when I will again take my bike out for that morning ride to Rosh Hanikra. Soon, my neighbors would say.