Haifa thrives again, but no longer feels invulnerable

Residents have rebuilt their homes, but not their confidence.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The war is Malka Carsenti's one-word explanation for her hearing loss and her bare apartment. Five days into the Second Lebanon War, a missile ripped through her three-story apartment building in Haifa's Bat Galim neighborhood. She was inside. The blast took out a section of the walls and sent a portion of the upstairs apartment crashing into hers. The partially demolished structure became a symbolic stop for foreign reporters, solidarity missions, government officials and visiting politicians. "It was like a tourist attraction," said the 71-year old senior Thursday, as she sat in her newly rebuilt apartment. Then the war ended, and she and her husband were left alone to rebuild their lives. The walls and floors were replaceable, she said, but everything else was lost. "Nothing was left. Not a piece of furniture, not a scrap of paper, not a photograph," she said. The few valuables that may have survived, such as jewelry, were stolen. For Carsenti, as for most Haifa residents, the war started on July 13. That was the day when the unthinkable happened - a rocket hit their city, in the Stella Maris neighborhood. "I never imagined rockets would fall here," said Carsenti. Since then, said many of those interviewed on the anniversary by The Jerusalem Post, life has returned to normal - with one exception: They no longer feel invulnerable to attack. Carsenti said she was on her porch when her world changed - she saw what looked like a streak of light fly through the air, followed by an explosion. "Until it happens, no one thinks about it. You feel immune," she said. On the Monday, July 17, she had gone into her bedroom to lie down when warning sirens rang out and she ran to the bathroom. Then the walls and ceiling caved. She was buried up to her neck and knocked unconscious. When she woke up she felt warm liquid on her face. "That was the blood," she said. She was naked when a rescue team took her out of the apartment, she said. It took time before she was able to return. First, she was sent to a recuperation center, then she and her husband had to rent an apartment. Theirs was only restored in April. Even then, she said as she pointed to rooms bare except for basic furniture, "there is little here." While the cost of the repair was covered, Carsenti was still left with a number of bills. The rent she paid while her apartment was being repaired was NIS 1,000 a month more than she was given. Nor does the allocation for replacement furniture come anywhere near the cost of the items she had accumulated in her 52 years of marriage, 32 of them in the same apartment. On top of that, she said, there was a dispute over a hospital bill for the three days immediately following the attack. "Obviously, I'm not paying it," she said. For Mario Basiro, 24, who runs a small grocery store in Bat Galim with his father, the physical return to normality was easier than for his father. After the first Katyushas fell, the Basiros kept the store open sporadically... until a rocket landed outside it. Mario said his father was organizing stock in the refrigerator and didn't hear the siren. He was heading towards the doorway when he was thrown backwards by the blast. "He hasn't been the same since then," said Mario. His father still comes to the store, but can only stay for a couple of hours before leaving. The Basiros reopened almost immediately after the war, but it took a couple of months for the customer level to return. Now, says Mario, he tries not to think about the war or about the possibility that another one could break out. The same is true for his neighbor Omar Omar, who runs a fish restaurant next door and whose windows were taken out by the same blast. Looking across tables now filled with customers, he said that life was back the way it was, except for the shattering of the confidence that Haifa would never be attacked. Still, said Daniel Mirad, also 24, whose family runs an ice cream parlor on the beach, he wasn't wasting his energy worrying about more conflict. "Where would I go that's safer?" Naama Yodfa was one of the few café owners to keep her small hilltop restaurant open throughout the war. Musicians played one night a week for the few Haifa residents who ventured out. Looking out at the street now filled with people, Yodfa said she was happy to see that a year later, the city was thriving. But she was sadder. "It turns out that the army is not an army, the government is not a government," she said. In the mornings, she said, she wakes up with a mental picture of captive soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit in her head. Schalit was kidnapped by Hamas on June 25 on the Gaza border. "Every time I think of him, it's hard for me to breathe." Smoking a cigarette in her new kitchen, Carsenti said it never occurred to her not to return to her neighborhood, even though it was a continual target throughout the war given its proximity to the city's hospital and chemical industries. If there was one thing she'd learned, she said, it was that "What happens, happens."