Kiryat Shmona tires of life on the front

Hardest-hit northern town undergoing process of repairing both physical and emotional damage.

Kiryat Shmona has long been plagued by war. Only a few kilometers from Lebanon, the city has been attacked by both the PLO and Hizbullah countless times, from the mid-1970s until the last rocket hit last Sunday. Even more than most towns in the North, Kiryat Shmona is undergoing a process of recovery, one that includes repairing physical and emotional damage, and trying to somehow resume the routine of everyday life. An astonishing amount of damage was done to the town by the recent war. According to the municipality, at least 1,000 rockets were fired at Kiryat Shmona during the conflict, wounding 70 people. More than 2,000 housing units were damaged, as well as seven schools, seven nurseries, 151 cars, two malls and a sports hall. Despite the trauma and the hard work of repairing the physical damage, life goes on. Approximately 17,000 people - 71% of Kiryat Shmona's 24,000 residents - left during the war. Although the municipality says almost all of them have returned to their homes, the streets are still far from full. Yet the malls are open and the new school year is scheduled to start on September 3. The end of the fighting has returned a sense of normalcy to the town, at least for now. Yet normalcy is fragile when there is so much uncertainty. Tony Malul, who was born in Kiryat Shmona in 1956 and has lived there ever since, said her memories of running into the bomb shelter were difficult to deal as simply returning to everyday life. "My daughter is not just scared to go back to her school," which suffered a direct hit from a Katyusha rocket, "but also to just sleep in her own bed," Malul said. Several residents said they doubted the cease-fire would last. "All the people I've spoken to say it's only a short break," said Armon Gozalken, who manages a sports apparel store in the Center 8 mall downtown. The mall reopened on Wednesday; it was hit by a rocket during the war. Many store owners said there were much fewer customers than normal. "Everything is open now but people are still afraid to come to the big stores, to the big mall," Gozalken said. "Even though there are some people around, many do not have much money to spend after staying in hotels for the last month." Many residents strongly criticized the government's handling of the war, as well as what they described as a lack of assistance for residents of Kiryat Shmona. "The government doesn't care about us, and neither does the municipality. It seems as if no one does right now," said Shlomit Aharon, who works at a gift shop in the Center 8 mall. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, who attended a Jewish National Fund ceremony in the area in which US philanthropist Ronald Lauder helped plant new trees, told The Jerusalem Post that the government was doing all it could to help the city's residents. "These are strong people," Bar-On said. They also understand this is a long process in which there is much pain, but also unity among the people of Israel. The North will continue to develop and bloom." Large portions of the forests surrounding Kiryat Shmona were burned by fires started by Hizbullah rockets during the war. At the JNF ceremony, Lauder said, "I was not prepared for all the detestation, but I will say that the war has united the Jewish people, even those who don't live here. We will send as much money as we can to help rebuild the North." Lauder has already donated $3.5 million to the JNF's campaign. The JNF said that 750,000 trees on 29,000 dunams, or about 7,250 acres, had been damaged by the Katyusha rockets. The fund hopes to plant 1 million trees in the area over the next few years.