Metulla untouched by rockets but not by the war

Since last Thursday, there are only two sounds one hears in Metulla, at the northern tip of upper Galilee, a few hundred meters from the Lebanese border. One is the sound of Israeli artillery shells heading north. The other is the sound of silence. Virtually nothing is open in Metulla. All but one of the restaurants that usually bustle in the summer season are closed. Hotels are shuttered or empty. There is almost no traffic on the picturesque main street except for the odd tractor returning from the orchards, where farmers are frantically trying to pick the season's harvest of peaches, plums, apples and pears. There are almost no children in Metulla. About 120 youngsters from first through 12th grades have been sent to summer school at the Wingate Physical Educational School, south of Netanya. They are there for five days, but if the war continues, they will stay longer. The Canada Center, with its indoor and outdoor swimming pools and ice rink, is closed, and there is virtually nothing to do in the small community. Just over 20 years ago, the name Metulla was synonymous with katyushas. Until the 1982 Lebanese war, when Palestinian terrorists were limited to short-range rockets, they aimed them at nearby Kiryat Shmona and Metulla. So far, Metulla has been luckier this time. Hizbullah, with its longer-range Syrian and Iranian-supplied missiles are aiming farther afield. Metulla has been untouched so far. Untouched but not unharmed. Miriam Hod runs one of the most successful hotels in Metulla. Called Beit Shalom, it is only a 10-room establishment, but Hod is an artist who has turned every room into a work of art. Next door, in one of the original stone houses built in the 19th century, she and her husband have established a beautifully furnished caf . Hod told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that she was booked up on the weekends all the way through the autumn holiday season. It goes without saying that all her customers last week cancelled. Hod said she had managed to talk others out of cancelling their reservations over the coming weeks by promising them they could still do so at the last minute without paying a penalty. It is not only the tourism trade that has crashed. The farmers are also suffering. Hod said that on Sunday her husband and his workers had picked fruit under fire. On Monday, the workers refused to go out to the orchards and he had to stay home. Each day is crucial. The fruit can only be picked when perfectly ripe but before it falls from the tree. Every lost harvest day means lost produce and lost income. Despite these losses, the residents of Metulla have no doubts about the necessity of the military campaign. "It is good the army is doing this and they must keep it up until the very end," said Hod. "We support all the decisions of the government and the army despite the financial losses to tourism and agriculture." Restaurateur Micha Levit feels the same way. "We are justified in everything we do," he said. "The only question is, where will the army stop? If it stops in the middle, it will have accomplished nothing." Asked what the end should be, Levit replied, "Hizbullah should not be allowed to return to the border. Either an international force or the Lebanese Army should be posted there." Near the entrance to town, a group of Magen David Adom volunteers is on standby and, happily so far, idle. On Sunday, they were augmented by four volunteers from Modi'in, including a doctor, an ambulance driver-cumn-medic and two medics. All of them left their jobs to come to Metulla. They are only here for 48 hours, but hope to return once they make the necessary arrangements at work. The four, all born in France, belong to the Modi'in branch of Hatzalah - Judea and Samaria, a volunteer organization which provides medical and sometimes social and psychological aid. Arik Padida, 43, is a self-employed real estate agent in Modi'in and Moshe Sa'adia, 33, owns an optometry shop in the same city. Shlomo Shimoni, 52, is a doctor who runs his own clinic in nearby Maccabim. Why have these breadwinners suspended their regular lives and come to Metulla? "We want to help as much as possible," said Sa'adia. "That's the way we were raised." "We are all Jews," added Ilan Sa'adia, Moshe's brother. "Everyone does what he can. The army defends the country. We try to help the civilians." Back in Modi'in, there are 26 such volunteers, including three doctors, five paramedics and 18 Magen David Adom-certified medics. The volunteers are linked to the Magen David Adom communications system by beeper, and as soon as anyone hears of an incident in his vicinity requiring medical aid, he drops everything and rushes to the scene. The volunteers are so speedy, in fact, that they were the first Israeli medical team to arrive in Sri Lanka to provide medical assistance in the aftermath of the tsunami. Since it has been so quiet in Metulla so far, they may be posted to hotter spots if and when they return to the north.