Northern residents return home

"There are even soldiers in back of our house. Its like I'm in a military camp."

For the first time in over a month, Nicole Gino hung her laundry in the back yard of her Metulla home on the Lebanese border. As she straightened out the clothing on the line, she was glad to be back but uneasy because she felt as if Hizbullah was still watching her from the apartment buildings across the valley. Only a orchard of fruit trees separates her house on the community's edge from a neighboring Lebanese village. Israel's shelling of Lebanon this summer and its ground war did not convince Gino that Israel had vanquished Hizbullah. But the cease-fire declared on Monday morning did convince her to finally head home after being on the road since mid-July with her two teenaged children and her elderly mother. While the government and the Home Front Command announced that life had returned to normal in the North on Tuesday, one day after the cease-fire went into effect, Gino struggled with the word "normal." Public buses ran again throughout the north and cars clogged the road as more than 90,000 people who had fled began returning home. But Gino's drive home on Monday evening was different then it would have been even two months ago. She passed tanks and soldiers camped along the road instead of the many tourists she would typically have seen hiking and picnicking at this time of year. Along the narrow streets of the hilltop community of 2,000, soldiers still march in and out of Lebanon. "There are even soldiers in back of our house. I feel like I'm in a military camp," Gino said. When she walked into her small home on Lebanon Street it was filled with dust and dirt. "I was up until 4 a.m. cleaning. And I washed the floors again today," she said. Laundry was folded on her kitchen table and more loads were in her washing machine. "I love Metulla, but this has exhausted me," said Gino as she sat and smoked a cigarette at her kitchen table. "I had no energy to come back. It's hard, very hard." Having lived in Metulla for 30 years, Gino is a veteran of rocket attacks and wars with her neighbors. But none of them were like this one, said the mother of six, including Oz, 19, who is in Lebanon. For Gino the war started at the end of June when Hamas attacked a tank on the Gaza border. Among the two soldiers killed was her daughter Orit's fianc , Hanan Barak, 21, of Arad. "I so loved him," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. He came so often to their house that now her daughter has shied away from returning because being there reminds her too strongly of him. Then there was her son's bar mitzvah, which was planned for July 15. She had expected more than 100 people to fill the synagogue and instead they barely got the 10 men needed for her son to read from the Torah. Between the rocket attacks and artillery shelling it was dangerous to even head to the synagogue, Gino said. But it was news a few nights later of a possible terrorist infiltration that sent her fleeing in the night. Now that Gino has returned to her home, she thinks it is only a matter of time before the next round. "I don't believe there will be peace," she said. Even before the outbreak of hostilities she felt the building of tension. Over the years, she said, the buildings in the Lebanese village across the way have crept closer and closer. Often she feels as if people are spying on her and on others in Metulla. Still, she intends to stay put as long as possible, having exhausted her own ability to stay with friends and family as she has for the last month. "I have nowhere else to go," she said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, and Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog met Tuesday in Karmiel with the mayors of all northern local authorities. Olmert gave the mayors a report on plans for rehabilitating the North, saying the government would work to ensure that the school year began on time on September 1. "This is the central mission of the government in the period ahead," Olmert said. "We will return life in the North to normal and lead the region forward (Kadima in Hebrew)." Earlier in the day, Prime Minister's Office Director-General Raanan Dinur led a delegation of directors general of ministries to the North. Dinur announced a new "sister city" program in which the 15 largest cities in Israel would each adopt a city in the North. Olmert said the Prime Minister's Office would begin a nationwide campaign to convince Israelis to take vacations in the North. In Kiryat Shimona, residents were busy returning home Tuesday and cleaning up their houses and businesses. Standing in his debris-filled store where a rocket hit over a week ago, Levi Zion estimated it would take a month to fix the damage. The windows were shattered and the concrete wall was marked with holes. Pieces of the ceiling lay on the floor. Food had fallen off the shelves. Cereal boxes, jars of chocolate spread and stacks of paper cuts were scattered everywhere. Still, he was hopeful he would be able to reopen soon. A few blocks away, Vered and Avishay Zinati, whose store was left unscathed, said they were unsure they wanted to stay. Newlyweds, the couple had recently returned to work from their honeymoon when they heard that two soldiers had been kidnapped on July 12. "I had a bad feeling," said Avishay. They didn't wait for the rockets to fall from the hills above them. "We closed the doors, took the car keys and left," he said. "We didn't even pack, Vered added. They returned on Tuesday, having spent money they couldn't afford on hotels and supplies. Between those bills and the loss of a month's earnings from the store, Avishay estimated he had lost all the money he made in the last year. He's not waiting for the next round between Hizbullah and Israel, he said. His hope is to close the store and move to the US. "There is no future here," he said. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.