Recurring nightmare

As violence returns to the northern border, residents recall the "bad old days" and look to the future.

bomb shelter 88 (photo credit: )
bomb shelter 88
(photo credit: )
For the first time since the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon, residents of Israel's north returned to their security rooms and bomb shelters, a reminder of days that they had hoped were far behind them. Emergency speakers placed in every town, moshav and kibbutz along the northern border blasted a shrill warning to residents. On the day when forecasters predicted the first light snow would dust the peaks of Mount Hermon, visitors and occupants of the Galilee panhandle watched as smoke rose from the slopes of the dormant volcano. "We've enjoyed quiet since the IDF left Lebanon and in the mean time, a new group of people who moved into the kibbutz who aren't used to these attacks," said Sgt-Maj Phillip Pasmanick, the security director of Kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch, which was hit by multiple mortars. A large population of students at nearby Tel Hai College live on the kibbutz. "It's been quite disruptive for them," he said. "They're supposed to be able to sit down and study and go to school." One student, Pasmanick said, called him when the shells started falling on the kibbutz and told him that in his three years as a combat soldier in the Armored Corps - including two years spent in Lebanon - he had never been so terrified. Young adults who grew up in the area, seasoned veterans of Hizbullah barrages, were calmer. The teenagers and young adults of Kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch, who became familiar with barrages in the years before Israeli forces left Lebanon, calmly entered a kibbutz bomb shelter, where they watched an Israeli stand-up comedian on DVD, leaving once the movie ended. Similarly, Oshrat Ben-Dayan, who has spent all of her 21 years in Kiryat Shmona, was unmoved by Monday's barrages. "My friend called me and asked if I heard what happened on the border. I checked on the internet and then I heard all the booming from left and right," she said. "I wasn't afraid, but people around me were." Ben-Dayan compared Monday's events with the attacks that pounded her Galilee panhandle town ten years ago. Then, she said, she was 11 years old and understood little of what was going on around her. She was simply told that they were evacuating the entire city. For two weeks, she and her family were placed with a family out of harm's way and prohibited from returning to "the Kirya" as she affectionaly calls her hometown. While Ben-Dayan said that he believes that the violence along the border will continue, she says that she "doesn't think that it'll be like it was before." Another Kiryat Shmona veteran, resident Nir Shimoni, 26, was in class at Tel Hai College when Monday's barrages began. "During a class, we began to hear the explosions. At first, the students did not understand. It was a monotonous noise that gradually became louder until we realized that it was shelling, and not some routine background sound." Students, he said, left the classroom and went to an eastern-facing balcony, where they could see smoke rising over the mountains. "Telephones started ringing from family members checking to make sure that everyone was unhurt, and the students started to call taxis and hitchhike rides down the hill towards Kiryat Shmona, away from the border," he said. Shimoni, who, like Ben-Dayan was evacuated - without his parents - from his hometown during the Katyusha attacks of the '90's, remained in a near empty classroom with one other student and his instructor for the duration of the lecture as mortar strikes and IDF retaliation shook the surrounding hills. "Its nothing like it was during Operation Grapes of Wrath," Shimoni recalled the 1996 barrages, during which he was evacuated along with his entire high school class to the Jerusalem area. "Then, it was all day long, every day, non-stop," he said. Pasmanick, a 20-year veteran of Israel Police, said that his commanders from the police and Border Police had all called and visited, he said, immediately following the mortar attacks and he praised the army, police and Border Police, saying that they were "are all very active not only in defending against Katyusha fire and this kind of scare tactics, but also going into the settlements and making sure that the citizens are protected and taken care of." Even if the residents of the area remained calm, however, the renewed threat of escalation along the northern border threatened to upset the placid lifestyle and - more critical for the area's economy - the all-important tourist trade that has blossomed and flourished during the recent quiet along the border. "Israelis are aware of this lifestyle. It a rocket falls on a Thursday, nobody will come on the weekend, but the following week, they'll be back," said Pasmanick. He noted that a potential buyer at a housing development located on his kibbutz heard the barrages and announced that she could never live in such an environment. But many northerners are not ready to give up their idyllic surroundings because of Hizbullah. "There isn't anywhere in this country that is quiet," said Shimoni. "But there is nowhere like the north." "I'm sure that if you work out all the statistics," said Pasmanick, "I'm sure you'll see that more people were killed by terror in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Netanya than across the entire north throughout all of the years of conflict." The American-born security chief remains undaunted. "With all this going on," he said, "we're still in better shape and I wouldn't leave the north. I would rather live in Israel with the terrorists than in New York with the drive-bys. Here you can protect yourself - you have a fighting chance."