Reporter's Notebook: From Haifa to Nahariya, Northerners adapt to living with conflict

Although media coverage tends to use the generic term "the North" during the coverage of the fighting, the truth is that the intensity of the current conflict is felt to different degrees depending on where one lives in the North. Ironically, Haifa, which has suffered the most fatal Katyusha attacks to date, is the most relaxed area. The port city of 270,000 and its surrounding satellite towns - the Krayot - gradually emerged from the trauma of last Sunday's deadly attack when eight Israel Railways employees were killed at a repair depot. Although there were additional attacks during the week and a particularly heavy barrage on Friday, there were signs that the Haifa Bay area was slowly resuming a semblance of normality. During the week, each day a few more shops reopened and more cars were on the streets. In the evenings, as the week progressed, there were more choices of bars and restaurants for residents and media crews to frequent in an effort to unwind and escape from the conflict for a few hours. In Haifa, residents are not confined to bomb shelters and secure rooms. Only long range Katyushas can reach the city and Haifa spreads over a large geographical area, covering both slopes of the Carmel mountain range. This prompts some residents to believe that the chances of being hit by a rocket in Haifa are significantly smaller than in areas to the north. Indeed, the further north one travels, the feeling of insecurity and fear magnifies. By the weekend some one hundred Katyushas had fallen on Nahariya and two residents of the town had been killed. Driving around the deserted streets of Nahariya, the evidence of the conflict is everywhere: burnt out facades of apartment buildings, pot holes where rockets fell, broken blinds, shrapnel marks on walls and repair men fixing the damage. Only a handful of shops remain open, and with the exception of municipality and emergency vehicles, there are hardly any cars on the roads. Nahariya has a population of 56,000. The municipality has no statistics on how many people have fled south but the residents who remain behind confirm that well over half the population has left. In contrast to the eerie silence on the streets, the municipality building is a hub of frantic activity. All the essential services have relocated to the bomb shelter. Municipality staff, soldiers from the Home Front Command, social workers and psychologists answer phone calls from residents. Most of the inquiries concern compensation for rocket damage to property, requests to fix bomb shelters, or to bring additional supplies to particular bomb shelters. The army delivers food and drink to the shelters three times a day. According to Home Front Command instructions, Nahariya residents should be spending all their time in bomb shelters or secure rooms. But the truth is they don't. A lot of families are naturally fed up with the confined existence and have moved back to their apartments, even if they don't have a secure room. They are aware of the risk but tell you they will go crazy if they have to spend any more time incarcerated in a small space. At least in Nahariya the sound of Israeli artillery shelling is only a distant thud to the north. Not so in Kiryat Shmona, where it feels like you are living inside an artillery base. Artillery pieces close to the to Galilee panhandle town pound Hizbullah positions relentlessly and the noise is deafening. The ground shakes and the echo reverberates in the air. There can be rounds fired every few seconds during periods of intensive shelling. The first few times after you hear the shelling you jump, to the amusement of the locals. Eventually you get used to it. But you still wonder how anyone can stay and live through this. The truth is that not everyone has somewhere to go to or feels comfortable imposing themselves on family and friends in the center of the country for a long period: particularly the poorer families with a lot of children. So they stay put and stick it out. Even the toddlers fail to bat an eyelid as the shelling intensifies. "It's OK. It's ours. It's not incoming," has become the most common phrase on Kiryat Shmona's streets as the residents adjust to the new reality of living in a war zone.