The kids are gone, the parks are empty

Most residents have fled the tension and stale air that hover in Nahariya.

Most people have left Nahariya; that seems pretty clear. Those who have remained are staying close to security rooms in their homes or to public shelters. Only four families remain of the 11 who live along our small lane. The dogs have vanished with their owners, and the motorbikes are silent. Cats, rarely included in Israeli households, look up at me hopefully as I make my way up the lane and out onto the street. There are no cars moving there and almost none parked along the curbs. One or two people walk by with deliberation and purpose. I am struck particularly by the absence of children. The kindergartens are all closed and the parks are empty. There is a strange, uncomfortable edge to it all. The extent of the exodus has taken me by surprise. Of course, the Katyushas still fall. There was a second fatality in town earlier this week. A resident, Andre Zilensky, was hit by a rocket as he walked to a public shelter where his wife and young daughter waited for him. His death might have provoked many to leave for more secure conditions. There is also the growing concern that the Katyusha war may continue for some time; the chief of staff has made statements to this effect. Perhaps some people think that sooner or later they will be compelled to leave, so they might as well do it sooner. And there are those who can manage their fear of the rockets but who find the cumulative effects of day-to-day life in Nahariya - being cooped up all day, lack of usual routine, boredom, stale air - too difficult to manage. Now there may be yet another factor at play in the continuing exodus. There is a war going on about 10 kilometers up the road, and it has intensified in the last few days. The navy is in evidence, patrolling the waters off Nahariya, perhaps concerned with infiltration from the north. We hear more fighter aircraft in the sky than we have before, although we do not see them. Helicopters are seen during the day and heard throughout the night. My wife stopped what she was doing a few nights ago and observed that a helicopter we both heard thundering overhead, flying south, must be taking wounded soldiers from Lebanon to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. It is rather a jump from hearing a helicopter to declaring the nature of its mission, but she felt she was right. Whether or not it was an accurate description of what was happening, it was certainly a genuine expression of apprehension and an acknowledgement of what is going on so nearby. We hear the sound of Israeli artillery firing into southern Lebanon from our side of the border. I find it hard to listen to the sound of these big guns. Once, about 10 years ago and before he became a soldier himself, my son took me to visit a friend of his serving on an artillery base near the border. I found a cluster of tents and a row of self-propelled guns. I was taken aback by the soldiers. They not only seemed, but really were, so young, most of them 18, the sergeants maybe 20, and the officer in charge of the whole battery was all of 25. Time has not erased that experience and has underscored the fears it let loose. Each "boom" we hear is the result of a shell that has been moved forward by some young guy, loaded by another, and finally fired by yet another. I find it hard to think about them. Only occasionally do we actually hear what we think is the shell's point of impact. It is hard to think about that as well. We are hopeful that the Katyusha war will wind down, although Shabbat has been a bad day in Nahariya, with some two dozen rockets falling in the area. But a larger and potentially uglier war is developing just north of here, over the border. It fills one with apprehension. Of course that war is going on whether we hear it or not. But hearing it makes real. For some this is a reason to leave. For others, it is a reason to stay.