Heading for shelter
In the towns of the North, whether Arab or Jewish, the question is not whether there will be another war, but rather when it should be expected to break out.
More than 100 people gathered on Tuesday in a hall at the Palm Beach Hotel in Acre and listened attentively to instructions on how to respond to calls into the emergency hotline center. Usually these training sessions turn into a kind of "fun day," which is used to let participants have a good time and to strengthen social ties between them. Not this time. The participants, Jews and Arabs who hold official positions in local authorities in the North, participated in discussions and listened to the lectures attentively.
A year after the Second Lebanon War, they are not analyzing the hostilities that were; they are planning for the next war. The training day, one of an ongoing series of 15, was initiated by the Hosen Center for Trauma Intervention. The meetings are aimed at improving the functioning of municipal employees who are in direct contact with the population during times of emergency and in trauma situations. In short, they're taught how to cope when hundreds of panicked phone calls are coming in all at once - what to say and how to sound confident, even if you haven't the faintest idea what to do.
"The last war caught us with our pants down," says Carmiel Deputy Mayor Rina Greenberg, whose municipality in fact did function well during the war. Madi Abu Jaban, the executive officer of a long-term plan that Hosen is operating in Maghar, says cynically that "just as the weaponry is getting more sophisticated and is killing better, we too have to get more sophisticated." These two statements sum up dozens of conversations with residents of the North. Each of them in his own style and his own words, all of them are united in the opinion that another war is inevitable, with the only question being when it will break out.
Veterinarian Riad Bashara, of Tarshiha, believes that another war is coming, even though he is convinced that neither side is interested in it. Bishara, who is affiliated with the Hadash party, is a member of the Ma'alot-Tarshiha municipal council (and a cousin of former Balad MK Azmi Bishara). He was among the first to demonstrate against the Second Lebanon War. Now he fears that the prime minister and his government colleagues will use the next war to distract the public from concentrating on their failures in the last.
The certainty that there will be another war is stated without hysteria, even with resignation. Local governments, the police and Magen David Adom emergency medical services are all holding practice exercises aimed at improving the level of their functioning in case of a true alarm. This, while many in the North still bear the scars of the last war on their bodies and minds. Hundreds of inhabitants of the region are still being treated at trauma centers operated by Hosen.
One of them is Abu Jaban's 19-year-old daughter. Like others, she is experiencing nightmares, troubled sleep and anger. If indeed another war breaks out, it will at least fall on people who are more experienced, but also more scarred. A psychiatrist in the border town of Ma'alot has made it clear to one mother that her son is not psychologically capable of withstanding another war. The mother has begun to plan what to do when that moment arrives.
The deepest scar is the one that has been left on residents who feel they were abandoned by the state, whose institutions seemed to disappear at the very moment they were needed more than ever. When the civic leaders of Carmiel are asked what lesson they learned from last summer's war, they all answer, unambiguously: Above all, to be prepared for the next one. The rest was expressed by each of them in his own way. "We need to internalize that we are alone; there is no state," the head of the security and safety department at Carmiel city hall, Yair Koren, says flatly.
"Why alone?" Moshe Levy, the head of the municipality hotline in Carmiel scoffs bitterly. "There were ministers who came here during the war and made 'V for victory' signs."
In Carmiel, they have decided to seize the initiative, and, bypassing the current law, are incorporating responsibility for dealing with private shelters into the municipal framework as well. The citizens are having a hard time coping on their own with the needed renovations, but at the same time the state government has shrugged off dealing with them. But Carmiel has turned to its sister city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose Jewish community has donated half a million dollars for renovation of the shelters.
Isn't it a disgrace to rely on private donors for such basic needs? Feelings of disgrace, they say in Carmiel, are a luxury they can't afford. "If we were to wait for the state, there wouldn't be anything. This way we have renovated 160 shelters," says Rina Greenberg, who was a candidate on the Kadima list for the Knesset. Abu Jaban doesn't even think that there's shame involved. If only he could find a twin city for Maghar, he muses aloud. Or at least an Arcadi Gaydamak.
The shelters are a painful subject. Among the Arabs, as among the Jews. In Maghar and in the Old City of Acre, for example, not a single public shelter has been built since the war. We met Nabil Mansour and Fares Magaur from Acre at a local in the Old City, smoking narghiles (hubble-bubble water pipes) against the backdrop of the Old City walls, remnants of other wars.
There is no denying: When they become a distant chapter in history, there are wars that can leave behind a beautiful landscape, and such is the case in Acre. It is doubtful that the Second Lebanon War will leave anything beautiful behind. What charm can there be in a truck driver who jumped out of his rig upon hearing a Katyusha rocket, and without a shelter nearby could only cover his head with a large piece of cardboard? Magaur relates that for nearly a month he hid from the Katyushas in the empty water cistern in his home.
Mansour, a maintenance man, wears a cap from Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, with text on it in Russian. This multicultural choice amuses him, although less than the fact that his first wife, the mother of his two elder children, was Jewish, and his second wife, the mother of his two younger children, is a Muslim. To the question of which is better, he replies that "all women are the same." He loses his sense of humor when the conversation turns to the topic of the war - both the one that was and the one that he is certain is yet to be - and especially the topic of the shelters that don't exist. "The buildings in Acre are attached to one another and if a Katyusha falls in the Old City, 15 or 20 buildings go in one blow," he warns. "The Katyushas don't distinguish between Jew and Arab; the government does."
Samir Battah, an employee of the Histadrut labor federation and a member of the Acre municipal council, says that in that city people are talking about a war this summer as though it were a fait accompli, and are even thinking in terms of a date. The talk, he says, is not congruent with the minimal preparedness in the Arab section of the city. "The Defense Ministry has promised to provide shelters for the Arab area, but it hasn't done a thing. Not in our Old City, not in other Arab locales. Among the various answers I've received, they have also said that the Old City walls and the ancient buildings are strong and sturdy."