Haifa Residents More Curious Than Worried

At 8:15 P.M., Haifa's cellular phone networks were showing signs of collapse, but the streets were filled with cars as usual. The plaza in front of the Carmel Center auditorium had a large crowd at the entrance, awaiting a performance.

The Stella Maris neighborhood: Lionel Fernandez is a Carmelite priest who lives in the nearby monastery. He spent the early part of the evening at the French consulate, on Eliyahu Hakim Street in the adjacent French Carmel neighborhood. Fernandez was among those invited to celebrate the eve of Bastille Day. In the course of the evening, he received notice of a blast near the monastery and rushed to check the damage. The police officers blocking the road to prevent access to the site where the rocket landed would not let him through, despite his efforts to explain that he "lives here, it's my house."

Fernandez does not speak English, and the conversation with him took place in broken French. While curious onlookers gathered near the police barricade (but could not see anything, because the rocket landed on the northern side of the monastery, on Via Stella Maris), Fernandez ran into a Carmelite monk who lives in the monastery at the Muhraka (on the other side of Mount Carmel). He explained the situation to him, then commented: "I'm not Jewish, not Lebanese, not Palestinian, but everyone should know that war is bad."

Former MK Amnon Lin arrived. He lives in Haifa and came to check out what is happening. One Haifa resident recognized him and addressed him as an ex-bigwig: "Back in your day, a government was a government." Lin, who was a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, replied soothingly: "There's someone to rely on nowadays, too."

Photographers, police and reporters gathered for an impromptu press conference with Mayor Yona Yahav, who tried to soothe tempers: "This is not a new era. We've been working under the assumption that long-range missiles could hit Haifa." Yahav said that he spoke with the prime minister, who promised him the response would be harsh.

Yahav: "I still say Haifa is not in danger. In the Gulf war, we were hit by two missiles, and nothing really happened. I call on residents to maintain restraint. Remember that this is a home front war, not a front-line war. This hit requires a response and I'm relying on the Israel Defense Forces."

One witness to the blast, a resident of Neve Sha'anan, said that he heard the rocket land behind him as he drove up the street. How does it feel with Katyusha rockets around? "Interesting." He was not planning to alter his routine tomorrow.

In general, at least in Stella Maris, most of the interest seemed to be of the curious sort, not the worried kind. But perhaps things will look different tomorrow.