Peki'in Nowhere to Shelter

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Dib family of Peki'in was hard at work yesterday clearing out their house's bomb shelter. The Dibs live in a relatively new neighborhood, and many of the houses have their own bomb shelters or security rooms, since they were built after the 1991 Gulf War, when this became mandatory. But, as in most other Arab towns, these shelters have turned into packed storerooms.

Rajah Dib, the family matriarch, made the decision to clear out the shelter over the weekend, when a Katyusha rocket fell on a neighbor's house, causing serious damage to the house next door as well. "I'm not willing to take additional unnecessary risks," she said. "At first, we were indifferent, but today, after all the Katyushas that have fallen here, there is no doubt that we are in the line of fire, and the danger is real."

Rajah and her policeman husband, Assef, are both helping to repair the damage caused by the rocket strikes. "Like everyone, we thought it wouldn't happen here," said Assef.

Fida, Rajah's sister-in-law, was standing nearby with her 10-year-old son. "At night, we are very restless," she said, adding that most of the women and children in the neighborhood had gone to stay with relatives for fear of the Katyushas. "Even a shelter or a security room doesn't reassure me," she said.

Peki'in, a popular tourist village, has suffered several Katyusha hits over the last few days. Three rockets hit houses, causing considerable damage; others hit the village's olive groves.

For residents, this is a completely new experience. Even during the Lebanon War or Operation Grapes of Wrath, rockets never fell on Peki'in. The town has one public bomb shelter, which normally serves as a clubhouse for the local youth. Yesterday, however, while the Katyushas were falling, the shelter was closed, and the children were playing outside it.

"We have nowhere to go, so we wander around," explained Shadi, a ninth-grader. "There aren't enough shelters."

Some families have moved into their security rooms, he added, but "most of them don't care."

Peki'in typifies what is happening in most Arab communities in the north. Even in those that have public shelters, people are not rushing to enter them. Sometimes, this is because the shelters are not ready to accommodate people, but most of the time, the reason is simple indifference.

"Indifference and lack of information," added Salah Dib, whose house was damaged by a Katyusha. "Over the weekend, when a Katyusha hit the neighbor's house, my wife fainted and needed medical attention. Meanwhile, the entire street was filled with cars and rubber-neckers, and it took the ambulance two hours to arrive. One of the things that most upsets me is when a grown man with a child comes and asks me to take him and show him where the [rockets] landed. It's simply crazy."

Salah Zinadine and his wife, Nazha, run a restaurant in Peki'in. What worries them is not just the rocket attacks and the lack of shelters, but the fact that for a week, not a single patron has eaten at their restaurant. Normally, he said, Peki'in is packed with tourists from both Israel and abroad at this season. "Now, it's desolate. I understand this, and I'm not blaming anyone, since the danger exists," he said. "But I very much hope that this is over soon."

Alif Sabag, an employee of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, is mainly angry at the media. "It's good that you remembered us," he said. "There have been [rocket] strikes on the village, and casualties, but no one notices ... It's as if we didn't exist."

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