Here and there, a few cracks can be glimpsed in the Dahan family's unanimous faith in this war, which they view as the most justified and most necessary of all Israel's wars. As they continued to speak about the justness of the war, there were flashes of apprehension about the future and livelihoods and the closed stores and the financial losses and what they can expect after Israel finishes off the bitter and cruel enemy that peered at them from the mountain and accompanied their every move, day and night.
The son, Yehiel, talked about the ice cream business in Nahariya, which has come to a complete halt. The father, Shimon, talked about other businesses that have collapsed, and the mother, Tzipi, talked about the guesthouses that have been totally deserted and about the reflexology treatments that not a single person has come seeking since the war started. It's been more than two weeks and the family has taken cover in their spacious house in the small community of Kamoun, not knowing what each day will bring. They are confident that Israel will emerge victorious in its war. They're less sure about their own war for survival.
It's a family that represents a certain species of deep-rooted patriotism, of the kind that can still be found in remote corners of the cooperative settlement movement. Shimon, the father, who is almost 60, grew up on Kibbutz Ein Harod Ihud and worked in agriculture there until he discovered the Mount Kamoun hilltop and made up his mind to establish a Jewish community there. The idea was part of a pioneering ideal and the ambition to establish another Jewish location in the chain of settlements that arose in the Galilee in the 1980s.
"My dream was to conquer the land," he recalled this week, not quite able to conceal his nostalgia for those days. Shimon saw Arabs raising goats and was envious of them. He wanted so much to be like them, he wanted so much to feel like he was living in biblical times, that he bought 400 black goats and climbed up Mount Kamoun with them. When he reached the top, his heart nearly skipped a beat. "There wasn't a single Jew around," he recounts. "I told myself that if Jews don't come to live here, the Bedouin will take over the whole area."
Twenty-seven years ago he drove in a stake, brought up a trailer and lived atop Mount Kamoun without electricity or water. Before long, a community grew and Israelis seeking a better "quality of life" kept on arriving. Today, the well-tended communal settlement is home to more than 100 families.
In time, the Dahan family got into the ice cream business and opened stores in Nahariya and other locales in Israel. Yehiel, the youngest son, was put in charge of two stores in the city center that attracted thousands of customers. In the summer months, the stores operated around the clock and could barely keep up with demand.
And then, two weeks ago Thursday, a Katyusha landed on Yehiel's apartment in Nahariya. Immediately afterwards, the city emptied out as residents fled it like the plague. The Dahan family's Italian gelato business suffered a lethal blow. "We'd prepared a large stock of ice cream for the whole summer," says Yehiel. "You wait the whole year for the summer because it's the hottest season. We took on big commitments, because we knew that the summer profits keep us going for the whole year. We knew it would be a huge year because of all the tourism from Israel and abroad."
The first rocket thoroughly shook up the lives of the Dahan family and of the other inhabitants of this resort town. Of all the cities in the Galilee, Nahariya is considered an enviable success story. No other city looks as nice and no other place has become such a magnet for all western Galilee residents. This is all thanks to its location on the coast and the quality of life it offers.
But now Nahariya is a changed city. It appears deserted and without signs of life. It's hard to take in the sight of such a usually bustling city in this state of paralysis. "In my heart, I knew this was going to happen," says Shimon, referring to the war. "I told myself that Hezbollah can't just be doing exercises for no reason." Despite the pain of the financial losses, however, the family is convinced this war is the real war for the Galilee: "Even if I'm left with nothing, and despite all the pain, we had to respond," Shimon says.
Carmiel and Shlomi
Carmiel is spread out below Mount Kamoun. This relatively new city has never known such troubles in its four decades of existence. Now the rocket barrages are nearly continuous, and so is the anxiety. This afternoon, the air-raid siren splits the air, sending the few remaining residents to seek shelter. There's hardly a living soul on the streets. Booms are heard. The radio is reporting people wounded in Shlomi. The road to Shlomi is completely empty. At noon, there's no traffic on the main road.
The entrance to Shlomi offers stark evidence of the crazy times that have befallen this region in the summer of 2006. The homes are all locked and shuttered. In one garden, children's toys lie strewn about, left behind by a fleeing family. "Everyone fled to the center of the country," says David Amsalem, who sent his family to relatives in the center and remained here with his brother Albert, who also sent his family away. The two brothers live in Pisgat Shlomit, a neighborhood of spacious detached houses built in the hope of attracting young couples and people of means.
Albert is a senior employee at the Income Tax Authority in Haifa. David works as a nurse in the emergency room of Nahariya Hospital. For eight days, the brothers spent most of their time in a shelter. On the ninth day, they came outside to breathe some fresh air. When they emerged from their hiding place they saw that the Hezbollah positions that had been situated on the opposite mountain were completely destroyed.
The brothers breathed a sigh of relief. For 15 years, they've been living in this new neighborhood, just a few hundred meters from the border with Lebanon. Shlomi, a largely immigrant city with a population that has remained stagnant at about 5,000, has made efforts to lift itself out of its economic distress but failed due to endless internecine battles among the hapless local leadership.
The unwelcome proximity to Hezbollah disrupted the lives of the Amsalem brothers and their families. Whenever they went up on the roof or sat on their balconies, Hezbollah fighters across the way were watching them. And the sight of the movement's flags waving in the wind did nothing to increase their comfort.
"Ever since the withdrawal [in 2000], they watched us every night," says Albert. "And whenever they felt like it, they fired some shells in the air, which made a terrible noise. All to make us mad. We lived in constant fear. We didn't know what to be more afraid of the booms they made or infiltrations into Israeli territory."
David says the new war has buried the real problems of Shlomi and the other northern localities. He was sure the state was about to invest billions in the Galilee to fight the poverty that is so prevalent in both the Jewish and Arab towns. David fears that on the day after the war, Israel will wake up and find the Galilee has gone backward in time instead of forward.
"Before the war, employment was the real problem," he explains. "And I'm afraid that after the war the situation will be even worse. Now they'll come and say more money has to be transferred to defense. And where will they get the money? As usual, from the have-nots. And I ask you, what is a war victory worth if the Galilee residents find themselves without work, without a livelihood, without a way to live like people do in the center of the country?"
In the evening, at the entrance to Acre, the howling of dogs heralds more rockets hurtling toward the north. Within moments, tremendous blasts are heard that shake the ground. A few minutes later, the quiet of war once again prevails. The Acre port is abandoned. The sea is quiet, too. By IDF order, the fishermen are prohibited from going to sea. The fish restaurants are closed. All except for Uri Buri's famous establishment, but it has no customers. Uri Yirmias, the owner, is adamant that Israel must make an all-out effort and fight Hezbollah until the organization can't rear its head anymore. This is the common sentiment among people in the Galilee, whose lives have been altered beyond recognition in the past couple of weeks.
"We have to continue on to the end," says Uri, "even if I'm paying a high price."
The Dahan family also wants the army to do its job and won't worry itself too much about the extent of the financial and emotional damage on the home front. The two Amsalem brothers also do not regret for a moment that they were forced to spend eight straight days in a shelter.
Only Yehiel, the handsome young man whose business was ruined by the situation, expresses any heretical thoughts. If he could, he'd leave Nahariya, Mount Kamoun and the Galilee and move to the center of the country so he could live a normal life. "I work seven days a week, 365 days a year, and then this Nasrallah guy comes and shuts down my whole business. Everything I worked for is collapsing before my eyes and I can't do anything about it."