|Building in Haifa damaged by rocket|
The war lasted from 12 July 2006 to 14 August 2006. We first heard about the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and subsequent exchanges of fire, then on the 13th a Hezbollah rocket landed in Haifa. On the 14th we went out for a drink with a Greek academic who had just arrived in Haifa to take a summer course in Hebrew. We talked about the situation and expressed our opinion that it wouldn't develop into all-out war. We tried to persuade him, and ourselves, that Hezbollah had too much to lose by provoking an Israeli response. Unfortunately, we were wrong about that. We later heard that the Hebrew course had relocated to Tel Aviv, out of the range of the rockets.
After an uncertain weekend, on the 16th we heard sirens and went down to the shelter in our basement. We soon started to hear rocket explosions. That day 8 railway employees were killed in Haifa, and we realized this could be a bad war if that sort of casualty rate continued. The station where they were killed has since been renamed "Hashmona" (= "the eight") in their memory. I think this was actually the highest number of people killed in a single attack in Haifa, though there were larger casualty numbers in some other attacks further north.
My diary notes rocket attacks every day for the next few weeks. There were over 300 rockets fired on Haifa during this period, and we could hear many of the explosions from our shelter. Some buildings and cars were damaged or destroyed about 10 minutes' walk from our home. We have 50 seconds to reach the shelter from the moment the sirens sound, which means we had to stay alert all the time and be able to drop whatever we were doing and rush down the stairs. We left meals on the table, abandoned work in mid-sentence, and one time Ivor had to rush out of the shower and go down to the shelter wearing just a towel! We spent many hours in the shelter with the neighbours, listening out for the explosions and trying to guess what direction they came from and how far away they were. We had a radio in the shelter, which we played quietly, waiting for them to announce the all clear, usually ten minutes after the last rocket exploded. Sometimes we had just climbed the stairs when there was another siren and we had to go straight down again. We had to leave the cats at home as it would have been impossible to grab then and carry them down the stairs quickly enough.
One time we had just got into the shelter when we heard loud knocking on the building's front door. Someone went and answered it, and a scared couple came in. They had been walking along the road when the siren went off and they rushed to the nearest building to take cover. They spent the attack with us and then left.
Life did not quite continue as usual. While some work places remained open, everyone's routine was ruined. Public gatherings were forbidden. The civilians under attack were collectively known as the "home front", and political and military leaders were constantly praising the bravery and resolve of the home front. I had mixed feelings about this, because I felt the initial reluctance to send ground troops into Lebanon came at the expense of the civilians in the north. Soldiers are supposed to protect civilians, not the other way around.
During the month of the war, it was estimated that about 15% of the population of Haifa (45,000 people) left the area for at least some of the time, while 30% of the population of the entire northern region (350,000 people) did so. We were invited by my parents, my sister, and some friends in the centre and the south to stay with them, but we couldn't leave our cats and taking them with us would have been difficult. I also felt that leaving my home would make me more anxious. We had only moved into our new flat a few weeks earlier, and now there was a real risk that it could be destroyed.
I spent a couple of days away from home, but couldn't relax and kept expecting sirens even though I knew the rockets didn't reach that far. We went out with friends a couple of times, supporting the cafes and pubs that remained open. We also visited a friend who was volunteering in a shopping mall's shelter, looking after the children of the mall's employees who could spend the day in safety while their parents were at work. The volunteers tried to keep them occupied and distracted.
During this time, I continued working as best I could. I remember I was preparing the Index of a book I had translated, which was quite boring and unimaginative work. Even so, it was hard to concentrate, and my computer was right underneath a window, so I felt exposed and was constantly listening out for sirens. I later moved my desk away from the window. I couldn't listen to music, I couldn't read, and it was even hard to watch films on DVD. I also had a toothache throughout this war, and obviously couldn't go to the dentist because I was afraid that something bad might happen if the siren went off while the dentist had a drill in my mouth!
The day before the ceasefire came into effect, 13 August, there were more attacks on Haifa than ever, and I saw that as evidence of bad faith. Hezbollah had already agreed to end hostilities, so why try harder than ever to cause damage right at the last minute?
After the war ended, it took me a while to trust that it was really over and there would be no more sirens and rockets. At the time, I felt I would never be the same again, and didn't know when I'd be able to get my concentration back and to enjoy life again. I think that like most people in Israel I have some low-level PTSD. I still startle easily at anything that sounds like a siren, dislike explosions (including fireworks, which I used to enjoy), and have some residual anxiety and vulnerability. But I believe people are usually resilient, and I gradually returned to my normal self.
My experiences of war have played their part in shaping my identity. I don't take my safety for granted, and I am aware that at any moment there could be another attack, whether from across the border or from within. I can hope to live in peace for as long as possible, but part of me feels that war is inevitable, not only in the Middle East, but soon throughout the western world too. People's insistence on sticking to group identities that divide us rather than finding what we have in common can only cause suffering.
War comes in many forms. It no longer involves professional armies meeting to fight on a remote battle field. It often involves attacks on civilians, either by a military group or by individual terrorists/fighters. We can all become victims of war, whatever our opinions on the issues used as a pretext to justify it. Instead of feeling powerless in the face of destruction, my choice is to try to spread compassion and empathy in the world. I try to do this through my writing and through my personal example. It might not be much, but that's all I can do.