Siege Is Met With Stoicism in Haifa
Monday, July 17, 2006
HAIFA, Israel, July 16 -- On most balmy summer afternoons, the tables outside Kanibar along Moriah Avenue are full of Israelis drinking imported draft beer, listening to music, arguing and laughing.
Hours after a Hezbollah missile struck this city Sunday, killing at least eight rail workers and wounding more than two dozen others, the only sound was the rumble of warnings from a news announcer on the bar's plasma-screen television telling people from Tel Aviv to the Lebanese border that rockets could soon be coming their way.
The place was deserted. Liran Levy, the owner, tried with practiced resignation to make the best of his empty bar stools. With a shrug, he noted the brisk delivery business he was doing as countless families, huddling in the cellars and safe rooms of the Carmel neighborhood's high-end houses, dialed him up for food.
"Everybody's in their homes," said Levy, 30, who had to go back to Iraq's Scud missile attacks here during the 1991 Persian Gulf War to find a moment comparable to Sunday's grimness. "There's nothing we can do about this."
Across a country now fighting on two fronts, worried Israelis gathered around televisions in bus stations, hospital waiting rooms and hotel lobbies, canceled holidays to the besieged Galilee, chatted on talk radio about the merits of killing Hezbollah's leader, and accommodated themselves in countless small ways to life during what increasingly feels like wartime.
Stoicism and siege -- hallmarks of Israeli life over the years -- came together along the length of Moriah Avenue and in neighborhoods throughout the Jewish state. Israel's third-largest city, cooled by breezes off a white-capped Mediterranean, essentially closed up and shut down.
The beachside venue of an international sand-castle competition, packed a day earlier, sat abandoned.
At times, a palpable and public fear translated into surreal scenes along mostly empty streets, especially here in a city, about 22 miles south of the Lebanese border, that had its first experience with Hezbollah rocket fire only last week.
The morning attack was so jolting to some Israelis that they abandoned cars in the middle of streets at the sound of air raid sirens, which screamed out several times throughout the day. The police took to the airwaves and urged fleeing drivers to take their cars. Only hours earlier, though, they had warned people not to leave their houses at all unless it was to head south, out of the growing range of Hezbollah's rockets.
Highways south clogged with cars. Ships in this city's busy port sailed out to sea. Many people wished they could leave but had no place to go.
"What is most important is that we have no more casualties," Haifa's mayor, Yona Yahav, told radio listeners after the rocket hit a train maintenance shop near the port. "Even if it means giving the enemy the ability to say they have made it a ghost town. What matters is no one else gets hurt."
Underground parking lots and pedestrian tunnels became bomb shelters.