Monday, July 24, 2006

Jerusalem dispatch

Marion has been in central Beirut today and says the army and police are everywhere. She'll try and get us a report tomorrow. The report below is from Mike in Jerusalem. I got it yesterday, so again apologies for the delay in posting it. He's looking at people displaced within Israel, and public opinion on the fighting:

"This Shabat we had as Friday meal guests a refugee family from Haifa (see map): a dentist, a lawyer, and their two very cute young boys. They're staying in the Jerusalem apartment of friends of ours who have left to the US for the summer. The kids are going crazy, their summer camp has closed down. They wanted to return, but on Friday there was a hail of rockets on Haifa. So they will wait a day or two. I see now that the rocket attack is continuing, so I assume they won't be going back soon.

My wife's cousins remain in Haifa, one of whom doesn't even bother to go to the shelter when the sirens go: she doesn't like it down there. My daughter has a friend who's nine months pregnant and lives in a (large) tent near the border: she's staying to look after her goats.

You may know that Israeli cities have public bomb shelters and that apartments have security rooms (stronger rooms, with gas proof windows and doors). Our guests reported that their building doesn't have a safe room, and the nearest shelter is 3 minutes drive away. This was one of the reasons they left. Most of the shelters have been used for years for other purposes: one near us is the centre of the national boxing club. When I visited a client last week in Tel Aviv they were looking forward to an alert, since the shelter below their office is used as a nightclub and so is well stocked with beer and vodka.

There are maybe 2 million Israelis within range and hence threatened by the rockets. Many are leaving, but I cannot find out how many. In some towns maybe half have left: in others very few. My guests said that families with children are more likely to leave. There are lots of offers of accommodation and of help. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is giving free admission to refugees.

My wife asked why we don't see pictures of our internal refugees on TV? I pointed out that pictures of families packing their suitcases and kids into their SUVs, driving down the highway and checking into hotels would be rather mundane on camera. The most excitement is that the kids are taking over and playing soccer in the lobbies.

Actually I was being rather simplistic, there is a problem. Many are not leaving by choice, but others have less choice. I suspect that the poorer people are staying because they can't just roll down south and check into hotels. Others are worried about their property. Our guests say there is a rash of burglaries in Haifa, and the police probably don't know about many others since there is no-one around to report them. Another problem is pets: people are taking trips back to feed them.

Most of Israel's Arabs live in the north. Many Arab kids are being evacuated to summer camps in the south it seems. But it also seems there are the usual irritable debates between leaders of the Arab sector (as they call it) and the Israeli authorities. Maybe they have been neglected? Maybe the authorities assumed Hezbullah would not aim for these villages: if so, they were very wrong. Two kids killed in Arab Nazareth and 14 injured in the mainly Druze village of Masjal Krum. Maybe the Arabs didn't prepare properly? I don't know.

We also will be having an overnight guest on Tuesday from Safed. She's the daughter of a friend from Australia who was working as an assistant at a religious youth hostel which has closed down. The director of the hostel sent us an email telling us about rockets landing in their backyard. Safed is a beautiful town on a hill a few miles south of the border, and has been badly hit. This is very sad: it's a special town, split between a deeply religious ultra orthodox community who are mentally in the 18th century, and an artistic community on the other side of town. It's not a threat to Lebanon: there probably isn't even a policeman in town.

The opinion polls say that 82% support the current military response. Everyone I've talked to agrees, but unhappily: “not back into Lebanon again, not another generation of our boys sucked in”. As I said before, there doesn't seem to be belligerent attitude. No dramatic rallies, no hysterical weeping in front of TV camera, no proliferation of Israeli flags.

I'm wondering who the 18% are? Maybe some think the response is not strong enough. My daughter's boyfriend, a 'Russian' (meaning those families that immigrated from Russia over the last 20 years) tells me that Arabs are universally hated amongst the Russian community. There are also still peaceniks. In Israel the concept of a legal conscientious objector does not exist, but some people refused to serve in the territories on moral grounds. Now, as reservists, they have to decide whether to be sent to the territories (bad) to replace combat troops who can then go to the north (good). The Israeli Arabs are distressed by the killing and destruction they see on Al Jazeera. Some are related to inhabitants of south Lebanon. So many of them may be in the 18%.

I assume that 82% is the peak. Look at how Bush's ratings have dropped as the body bags came back from Iraq. But we'll see: everyone agrees that this is yet another existential threat to Israel.

The latest Superman movie arrived last week. Unfortunately its slogan was 'on 20th July, look up in the sky'. If you're in the north, you won’t be looking for superheroes."

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