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Lebanon / Israel

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Israel mission: update 1

Arriving in Tel Aviv, 4th August

The mission arrived in Tel Aviv and headed straight up to north to Haifa. The day we left had one of the highest civilian death tolls in Israel since the conflict began three weeks ago so we were expecting the situation to be tense.


From Haifa, the first stop on our agenda was visiting the city of Carmiel. Driving through Haifa on our way to Carmiel we could see several buildings that had been damaged in recent rocket attacks. Usually on a Friday morning both Carmiel and Haifa would be bustling with people doing their shopping for the Sabbath. But we were all very surprised at how quiet they were, Carmiel in particular was virtually empty of people on the streets.


We met up with people from the Carmiel municipality who took us to see several houses that had been hit by Hizbullah rockets. In the first house we visited, a rocket had came through the roof of one apartment and went through the floor to the apartment below. Luckily no one was home at the time on the top floor and no one was seriously injured below. Both apartments are currently uninhabitable.

The municipality estimates that 30% of the population have left the city. The way they have been trying to measure the number of people who were still there and who have left is by counting the number of trash bins that are empty and those that are full. The municipality, as other municipalities throughout the country, are working to provide basic services to those residents who are spending most of their times in shelters or afraid to leave their homes. When we pulled up to the building there were over a dozen volunteers packing up meals to deliver to people who were still in the city. They estimated they provided food to about 2,500 people per day.


From Carmiel we moved on to Acre, where again we met with people from the municipality. Acre is a mixed city with a large Israeli Arab population (Palestinian citizens of Israel). Acre was even more deserted than Carmiel, because the day before five people had died when they left their shelter prematurely.

We were told that two of the people who died were killed by small steel balls that have been packed into the rocket's warhead. In addition to killing and injuring many civilians, everywhere we saw places where rockets had hit we saw evidence of these still balls, with walls, windows, and even steel fences damaged and often with the steel balls still embedded.

Most of the sites where rockets have hit have been cleaned up and repaired, but we were able to visit a kindergarten that had been hit, although again luckily no children were there at the time.The soundtrack for the day was the sound of air raid sirens and rockets.

Over 10 times during the day we had to seek shelter when the air raid sirens went off, including three times while driving where the only thing we could do was pull over quickly and do the best we could to lay low.

Across from the kindergarten we met an 85 -year-old woman who spent most of her time sitting right outside the shelter because she was blind and unable to make it up and downstairs every time the sirens went off.

We did hear reports that in many Arab neighborhoods the air raids sirens either aren't working or aren't present.

For us, it was just one day, but many Israelis have been living like this for weeks.
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