Israelis rally to help displaced
01 August 2006
by Dina Kraft
Kibbutz Maabarot, Israel: The Arazis finally had enough when a Hezbollah rocket crashed within a few metres of their home last week.
The family of five loaded the car with a cooler full of food, a duffel bag stuffed with clothes and sheets, a guitar and their 11-year-old Dalmatian, Dali, and headed south to find safety.
"I'm not used to living like this," said Merav Arazi, 37, her voice trailing off as she took in her new surroundings after almost a week on the road. "We are used to a normal life. We work, we come home."
After leaving their house in Nesher, near Haifa in northern Israel, Arazi, her husband, David, and their three children drove all the way to a guesthouse in the southern Negev before settling into a donated apartment on Wednesday near a cluster of mango trees here at Kibbutz Maabarot in central Israel.
Israeli officials have estimated the number of displaced northern Israelis at 300,000 since the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah began more than two weeks ago. Rockets have been falling over Israel's northern towns and cities, sometimes more than 100 a day, many hitting places that had never before been within Hezbollah's range. It has created a new kind of war for this generation of Israelis - one in which their homes are on the front line.
On the Lebanese side of the border, about 700,000 people, about a fifth of Lebanon's population, have been displaced because of the fighting, the United Nations said.
Scattered across the centre and southern reaches of Israel, some displaced northerners are camping out on the beaches of the Red Sea resort city of Elat after being turned away by overbooked hotels.
Others share sofa beds and mattresses on the floor in the homes of friends and family members away from the border. Relatives of students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been offered dorm rooms on campus, and sleep-away camps have been set up for children whose parents remain in bomb shelters up north.
The wave of refugees has inspired a nationwide outpouring of assistance. Organizations advertise in newspapers seeking to match potential hosts with those needing a place to stay.
As the conflict zone shifted, immigrants from one northern town were given rooms at yeshivas in the West Bank, and others have transplanted themselves to a hastily constructed tent city for about 6,000 along Israel's southern coast, 20 kilometres from the Gaza Strip.
The camp was built by Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian-Israeli billionaire who has been accused of illegal arms deals with Angola and who has been trying to improve his image in Israel through philanthropy. The tent city is costing about $500,000 a day to run, Israel Television reported.
About 1.5 million people live in the northern zone most heavily hit by rockets, a 40-kilometre-long area between the border with Lebanon and the area just south of Haifa. The main region there, Galilee, has about a million residents, mainly Israeli Arabs who have tended not to leave their homes despite a lack of bomb shelters where they live.
They often live among extended families in the same towns and villages, and most do not have relatives to stay with in the centre or south of the country.
Kibbutz Maabarot, which is surrounded by cotton and avocado fields near Netanya, a city in central Israel, is one of the many kibbutzim that have taken in those from the north.
After the fighting began, kibbutz members began taking in relatives and friends. Within a few days the kibbutz started posting notices asking members to offer spare rooms or apartments to those in need. Now its communal dining hall and swimming pool brim with new faces from the north.
Ziva Miller, 52, an administrator at the kibbutz, spends most of her time fielding phone calls from people from the north looking for lodging. She keeps a long handwritten list by her desk with their information. But the kibbutz is running out of space; it is down to a handful of empty apartments with nothing but mattresses on the floor.
"People are so desperate they will take even that, anything to get out of the north," she said.
Miller said she was haunted by the thought of those she could not accommodate, like the young man who had walked into her office with his pregnant wife. They had driven around to all the neighbouring kibbutzim and other agricultural villages, but found nowhere to stay.
In Jerusalem, Iris Dahan, a 44-year- old teacher, and her two daughters, ages 10 and 8, have spent the past two weeks with friends after leaving the northern village of Kafr Vradim. Her husband has to keep working in the north, and he joins them on weekends. It is a crowded but friendly setting in their friends' home, but she said she felt she could no longer impose, and planned to stay with another set of friends.
She would like to go home, but the few people who remain in her village tell her it is not yet safe to return.
"Our daughters had a hard time hearing the booming noises and now they have only grown closer," Dahan said of the rocket fire. "Our friends are spread throughout the country, and we are hearing that if you have a place to stay, you should stay put."