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Exodus from Haifa as rockets fall

[Israel] Map of Israel. [Date picture taken: 07/23/2006]
Map of Israel. (UN Department of Peacekeeping Operation)

When shells started to fall around her Haifa home in northern Israel, Rula Khoury was lucky enough to be out. She was an two hour drive away at the Jerusalem Film Festival, watching her father, Makram, in his most recent role in a film, Udi Aloni’s ‘Forgiveness’.

“I knew that I had to get back to my family immediately [when the shelling started],” says the 24 year-old. She headed northwards. A few days later she had to head south again back towards the safety of central Israel.

Khoury is Arab-Israeli born and raised in Haifa. Her family left the port city for Lebanon in 1948. Half of them decided to return to Haifa a few months later.

Some 1,200 missiles from Hizbullah militants in southern Lebanon have fallen on northern Israel since 12 July, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Haifa. The government has issued guidelines to residents to remain in sheltered and secure rooms, or close to buildings. So far at least 41 Israelis have been killed. More than 390 people have died in Lebanon.

The Israeli government is encountering what it describes as a “steady flow” of residents moving south, and estimates that almost half of the people normally resident in northern Israel, may have relocated. Haifa normally has a population of approximately 300,000.

Daniel Meron, Director of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IRIN: “Some can’t go back, but many just don’t want to. People have left businesses, and many more have not worked for the last 10 days.”

The Israeli government is offering counselling to those who have fled the hostilities, but most assistance - ranging from offers published in the Jerusalem Post newspaper from families willing to act as hosts, to a fully funded ‘summer camp’ hosted by Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkady Gaidmak in southern Nitzanim - is private.

Many Israelis are staying in the central cities of Tel Aviv and Herzliya with family and friends, or in hotels. Others have fled as far south as possible. Hotels in Eilat, on Israel’s most southern tip, are fully booked, tour operators say.

“There was a sense of shock after the first bomb, but we felt that it was no big deal,” explains Khoury. She says she watched the escalation of events from the Khoury family home above Stella Maris in the mountains of Haifa. The house sits close to a military observation post, making it particularly vulnerable to attack.

“I stayed in the house for three nights. It was impossible to sleep, so one night I slept between my parents for the first time in twenty years.”

When Rula’s family moved down into the West Bank town of Ramallah, she came south too. “I’m living with my rucksack on my back. I am rotating between friends houses in Jerusalem or staying with my sister in Tel Aviv. We thought this would only last for a few days. It’s utterly depressing.”

There is a strong sense of guilt that comes with leaving the north. For Rula this stems from the fact that she has family in Beirut.

Jackie Teplitz, a Jewish Israeli displaced from near Safad in the northeast near the border with Lebanon, is staying in Tel Aviv. “I spent the first few days walking around crying at strangers. Crying for our people,” she says. “I worry for my family and friends and, because my daughter is about to join the military, for our soldiers.”

Her deepest sense of regret is for her friends in the north, working at extremely understaffed hospitals. She does not feel that she will be able to stay away for much longer.

“At first I thought that I would be more likely to win the lottery than get hit. But, by the time we left it was raining rockets.” Jackie has since heard that a rocket landed 100m away from her house, yet she intends to return home in the next few days.

BB/SZ/ED/CB


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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