Thousands of displaced Israelis have headed back to their homes after a United Nations-brokered ceasefire silenced the Hezbollah rockets being fired into the north of the country.
The ceasefire came into effect early on Monday morning - and by Tuesday evening 28-year-old Lilach Bardugo and her poodle Anita had made it back to their home in Nahariya.
“I cried when I got back to Nahariya. It’s just a great feeling to be home. You feel independent again. During the war I thought the house might be hit by a rocket. Now I’m cleaning the place because there is dust everywhere,” said Bardugo.
The war between Israel and the armed wing of the Lebanese political party Hezbollah began on 12 July after the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Israel retaliated with a month-long military offensive targeting Hezbollah strongholds all over Lebanon. Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, forcing inhabitants in the north, close to the Lebanese border, to flee their homes.
Bardugo was among an estimated 500,000 displaced Israelis, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most stayed with friends or relatives, while others lodged with families or stayed in hotels.
After a few days in Tel Aviv staying with a friend, Bardugo registered with Jerusalem City Council to be placed with a Jerusalem family. “We stayed with an American family who had been in Israel for 14 years. The experience was pretty weird - I just stayed at home the whole time,” said Bardugo.
Some 50,000 Israelis from the north lived with families in Jerusalem during the hostilities but they have almost all returned home, according to a spokeswoman for Jerusalem City Council.
“They have virtually all gone now but there were a lot. At first we matched them with host families but it became very time-consuming because there were so many people, so in the end we set it up on the internet so that both prospective hosts and people from the north could enter their details on our website and contact each other directly,” the spokeswoman said.
Not all Israelis were confident enough that the ceasefire would hold to return home immediately.
Paulina Cohen, 46, and her 16-year-old daughter Hana travelled to Eilat two weeks ago after a rocket damaged their home near Carmiel, a town near Haifa in northern Israel. They could not get accommodation in a high school set up as a refugee centre because it was full - but Ilana Brami, a volunteer working at the school, offered them a place to sleep in her apartment.
“We are scared and don’t want to go back because I don’t believe there will be calm and I don’t think we will be safe,” said Cohen.
The displaced Israelis expressed gratitude for the solidarity of fellow Israelis during the crisis.
But psychologists told IRIN that the mere fact of not being able to live at home put a tremendous strain on families.
“Think about being a guest and what it entails. Think of a hotel room. It’s one room for a whole family. Maybe you have children in another room - to visit your children you have to go into a public area. It’s a big shock to usual family life. There’s no intimacy,” said Rachel Paran, a volunteer psychologist.
Yossi Yonah, a 53-year-old university professor from Tel Aviv, had four people staying at his house for two weeks.
“Many people in Tel Aviv received people. It’s not a normal way to handle daily life. You have other people stuck in the apartment and you have to accommodate their needs, such as time in the bathroom. We have all had guests but this was much more intensive and for a longer time,” he said.
Now the displaced face the more mundane task of tackling the war’s economic impact on their lives. Most of them have not worked for several weeks.
“I work in advertising sales and most of my wages are from commission, which I will not get for this month,” said Bardugo. “Now I am taking out a personal loan from the bank to pay for all the things I still have to pay for despite my loss in wages and a lot of Israelis are having to do the same.”
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