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Haifa residents bounce back

[Israel] Arab-Israeli Ola Khalele's house was damaged by a Hezbollah rocket. [Date picture taken: 11/05/2006]
Arab-Israeli Ola Khalele's house was damaged by a Hezbollah rocket. (Andreas Apell/IRIN)

With the trauma of war still fresh in their minds, the Jewish and Arab residents of one of Israel’s most mixed cities are doing their best to rebuild their lives.

Rockets fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon killed 13 Jewish-Israelis and three Arab-Israelis, according to the Israeli government. And more than 480 businesses and homes were destroyed or damaged.

A fifth of Haifans fled the city to escape Hezbollah’s lethal barrage, with the rest sheltering in bomb shelters as city life ground to a standstill.

"I was forced to cope because of my newly born daughter. But it was hard and I still think there will be trouble in the future," said Ifat Assayag, 36, a clothing store manager who gave birth a week before the 34-day war broke out on 12 July.

However, health workers say most of those who suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) immediately after the conflict have now recovered.

"We know from experience that 75 percent of people who suffer PTSD recover with minimal intervention. During the war, some residents suffered from confusion, heart palpitations, disorientation and were unable to function normally. Now they are leading full and active lives," said David Ilan, a municipal social worker who has been dealing with the victims.

He helped implement a mental health programme in Haifa schools during the two weeks following the ceasefire, which aimed to help residents recover from PTSD.

Haifa´s rapid psychological recovery has been attributed in part to the relatively harmonious relations between its 250,000 Jewish and 25,000 Arab residents, Haifa mayor Yona Yahav told IRIN.

"I attribute this partly to the fact that we have never been visited by the three big celebrities – Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. The other big celebrity was Elijah but he was friendly to all three Abrahamic religions," Yahav said.

Both Arabs and Jews suffered alike from Hezbollah’s targeting of their city. During the war, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said he regretted killing Arab-Israelis and urged them to leave the city for their own safety.

But some Arab-Israelis in Haifa scoffed at his claims.

"Hezbollah bombed and killed us and destroyed and damaged our homes. How can Hezbollah claim to be supporting fellow Arabs?" asked technology student Amira Ghanem, 21.

Other Arab-Israelis, whose homes were hit by Hezbollah rockets, said they were being denied government compensation because they were not Jewish. Arab-Israelis are among the poorest citizens in Israel and routinely complain of discrimination.

“We have been told by the government that they will not pay us and I believe that this is discrimination due to the fact that we are Arab. My mother has diabetes and with the winter weather we will suffer badly from the cold,” said Ola Khalele, 36, an Arab-Israeli saleswoman who had a wall of her house seriously damaged.

Haifa Municipality’s Ilan disputes this claim. “There is one law for all citizens and while people have expressed disappointment at the amounts paid out to them, this has applied equally to Arabs and Jews,” he said.

Jewish resident Ronit Cohen, 39, said she doubted Haifa’s example of coexistence would prevent future war in the region.

"I believe another war with Lebanon is just a matter of time, what with Iran and Syria backing Hezbollah,” Cohen said. “And my greatest worry is that my son might be involved in the next war as he is now of military age."

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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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