Tue, Aug 01, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Northern Israelis flee rocket fire

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , KIBBUTZ MAABAROT, ISRAEL

Merav Arazi, standing, settles in with her family and others into an apartment in Kibbutz Maabarot in central Israel on Saturday. After a Hezbollah rocket crashed just meters from their home near Haifa, they decided to leave the area.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The Arazis finally had enough when a Hezbollah rocket crashed within a few meters 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 Desert 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 UN said.

Scattered across the center 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 moved to a hastily constructed tent city for about 6,000 along Israel's southern coast, 21km from the Gaza Strip.

About 1.5 million people live in the northern zone most heavily hit by rockets, a 40km-long area between the border with Lebanon and the area just south of Haifa. The main region there, Galilee, has about a million residents, predominantly Israeli Arabs who have tended not to leave their homes despite a lack of bomb shelters where they live. They often live among large extended families in the same towns and villages, and most do not have relatives to stay with in the center or south of the country.

On Kibbutz Maabarot, the Arazi family walked up the stairs to their new temporary home -- an unfurnished three-room apartment with peach-colored walls dabbed with white plaster.

"We can call your brother and tell him and his family to come, too," Merav Arazi called out to her husband. "There is enough room."

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