Rockets hit Israeli-Arabs, too

More than 3,000 Hizbullah rockets have landed on north Israel, home to many Arabs.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When the siren sounded, Labiba Mizawi hurried into the courtyard where her grandchildren were playing to shepherd them inside.

It was her last act. Among the 29 Katyusha rockets launched by Hizbullah at Haifa late Sunday, one landed on Mrs. Mizawi's courtyard, killing her and two others.

The steady rocket fire on northern Israel underscores an important demographic on Israel's map of people exposed to Katyusha attacks: A sizable proportion of Israel's citizens, such as Mizawi, in the north are Arabs.

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Throughout the war, Israeli-Arabs have been victims of Hizbullah rockets almost as often as Israel's Jewish majority. As a result, the war is putting people who have sympathies – and even relatives – on both sides of the border into the cross hairs of a war that shows no indication of letting up, despite diplomatic efforts to reach a UN resolution acceptable to everyone.

On Monday, at least 120 Katyushas fell on the north, according to the Israeli army. In southern Lebanon, there was heavy fighting between Israeli troops and Hizbullah guerrillas in the town of Bint Jbail and elsewhere in the south, killing at least 23 people. At least two Israeli soldier were killed and several injured.

Sunday night's attack deflates the hopes of many here that Israel had made significant progress in achieving its goals: pushing Hizbullah back from the border and decimating its weapons capabilities.

Rather, the attack on Haifa showed that Hizbullah still possesses a significant enough arsenal to inflict damage deep into Israel, in addition to a massive supply of short-range missiles that are the easiest for guerrillas to stash and launch – and hardest for the Israelis to locate.

Holding in a thin glaze of tears as his colleagues from the police force, both Jews and Arabs, come to pay their condolences at the Catholic Church where his mother's funeral was soon to take place, Suhail Mizawi says, "[Labiba] got the kids into the room, but didn't succeed in getting there herself."

In the end, it's seen as a minor miracle that more people didn't die, considering that here in the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, where the missiles struck, there isn't a single bomb shelter.

Instead, says Lorette Androus, who lives across the street, when the sirens warning of an incoming Katyusha go off and the radio warns people to go to their shelters or "defensive rooms," her family simply goes under a set of set of stairs in the center or their apartment, out of the way of flying glass.

"We have no idea if this is safe," sighs Ms. Androus, a skinny, tank-topped woman with long, black braids, showing a visitor their hiding place for weathering the intermittent hail of rockets.

"The closest shelter is a 15-minute walk," she says. "Do you know how much work it takes sometimes just to get our grandmother out of her bed and into this room?"

Many residents of Wadi Nisnas, one of the best-known Arab neighborhoods in a city often celebrated as a model of peaceful Jewish-Arab coexistence, expressed frustration Monday that the Israeli municipality had not built any shelters here or found other solutions for the residents.

Some say that is a symbol of the persistent disadvantages faced by the nearly 20 percent of Israel's citizens who are Arab.

"It's not only that there are no shelters in this neighborhood, but that there is a system of discrimination in all kinds of services," says Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center, a local Arab rights organization. "We were asking them since the second day of the war open something and they have refused."

An Israeli government spokeswoman says that the lack of shelters in Wadi Nisnas has nothing to do with the fact that it's an Arab neighborhood, and everything to do with the fact that Israel stopped building public bomb shelters in the early 1990s.

After the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, says Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin, security analysts here determined that the threat of Israel facing another conventional war was quickly passing into history.

"One of the sad aspects of this is that back then, we thought we were on the road to peace," says Ms. Eisin. "While I can understand the bitterness people feel, that's what's happened and it has nothing to do with neighborhoods being Jewish and Arab."

Instead of public shelters, she says, new building codes were set, requiring that structures have reinforced, sealable rooms or bomb-resistant stairwells. However, for people living in historic old buildings, the building code changes are irrelevant.

Thousands of residents in northern Israel who are in range of Katyusha rockets are out-of-range of a shelter. A spokesman for the Israeli army's Homefront Command says that there are not enough shelters for most Haifa residents to get to in a flash, and instead, they should go to a stairwell or the interior room of a house.

Since the war began last month, several Arab members of Knesset, Israel's parliament, have condemned Israel's attacks in Lebanon, particularly those that have led to a high proportion of civilian deaths. Some Israelis, in turn, have questioned why Israeli-Arabs, also under fire from Hizbullah, have not condemned the Lebanese militia for attacking Israel in the first place.

One Israeli-Arab columnist explained their dilemma.

"Don't expect Israeli Arabs to take to the streets and demonstrate against the Hizbullah and Hassan Nasrallah, and don't expect them to embark on rallies of support for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. On the other hand, you can expect to see us standing in the front row of those demanding the end of the war and calling for peace between Israel and the Arab world," wrote Basam Jaber in a widely read column in Panorma, an Israeli-Arab weekly magazine.

"The Israeli public must realize that Arab citizens living in Israel are suffering from a complex dilemma, particularly at a time when the country, in which they are citizens, is fighting against its own people. Sometimes it's the Palestinian people and sometimes it's the Arab Lebanese people."

But for some local Arab residents, Hizbullah's missile attacks have had an opposite effect: unifying all kinds of Israelis because they're all in the line of fire.

"The leaders will shoot something at you and it doesn't discriminate over where it lands. Jews, Arabs, it hits everyone just the same," says Khalil Badin, a neighbor who escaped the previous night's bombing unscathed, as he jiggled a palm full of deadly steel pellets – gray balls that shoot out of the Katyusha rocket on impact. "The leaders are the ones who push the button and start the war, and we blame them all."

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