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Rockets hit Israeli-Arabs, too

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

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"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."

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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."