One year later, two families look back at war

The war between Hizbullah and Israel, which began last year, killed thousands.

Michael Weinberger and his family have tried to bury the memory of the rocket that slammed into the second floor of their house on the third day of the war.

By coincidence, his wife, Carmela, and two daughters, Noga and Shavit, had gone downstairs to light candles at the start of the Jewish Sabbath and escaped physical harm. Mr. Weinberger and his two sons weren't at home.

Like the streets of Nahariya, a sleepy seaside town of 50,000 that was the second-most bombarded Israeli municipality, there's no sign in the Weinberger house of the rocket that ripped through Noga's room and the couple's closet before exploding on the stairs. Unlike some neighbors who saved rocket shards, they have kept no momentos, save for digital photos kept "very deep" in drawers.

"My wife decided we're not leaving any reminders – not one," said Weinberger, a forester who was out fighting brush fires set off by the rockets at the time his house was hit.

Across the border in the small town of Tiri, Lebanon, Ibtisam Shaito smiles politely at her visitors as she pours hot tea. She wears a full length black chador with a black head scarf. She was one of 19 people in a packed minibus heeding Israel's advice broadcast on the radio to flee north last year when their vehicle was attacked, despite being marked as a civilian vehicle.

Ibtisam laughs readily and is happy to discuss her experience of a year ago, when she was severely wounded and endured a harrowing journey to a hospital in Beirut that could treat her. But she begins to weep when remembering her mother, Nasira Shaito, who was killed.

The 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah was sparked on July 12, 2006, by the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on the border. On the Israeli side, the fighting left 43 civilians and 119 soldiers dead. The direct economic cost of the war was estimated at $1.6 billion.

In Lebanon, about 1,125 people were killed in the fighting, which caused an estimated $3.6 billion in direct damages, although the long-term hidden costs have been pegged at $15 billion for the three years following the conflict.

Almost every town and village in southern Lebanon was damaged, some sustaining as much as 80 percent destruction.

Hizbullah is giving $12,000 to each owner of a home destroyed in south Beirut and $10,000 to each owner of a home destroyed outside the city. Another $4,000 will be given to affected individuals over the next year.

The Lebanese government asked countries interested in helping the recovery to sponsor individual towns. Gulf countries have been quick to respond.

Tiri, which has some 5,000 registered inhabitants but only 200 permanent residents, lies tucked into a shallow valley. The village is flanked by olive groves and fields of tobacco plants that sway in the hot wind. Most of the houses are simple one- or two-story dwellings. Some 52 of them were completely destroyed in the war and many more damaged, says Anis Shaito, the mayor and Ibtisam's father.

Support for Hizbullah here runs high, despite the hardships endured during and after the war, which killed 10 residents. "We are very proud of the resistance that defeated the Israelis," Mr. Shaito says.

His grandchildren, Abbas, 13, and Ali, 14, were riding with their mother in the minibus when it was attacked. Today, Abbas rides a motor scooter through the winding streets. He shakes hands and says he is fine. But Ms. Shaito says that the two boys have not fully recovered. She herself was treated for six weeks and went through five operations. The government gave her 9 million Lebanese pounds ($6,000) while Hizbullah gave her a card granting her free treatment at hospitals and clinics run by the Shiite group.

In Israel, the Weinbergers, a family of six, escaped injury but spent four months shuttling between relatives in a Tel Aviv suburb and a small apartment in Nahariya after the war while renovation work dragged on.

Still, the ordeal hasn't been easy to erase. When 10 months' calm was broken by reports of two rockets that landed in the town of Kiryat Shemona 2-1/2 weeks ago, 20-year-old Noga kept to the lower floors of the five-bedroom split-level out of fear that a new war was breaking out.

"Suddenly I felt vulnerable again,'' she says. "I said, 'It can't be that we're going back to that nightmare.'"

Along the roads winding through the mountains near the border, scorched tree trunks stand as a reminder of some 618 acres of forest destroyed in the brush fires set off by the barrage of 4,000 rockets fired into Israel.

Weinberger has overseen the cleanup and replanting effort as director of forest management in northern Israel for the Jewish National Fund. Flying past pistachio and carob trees in his four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi, he estimates that it will take another year before all of the damaged areas are tended to.

But he finds the work helpful. "I'm not planting for myself, but for my kids and grandkids,'' he says. "There is nothing like reforesting to heal the wounds of war.''

Making sense of the war is a different issue. Like most Israelis, Weinberger says he can't point to any gains from a war that Israelis were promised would eliminate the threat of Hizbullah. From some points near the border, Hizbullah's yellow banners are visible again. Some neighbors have moved farther south.

For now, the Weinbergers are staying put."I don't know what will be here in 10 years," Weinberger says. "As long as it is good, we'll stay. Who knows, maybe there will be missiles on Tel Aviv?"

In Lebanon, many people believe it is only a matter of time before there is another war between Hizbullah and Israel. Hizbullah has rearmed and built a new line of defense further north. But the Shaito family are unfazed by the thought of more conflict.

"After what happened to us, we will never leave our homes again," says Anis Shaito, now a widower.

Asked if she thinks she is fortunate to be alive, Ibtisam Shaito shrugs.

"God wanted to me to live. I don't know why. Perhaps it was so that I could look after my father, now my mother is gone," she says, tears trickling down her cheeks.

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