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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 August 2006, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Haifans on edge after conflict
By Humphrey Hawksley
BBC News, Haifa

An Israeli military ship sails off the shore of Haifa, Israel
Life is gradually returning to normal in Haifa
"Ceasefire? What ceasefire?" says Rachel Chisick, leaning back on a stool in her empty music store in central Haifa.

It is a warm summer's day in this beautifully modern Mediterranean city. The sirens have stopped. There are no more sharp thuds of rocket impacts. Nor is there any celebration that peace has come - and far less any sense of victory.

"It's a big mess," says Rachel. "It's awful. Hardly anybody's around. People haven't been working so they've no money to buy luxury items like CDs. The government says it'll give compensation..." she shrugs. "I'll believe it when I see it."

Unlike in Lebanon, the city's buildings are barely scarred by the more than 100 Hezbollah rockets which hit in the 35 days of conflict.

Even in the expensive residential area of Hess Road where the last salvo fell, burnt out cars have been taken away, their chassis' pock-marked with ball-bearings which are packed inside the rocket war-heads.

The rocket crater has been filled in. Rubble is piled neatly up by the side of the road, and the road itself has been re-layered - all in less than 24 hours. Israeli flags fly defiantly on trees in gardens.

Self-reliance

The ultra-modern malls with designer label shops are filling up, as is the beach, with couples playing in the waves and families enjoying what is left of the summer.

Israelis leave a bomb shelter in Haifa
Thousands of Haifans spent weeks taking refuge in bomb shelters

This is Israel as she wants to look - the vision of the modern Jewish state on which she was created.

But people's thoughts are far from settled. "Why? Why did they fight?" says one father from the large Israeli Arab community, lying in a deck chair.

"How many do they want to kill - 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, one million?"

Nearby, a Jewish mother looks away as she speaks. "I hope the war will stop," she says. "We are very worried and we are not sleeping at night. It's very stressful."

Israel has suffered only a fraction of the casualties and damage of Lebanon. Yet trauma specialists are working round the clock to calm people who have spent much of the conflict crammed into tiny shelters.

"Most Israelis do not take for granted their independent statehood," says Professor Eli Somer, trauma psychologist at Haifa University.

If Israel were my patient, I would describe her as a persecuted person
Eli Somer, psychologist
"Given the history of the Jewish people, they feel there is no-one to rely on except themselves because the world has forsaken them.

"So, if Israel were my patient, I would describe her as a persecuted person, somewhat paranoid with a lot of difficulty in relying on the benevolence of others."

Miri Harel and her husband, Ram, live in a small town outside of Haifa.

They came into the city to take a walk along the Haifa cliff top happy that their son Yishai, who has been fighting in Lebanon, is safe.

She explains how she used to be a campaigner for peace and concessions in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

"Now, I'm not so sure," she says. "I always thought I knew what needed to be done. Now I'm not so sure."

At a near-by cafe, a coffee grinder starts up. A young woman walking a dog jumps, startled. She thinks it is a siren warning for a new rocket attack.

The people of the north expect war again soon and see the last month as just another phase in the long struggle for Israel to survive as a nation.


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