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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Haifa residents answer your questions
Composite image of panellists' faces

The BBC's Martin Patience was in the Israeli city of Haifa on 7 September putting questions from readers around the world to a panel of residents.

Life is back to normal for Haifa residents

The city, Israel's third largest, came under regular fire from Hezbollah rockets during the recent conflict.

Nearly 100 rockets hit the city during five weeks of fighting between 16 July and 14 August, killing 11 people in the city.

Thousands of residents fled Haifa, and the economic effects, at the height of the tourist season, were devastating.

Martin Patience 1930 local time (1630 GMT / 1730 BST)

That's it for this link-up from Haifa. As you can see from the answers to your questions, the panellists draw different conclusions from the recent conflict. Around the table there was much debate about what exactly happened, and who was responsible. Israelis often say that this is a country where everyone holds a different opinion.

The Haifa panel around the table
The panel around a table in a Haifa restaurant
In this city things are returning to normal. It's been over three weeks since the last Hezbollah rocket landed. People spill onto the streets, eat in open-air restaurants, and discuss what happened. Workmen repair the damage done to buildings. Those who have lost loved ones continue to grieve.

I'd like to thank photographer Herzl Shapiro for all the pictures and Hila Baroz for helping me find the participants. My thanks also go to the panel members, particularly Moshe who arrived an hour early this morning and stayed right to the end.

Martin Patience 1855 local time (1555 GMT / 1655 BST)

As we approach the end of this link-up, I ask the panel if they found the experience of taking questions from BBC News website readers worthwhile.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: I think it might help to give a new perspective to people around the world and all the readers who asked questions. It was very useful and I hope in the near future that there will be peace in the region. I think only through discussion can we achieve peace. I wish my Arab neighbours peace, salaam and shalom. When my son Ron was born 50 years ago, I told him that the wars would end. Hopefully in my lifetime we will achieve a real peace for the sake of all of us.

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: Usually I don't really believe in debates. Today hasn't changed my opinion. I think Israelis need to be more open-minded to change their ideas. I think Israelis need to understand more about the suffering of other people. I think the main problem with Israelis is that they consider their suffering and blood more precious than the suffering of others.

Adi Baroz

Adi: I think there was one opinion missing from today. I know that there are Arabs who want to live in peace and can see both sides and the complexity of the situation. I think if we could have heard that here today it would have given us a better chance for hope. Some of the problems on both sides are made by the leaders and not necessarily the people.

Liz Halevy-Berger

Liz: What I already knew was confirmed today. Just from the discussions around the table, I believe we have a long way to go before we can come to some sort of understanding.

From Peter Provins, London 1820 local time (1520 GMT / 1620 BST)

Q: Given that people are still dying in Israel nearly 60 years after it was created, isn't it time that Israel and the US started an open debate with organisations like Hezbollah to end the matter? In Britain we had to engage in lengthy debate with the IRA to find peace and many convicted murderers or terrorists had to be released to clear the way for talks.

Liz Halevy-Berger

Liz: People have to talk, but why do we have to talk to the extremists? I'm sure that the majority of people want to live in peace, but why isn't their voice heard?

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: I think Israel should talk to the representatives of societies be they Hamas or Hezbollah. Hamas is the legitimate elected government of the Palestinian people and they should talk.

I think the main problem is that Israel wants to choose the partners that match their interests. They want to force a kind of peace that they designed, while they are holding the power, including US support. Peace cannot be made on these terms. We need to look at the past to solve the problems and not according to the circumstances today.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations that declare day and night they want to destroy Israel. As long as they don't change their philosophy we shouldn't talk to them. We have no partners for peace negotiations.

Adi Baroz

Adi: Ever since we have existed as a nation we have had to deal with terrorist organisations. I think eventually we will have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah and Hamas - as we did with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Right now that thought is unbearable, and I think the main problem now is that they will not negotiate with us. They have declared this quite openly. They want to wipe us out.

Yasmin: Israel has to negotiate with Hezbollah and Hamas. But the problem is Israel believes in power and not negotiation. Saudi Arabia proposed a complete peace arrangement on behalf of the Arab nations to recognise Israel if it withdrew to 1967 borders. So the Arab nations have been proposing peace deals to Israel but there has been no debate about this in Israel itself.

Angela Mason, Gateshead UK, 1810 local time (1510 GMT / 1610 BST)

Q: Is it possible for Israelis to listen to BBC and other news channels reporting events in the Middle East, and do they find the reporting to be accurate and balanced?

Liz Halevy-Berger

Liz: I really find the BBC very biased against Israel. I don't think the BBC is balanced and I stopped watching it for this reason about three years ago.

My friends and family in England watch the BBC - not all of them Jewish - and many think the coverage is very biased. In Israel we don't show pictures of children injured. We always appear super strong and super invincible in the media because we don't use children for propaganda.

People were pictured here sitting in cafes whereas the destruction was shown in Lebanon. Why didn't the BBC show that Hezbollah were using civilians as human shields?

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: I can understand why the Israelis are angry with the foreign news agencies because they can't tolerate anyone showing views different from their views.

They are not interested in changing the image of the Jewish people who were victims during the Holocaust.

In the international media, they generally do not show a Palestinian or Arab speaking on TV unless he is debating with an Israeli. But it is a different story for Israelis. I think Israelis have more access than Arabs to the international media.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: I constantly watched the BBC during the war in Lebanon and I agreed with Liz that the BBC was biased. I found the BBC unbalanced and I checked information by watching CNN and Fox news.

Al-Khiyam link up, 23 August

Yasmin (Maqbula's friend): The Israelis want the media to show their own side and only their side - otherwise Israelis will see it as biased. They didn't show Israeli children injured because there were so few. The reality is not balanced because it's not a war between two equal sides. It was a war of Israeli aggression on Lebanon.

In Lebanon, more than a 1,000 people were killed, 4,000 were injured, the civilian infrastructure was destroyed, and this wasn't the case in Israel. There are many TV stations like Fox News that are totally pro-Israel.

Adi Baroz

Adi: I think everyone here knows that we didn't explain the war properly to the world. Even though the reason the war started was obvious to most people in the world and that we needed to defend ourselves, events in Lebanon turned it upside down to the eyes of the world.

Somehow it was forgotten by the media why the war started and why we had no choice to attack civilian targets in Israel.

From Ruth Watts, West Midlands, UK 1755 local time (1455 GMT / 1555 BST)

Q: This is for Nava. I also have two boys (aged 10 and 14) and we talk about the Israeli-Lebanon conflict when we hear the news on the radio. How do you talk to your boys about this? What overall perspective would you like them to have?

Nava Keren

Nava: This is a very complicated question. I always try to keep in mind when I explain the situation in the Middle East to my children that I should give a balanced picture so that they can make up their own minds.

My children are not old enough to ask deep questions yet, but they do ask questions. Why do we have to suffer from these rockets all the time? Why has our summer been ruined?

I try to help them understand this is one chapter in our long conflict with our neighbours. I tell them it could have been worse, people further north suffered more than we did. I've also promised my children that we will have a lot of fun after the war is over to compensate for the lost summer.

Adi Baroz

Adi: When we heard a siren for the first time, I told Romi we had to go to a safe room. I told her that we were going to play there but we couldn't leave.

Watching my friends with older kids, I don't think I would have stayed here in Haifa if Romi was much older. I saw how anxious the children were. But if I had stayed here, and if Romi was old enough to understand more, I would have told her that we were going to be fine as long as we followed orders.

From Martin Patience 1740 local time (1440 GMT / 1540 BST)

Q: Our first two panellists, Moshe and Doron answered this question at the start of the day. So I put it to three of the women with me: what it was like living under fire, and have things returned to normal?

Nava Keren

Nava: It was like a ghost town. Nobody left their houses apart from essential food shopping. Children couldn't meet friends because no-one wanted to take responsibility for children that weren't theirs. The children were climbing the walls. The tension grew and grew as the days passed.

Things have returned to normal very quickly. For us parents the difficulty was not being able to protect our children as much as we wanted to. I jumped every time I heard a car braking for a while, because I thought it was a siren.

Liz Halevy-Berger

Liz: Things have definitely returned to normal. I worked throughout the war and that gave me a semblance of normality. If you really have to put on a brave face you can do it. It happens all the time.

But the minute the stress is released you allow yourself to feel all the fears that you had before. People I know have had difficulty sleeping after the war. It was like they allowed themselves to have mini-breakdowns.

Adi Baroz

Adi: Even though it was a nightmare I had to function all the time for the sake of Romi. I think the worst thing was not knowing what was going to come next. I don't know what was worse: hearing the bombs after the siren, or not hearing the bombs at all. It leaves you in such a helpless state.

Question from Dr Dhanaseelan Naidoo, Gold Coast, Australia 1710 local time (1410 GMT / 1510 BST)

Q: I originally come from South Africa where many white South Africans knew very little about the suffering of black people. I'd like to know, does the average Israeli really know the plight of ordinary Lebanese and Palestinians?

Adi Baroz

Adi: I don't know the full details of what is happening there. I do try to follow as much as I can. But nobody sees everything everywhere. I felt horrible when I saw the pictures in Lebanon but it happened here too. It's terrible to see photographs of ruined houses and people that have to leave their neighbourhoods.

Nava Keren

Nava: We don't know how much we don't know. We know that the Palestinians suffer a lot, but I would like to ask them if they saw the Israeli cities that were bombed severely.

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: I think Israelis know but do not care. The Israeli media usually treats Palestinian victims as numbers and not humans. They don't show faces or print names.

Yasmin (a friend of Maqbula's): I don't think the average Israeli knows that much about what happens in Lebanon and Palestine. The Israeli media does not cover properly what happens in the occupied territories. In my view the majority of Israelis are brainwashed because if the Israeli media shows any destruction in Gaza they try to legitimise it.

From Martin Patience 1650 local time (1450 GMT / 1450 BST)

Our final three panellists have now arrived. Adi is here with her 14-month daughter Romi, who was taking a nap.

Nava has arrived after finishing work and dropping her children at a sports club. Nava comments that she's "between afternoon jobs; work and then work at home".

Liz too has arrived straight from work.

From Boris, Haifa 1640 local time (1340 GMT / 1440 BST)

Q: Maqbula, do you know that the lack of bomb shelters in Arab villages and towns was a result of illegal building - the owners of the buildings ignored the government requirement that buildings should have a bomb shelter?

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: It may be true that every new house should have a bomb shelter, but most of the houses Israeli Arabs live in are very old and they don't have these shelters.

What I was talking about was the public shelters. They were not provided in most Arab villages showing the security of Arabs was not a concern of the state.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: We need to look at this issue carefully. Some of the Arab villages didn't have shelters and if they're citizens of this country they must have shelters. They must have all their civil rights.

Question from Rishon Barak, UK 1625 local time (1325 GMT / 1425 BST)

Q: Maqbula, do you agree that while Israeli Arabs may not have equal rights with Jews, they have more rights than many people living in Arab countries?

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: I see myself as Palestinian living on the land where I was born. We, the Palestinians, survived 1948 when Israel was established - the "catastrophe" according to Arabs - but were forced to take Israeli nationality. We have accepted this compromise. We have no other choice.

I don't think we have to feel any gratitude towards Israel because we are living on our land.

Here, I'm struggling to win greater rights and I think Arabs should do the same in their own countries. With regard to rights, it all depends on the context. I have to struggle for my rights here - I can't be a pilot for example, but an Arab in Jordan or Syria could be.

It's a question people ask here all the time because they want us to feel more grateful.

The war showed the discrimination in Israel. Very few of the Arab villages in the north had public shelters. Maybe one or two on the border, but the majority of the villages did not have these shelters. It showed the safety of Israeli Arab civilians was not a priority.

From Martin Patience 1610 local time (1310 GMT / 1410 BST)

A debate breaks out about Maqbula's comment that "Israel initiates wars". Doron and Moshe line up against Maqbula and her friend Yasmin, who has joined the table.

They go back and forth over which particular war was started by Israel, and which was not. Doron insists that all the wars Israel has been involved in were defensive, whether Israel initiated them or not.

Damage caused by Hezbollah rocket

The heated debate illustrates the multiple narratives that many Arabs and Israelis have on the conflict. They often disagree on the causes and basic details of seminal events in their shared history.

Most Israelis Jews supported Israel's actions in the recent conflict because they saw it as a response to an attack on Israeli territory. Most Israeli Arabs were against it and viewed Israeli operations as aggressive.

Around us, the restaurant is quieter now than it was in the morning. Moshe says most of the residents close by are older and take a rest in the afternoon from the heat.

From Martin Patience 1520 local time (1220 GMT / 1320 BST)

Q: Has the conflict with Hezbollah made Israel a safer place, or has it stored up more problems for the future?

Doron Milch

Doron: I think it has made Israel safer because Nasrallah [Hezbollah's leader] will think twice before he hits the button and launches the missiles.

There might be problems in the future with Hezbollah because they are fanatics.

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: I can't believe that any war can make a place safer. Only peace can bring peace. As someone who lives here, I don't think Israel really suffers from a lack of security. I think most of the stories and perception of us living in a sea of enemies are unrealistic. This idea has been used help Jews feel more united. All the time, Israel has initiated wars and has not really felt these wars on its doorstep.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: Unless Hezbollah is disarmed, there is a possibility for a new war very soon. I'm not hopeful for the future.

Question from Trevor Schwellnus, Toronto, Canada, 1445 local time (1145 GMT / 1245 BST)

Q: Haifa has been described as the one place in Israel where one feels a glimmer of hope for the coexistence of Jews and Arabs. What has become of the dream of a tolerant Haifa in the wake of this conflict?

Maqbula Nassar

Maqbula: I think the war has proved there is no coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Haifa.

I think the war tore away this illusion and made it more clear. I don't think coexistence is saying hello to your neighbour. Coexistence should mean that Jewish and Arab Israelis both have the same opportunities. This isn't the case here.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: As a citizen of Haifa, I don't agree with Maqbula. You find Arab citizens working in all professions. We go to the markets and restaurants and mix together. We have a festival here in Haifa celebrating coexistence.

Doron Milch

Doron: Personally, when I speak to someone I speak to a person - I don't care if he's a Jew or an Arab as long he's decent and he treats with me respect.

From Martin Patience, 1430 local time (1130 GMT / 1230 BST)

Maqbula Nassar, an Israeli Arab, has arrived at the restaurant. She has just finished her work as a community worker for the day, and is here with Moshe and Doron.

From Martin Patience, 1415 local time (1115 GMT / 1215 BST)

Moshe shows some shrapnel from a Hezbollah rocket that he has collected
Moshe has brought along some ball bearings and shrapnel wrapped in tinfoil. He says they are from a Hezbollah rocket.

As he toys with a ball bearing, he says: "These are nasty weapons designed to kill as many civilians as possible. They were used to demoralise us."

"We had to live in bomb shelters during the war because of these. Each rocket had 40,000 ball bearings."

Follow up question from Martin Patience, 1300 local time (1000 GMT / 1100 BST)

Q: Internationally, it is widely believed that Israel's military response was disproportionate. Do you think the conflict has tarnished Israel's reputation around the world?

Doron Milch

Doron: I think in a way Israel has been damaged because of the media. The media showed mostly the Lebanese side and their point of view and their damaged houses and buildings. I don't think the media was balanced during the war.

But the war itself happened mostly in southern Lebanon. The war itself was from inside the villages and these villages were ruined but that is the nature of the war.

Most people didn't understand how this war was fought. The battlefield was southern Lebanon.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: We have been used to fighting in Israel for over 60 years. The world does not care too much about us and they don't understand the situation for many political reasons.

We carry a philosophy that as survivors of the Holocaust we have to fight for the existence of the state of Israel day by day.

I agree that Israel's image has been tarnished by Hezbollah's aggressive war. If you fight a war through the TV people get the wrong impression from many sources. I think the media was biased.

Question from Ian Pearson, Edinburgh, Scotland to residents, 1215 local time (0915 GMT / 1015 BST)

Q: Do you consider Israel's action against Lebanon was proportionate? Do you accept innocent people in Lebanon have suffered much more than Israelis?

Doron Milch

Doron: It's relative, how can you say that the Lebanese suffered more than the Israelis? We had two million citizens hostage here. Secondly, I don't think our response was disproportionate.

We did hit some bridges, but we hit them because Hezbollah used the bridges to supply weapons to their forces. So we didn't have a choice.

Israel map showing Haifa

I know from personal experience in southern Lebanon the Israeli military did everything we could not to hit civilians.

But the major point is that Hezbollah used civilians living in the villages as shields. It took me by surprise. I think it's inhuman to use civilians as a shields.

When we tried rescue our kidnapped soldiers Hezbollah started firing rockets into Israel. Hezbollah started the war not us.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: In Israel we are all one family. If you fire 4,000 rockets at residential targets we are all affected by this because we have branches of families all around Israel. We are one family.

Hezbollah hid behind shields and our response was proportionate. We didn't declare war against civilians; Hezbollah declared war against Israeli civilians.

The Lebanese became refugees for one month and went to Beirut but afterwards when the ceasefire took place they returned to their homes. So, if they have casualties, it was only because Hezbollah didn't let them escape from south Lebanon and they were hostages of Hezbollah.

Unfortunately, war is not an insurance company, and innocent people on both sides die. If one child dies from either side, it's a tragedy. The death of one child is the death of the world in a small way.

Question from Marwa Galal, London, UK to residents, 1200 local time (0900 GMT / 1000 BST)

Q: How do you feel towards your Lebanese neighbours now? How did this change because of the conflict?

Moshe Novak

Moshe:Officially we had nothing against the Lebanese government and its citizens. This was also my private opinion. This was our feeling and we didn't attack the civilian infrastructure, but we fought against Hezbollah guerrillas that declared war on the Israeli people.

We have a dream to reach a peace treaty with Lebanon as we have done with Jordan and Egypt. We have got many good relations with many of the Lebanese people. They are educated and wise people and like us most of them want peace.

But Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah's leader] is an extremist and a religious fanatic and wants to conquer Lebanon for his own purposes, to destroy Israel and to reach the holy city Jerusalem.

Doron Milch

Doron: First, I feel sorry for them. Most of their houses were completely ruined and Hezbollah are completely to blame because the group acted from within the villages. But we also saw that a lot of civilians hid weapons in their houses.

I feel sorry for the Lebanese people because Hezbollah is trying to take over all of southern Lebanon and people who oppose this can't say this out loud.

Question from A Cooper, USA to residents, 1130 local time (0830 GMT / 0930 BST)

Q: What did you do all day during the fighting? How often did rockets strike? What is a rocket strike like? I cannot imagine living in a battle zone like that.

Moshe Novak

Moshe: For the first time in our history, we were the home front. It was a war we hadn't fought before. We were two million innocent citizens: babies, children, grandparents and the fourth generation that founded Israel - captured in a war zone, far from the borders for over a month. It is a new kind of a terror when the enemy strikes at civilians. As old soldiers we know what it means to fight in combat but in my neighbourhood, in my surroundings, nearly 100 rockets exploded. This is not a way to change the world, this is not human.

Doron Milch

Doron: I think Moshe said it all. We are use to fighting army against army. But I was sitting at home, not fighting, and heard the sirens and the bombs falling. It's insane. We don't have soldiers in Haifa, we're not fighting here. I felt strange. I wasn't scared. It was mainly strange because you don't know what needs to be done. You don't know where the next missile is going to fall.

Martin Patience 1100 local time (0800 GMT / 0900 BST)

It's a glorious sunny day in Haifa. Businesses, shops and restaurants are all open and the roads are choked with cars.

But during the recent conflict, it was all very different - the residents of this city rarely ventured out, remaining in their homes or bomb shelters. Many thousands fled the city.

The BBC laptop linkup team is located at one of the restaurants on the main street running along the top of Mount Carmel. The restaurant is bustling with customers enjoying cappuccinos and cafe lattes under the shade of giant red umbrellas.

This is a city that is returning to normality.

Composite image of panellists' faces

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