- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2007


In the year since a Hezbollah-fired Katyusha rocket slammed into their house, Michael Wein-berger and his family have tried to erase any hint of the destruction wrought by Israel’s sec-ond war in Lebanon.

Unlike some neighbors in Nahariya, the Israeli city that sustained the second highest number of missile hits, they have saved no debris of the missile. Photographs showing the warhead that landed on Mr. Weinberger’s bed and the twisted wreckage in the stairwell are buried deep in a drawer. Not one corner of the house has been left with a blemish.

“Everything you see here is totally new,” said Mr. Weinberger, a forester who was out fighting brush fires started by the missiles when the Katyusha hit his house on the third day of the war. “My wife decided we’re not leaving any reminders — not one. She doesn’t need any of the trauma.”

Mr. Weinberger’s wife, Car-mela, and two daughters, Noga and Shavit, had come downstairs just before the missile attack to light candles at the start of the Jewish Sabbath — saving them from serious injury. Noga said she doesn’t remember an explosion, only a cloud of dust and her mother’s screams.

Mr. Weinberger says his family has returned to its normal routine, but even though no one was hurt, the imprint from the attack is palpable. Never again, they say, will they be able to look at other Israelis who have had the bad luck to be on the receiving of a rocket attack and say, “It won’t happen to me.”

When 10 months of calm was broken by reports on June 17 that two rockets had landed in the town Kiryat Shemona, 20-year-old Noga said, she remained on the ground floor of the five-bedroom split-level and called her younger sister home for fear that a new war was erupting.

“Suddenly, I felt vulnerable again,” she said. “I said, ‘It can”t be that we”re going back to that nightmare.’ ”

For Israel, the fighting left 43 civilians and 119 soldiers dead. The direct economic cost of the war was estimated at $1.6 billion. That was a fraction of the destruction in Lebanon, but the exposure of Israeli cities to sustained attack for weeks was an experience not known in Israel since the generation that fought the 1948 war for independence.

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

While renovating his home, Mr. Weinberger has overseen the cleanup and replanting effort as director of forest management in northern Israel for the Jewish National Fund.

“Fixing a house is painful but quick. You see everything you have lost, but you fix it quickly,” he said. “A forest only hurts during the fire.”

For Noga, the missile wiped out an entire collection of childhood keepsakes.

“No one told me that, ‘Today we’re destroying your room; pack up all of the things that are close to you.’ ”

Negotiating his four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi sport utility vehicle up choppy mountain bike paths flanked by pistachio and carob trees, Mr. Weinberger estimated that it will take another year before all of the damaged areas are cleaned up and replanted. Instead of dwelling on the destruction of the shorn mountainside, he described the rehabilitation effort as therapeutic.

“Most of the work is ahead of us. I’m not planting for myself, but for my kids and grandkids,” he said. “There is nothing like reforesting to heal the wounds of war. It’s like when you bandage up a cut and put a bandage on it, except that it takes much more time.”

Making sense of whether the war’s destruction was worth the effort is a different story. Like most Israelis, Mr. Weinberger said, he can’t point to any gains.

The fate of Israel’s two soldiers kidnapped from the border on July 12, 2006, is still unknown, he said. Hezbollah has been silent for most of the past year, but the militant Shi’ite activists are once again in southern Lebanon.

“They are sitting on the fence,” he said. “You can see them from the border. It’s a difficult thing to admit.”

Some neighbors have moved farther south, away from what was the front line. The forester said he doesn’t blame them, but the Weinbergers are staying put. Despite the threat of war, they still believe the quality of life in this sleepy seaside city of 50,000 is compelling enough to stay. But he is not deluding himself.

“I don’t know what will be here in another 10 years. As long as it is good, we”ll stay put. If you live here, you need to know it’s a relatively dangerous place and there could be problems.”

Just as Mr. Weinberger describes forest as a “dynamic” ecosystem with remarkable ability to rehabilitate itself, he said people are the same.

“We know that war is terrible, but it’s temporary and when it”s over, you start rebuilding,” he said.

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