Postcard: In Northern Israel, Staying Despite Rocket Fire
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Towns and villages across northern Israel remain under daily fire from Hezbollah rockets. More than 100 struck Israel yesterday, including what police say was the most powerful yet fired by the militant Shiite group. There were no injuries in that attack but residents are bracing for more violence.
NPR's Eric Westervelt has this reporter's notebook on one businessman who's remained behind along the border despite the risks.
ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:
The fields around Abagdoor Rotham's(ph) favorite scenic overlook in the northern Galilee may be on fire, but a beloved spot remains so even in wartime. The burly 45-year-old stands in the win atop a thick cement pillbox fortress, framed by eucalyptus trees.
It was once part of the westernmost Syrian military line during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. He points his binoculars across the valley northwest. It's a little hazy from the fires, but even with outgoing artillery and occasional incoming Hezbollah rockets, the views of the northern Hula Valley across to Lebanon remains sweet.
Mr. ABAGDOOR ROTHAM (Israeli Resident): And here you can see this village, Rajar(ph). This is the north-est area of the Israeli border with Lebanon. Behind this village, everything you can see, it's Lebanon.
WESTERVELT: Nearby are nature preserves, hiking trails, wineries, inns and whitewater rafting. In peacetime all would be packed with peak summer tourists. But in these war days, all are deserted.
His father moved the family to Israel from the former Soviet Union when Abagdoor was nine years old. Today Abagdoor owns two small factories and he and his wife run a gourmet inn, which Abagdoor calls his hobby. The hobby these days is in the line of fire.
Patches of earth all around are either burning or blackened from the constant Hezbollah rockets. Dozens landed nearby in the last two days alone.
Mr. ROTHAM: Maybe 50 Katyushas fell in this area. So everywhere the black spots, it was fires from the Katyushas.
WESTERVELT: And this valley below us, farming area, most people have left town.
Mr. ROTHAM: I believe that the moment about, you know, 70 percent of the population in this area, they left because they couldn't continue with it that you sit at home and you just wait to see if the next Katyusha will hit your home or not.
There was bombing for two nights in both areas.
WESTERVELT: In Abagdoor's four-wheel drive pickup we head down a dirt road into the foothills of the Golan. On both sides of the road are old minefields from the '73 Mideast war fenced off with red danger signs. Please, no smoking in the truck, Abagdoor says, as the fields nearby burn and ask sprinkles down in the car. Like sunscreen and seatbelts in a combat zone, little things perhaps help maintain a comforting illusion of normalcy.
We bump along what was once a Roman roadway, ancient bricks visible in some spots. Not so fun to drive on, Abagdoor says, too jumpy. There are other Roman ruins nearby and on an isolated hill overlooking the valley stands the remains of a medieval citadel called Nimrod's Fortress, built in the middle ages and used by Christian crusaders and Muslim warriors.
Mr. ROTHAM: The fortress is beautiful. I moved here because it's a beautiful area to live in. It's one of the most beautiful areas in Israel.
WESTERVELT: Come for the views, stay for the endless cycle of violence, Abagdoor.
Mr. ROTHAM: Uh-huh. Yeah. The violence is part of our life.
WESTERVELT: Are you frustrated, though? You know, you came here for the beauty, start your business and now you've got this again. I mean are you...
Mr. ROTHAM: First of all, I'm not surprised. Because when I came here I knew where I'm going. With all the risk and everything, this is our home and I think this is what keeps the Israel is in Israel. Because living in Israel is not easy. The taxes are high, every few years we have war, terrorism and so. And on and so life is not easy here.
Though it's the only place I can live. Because I feel at home here.
WESTERVELT: Like most Israelis who've chosen to stay in the danger zone, Abagdoor looks a little tired and drained these days, yet he's still quick with a smile, a dark joke or a sip of his homemade lemon cello liqueur.
He sent his two young daughters south to a safer zone but said he and his wife are staying put for now, and he's looking forward to the days when the incoming rockets stop, the outgoing artillery goes silent, and when the smoke in his yard is from his large barbeque, not nearby burning fields.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, on the Israel/Lebanon border.