WESTERN GALILEE, ISRAEL -- Even though Israel's well-planned civil defense program has run like a well-oiled machine during the recent missle attacks, the imminent threat of a chemical attack, with its unknown consequences, has raised uncomfortable concerns, even among a population that has lived through six wars. When air-raid sirens sound, Israelis do not head for underground bomb shelters, but instead into sealed rooms in their own houses. Even after an all-clear signal sounds, they carry their gas masks with them. Here on Beit HaEmek kibbutz, a collective farm an hour outside Haifa, the threat of a gas attack has reduced the number of communal activities, if not the community spirit. In the past, communal meals and other activities have drawn the greatest number of participants during the times of danger, according to kibbutz member Shlomit Ana'nvi. But now, because of the instructions from civil defense authorities to aviod largre gatherings and to keep children close to home, residents are spending more time than usual in their own houses. The public dining room, which usually serves 500 local residents three meals a day, is now only a third full at meal times. Many residents come to fill containers of food for their families, but eat them at home. For every hour of direct danger, there are many hours in which the safety instructions are only a precaution. But this does not make time pass any more quickly for parents and children who have to stay inside all day. Local resident Ineke Soesan said that the three days last week when her four children did not go to school were a strain on all of them. "Kibbutz children, like all Israeli children, are not used to being inside all day," Soesan said last week. "They have so much energy built up." The community's war preparations include specific plans for the redistribution of jobs if the men of fighting age are called to the army. But in the current conflict, the few men who have been called up are mostly older men who hold senior positions in behind-the-lines operations. Salo Soesan, Ineke's husband, said that the country's major concern is now for its civilians and not for its fighting men. "This time, the threat was not on us, the young men, it was on the women and children," he said. "We don't care what happens to us." After two days of attacks, the gas alert response has already become routine. Families have even moved extra bedding into their sealed rooms to accomodate the relatives and friends who gather to watch television news together. As in other times of danger, Israelis are reminded that they have chosen a difficult place to live. Ana'nvi said that although her relatives in Hungary, Italy and the U.S. all offered her tickets to leave the country, she said she did not want to leave, and asked if the offer would still be valid in the summer when she will have time for a vacation. "We came to Israel to make a home for every Jew who wanted to come here," she said. "Why should I run away when all our dreams are coming true?"Comments powered by Disqus
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