Dodging rockets in Haifa

FP Blogger at Large Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem I spent yesterday in Haifa. By one estimate, over half its population has gone to stay with relatives further south, and the city is so quiet that it feels as if it is stuck in a perpetual early Saturday morning, a sort of Groundhog Hour. When the sirens ...

607703_Gideon15.jpg
607703_Gideon15.jpg

FP Blogger at Large
Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem

I spent yesterday in Haifa. By one estimate, over half its population has gone to stay with relatives further south, and the city is so quiet that it feels as if it is stuck in a perpetual early Saturday morning, a sort of Groundhog Hour.

When the sirens go off, you have about one minute until the rockets hit. The first couple of times you hear them, it is truly scary. In most conflict zones there are some fairly well-understood lines dividing where's safe from where's dangerous—they just never show you the safe bits on television. (Even in Beirut, for instance, a lot of people outside the Hezbollah neighborhoods are more or less carrying on with life as normal.) In some of them, being visibly identifiable as a foreign journalist is better than having a bullet-proof car. But there are no safe areas in Haifa, and Fajr missiles can't read the sign on your windshield that says "PRESS".

FP Blogger at Large
Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem

I spent yesterday in Haifa. By one estimate, over half its population has gone to stay with relatives further south, and the city is so quiet that it feels as if it is stuck in a perpetual early Saturday morning, a sort of Groundhog Hour.

When the sirens go off, you have about one minute until the rockets hit. The first couple of times you hear them, it is truly scary. In most conflict zones there are some fairly well-understood lines dividing where’s safe from where’s dangerous—they just never show you the safe bits on television. (Even in Beirut, for instance, a lot of people outside the Hezbollah neighborhoods are more or less carrying on with life as normal.) In some of them, being visibly identifiable as a foreign journalist is better than having a bullet-proof car. But there are no safe areas in Haifa, and Fajr missiles can’t read the sign on your windshield that says “PRESS”.

But not every alarm is followed by rockets: the warning system covers a wide region, and sometimes there are false alarms. Yesterday there were nine warnings but only one wave of rockets. And a missile has to pretty much score a direct hit on the room you’re in if it’s to kill you.

And so, as in any extreme situation, people get used to it. One time, the siren went off when we were at the site where, a couple of hours earlier, a missile had struck next to a building. The shrapnel had done this to it:

And you would think that after seeing this any sensible person, on hearing the siren, would at least run indoors to avoid ending up like a Swiss cheese. Well, the bystanders—including, I note, several policemen—decided that the appropriate shelter from an incoming missile is the same as for a passing rain shower: 

Later that day, the alarm sounded as I sat with some people who were enjoying the unusual peace and quiet on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant. Everyone gathered up their belongings, a few took their drinks, and we trooped into the restaurant’s cellar bar for a couple of minutes. While we waited, a Palestinian diner found some black humor in Hassan Nasrallah’s apology for killing Arab-Israelis as well as Jewish ones. “If I get back outside and my lunch is not there any more,” he warned, “I will demand an apology from Nasrallah in person.”

Gideon Lichfield is deputy editor of The Economist online and was previously its Jerusalem correspondent.

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