Cover Story

No way out

"No way out" Continued...

Issue: "Exit strategies," Aug. 5, 2006

In Kiryat Shmona, Tiberias, and other cities, a kind of new normal is setting in nearly three weeks after attacks intensified. Many families remain in shelters during the day but do errands and other business at night because "evenings are safer," health worker Beverley Timgren told WORLD from Tiberias. "Generally Hezbollah is not firing at night because you can see the trail of fire," making it easier for Israeli forces to pick out the launcher location for counterattacks.

But residents are anxious and weary from constant bombardments. One couple from Nahariya asked Timgren, a Canadian who once worked in south Lebanon and now runs a dental clinic in Tiberias, if they could return with her to Jerusalem. The wife is seven months pregnant and the couple has a 4-year-old son. "Everyone wants to be on the move because it's hard to live under this stress," said Timgren.

Despite long living under the Hezbollah threat-even once having her home hit with a rocket-Timgren says she is more dismayed by the suffering across the border, where she had some e-mail contact with Lebanese friends last week. "Israel says it is after Hezbollah, but when you see the casualties on TV, the destruction of offices and residences, I think rather than reducing the threat they are going to increase it." With Israel saying it will create a security zone inside Lebanon, Timgren said, the decades' cycle of attack, retaliation, and invasion continues. For south Lebanese who remain refugees in Israel, having fled from Hezbollah after Israel pulled out in 2000, "What was the point of losing everything?" she said.

Charara tried not to think about the suffering and death his family left behind while sailing on the cargo ship that took them from Beirut to Cyprus. Instead he focused on taking care of his kids and calming other evacuees.

Taking care of his kids involved making a bed out of spare life jackets: The huge cargo ship had only limited quarters and lounge areas for a small crew. The 1,100 people on board tried to find comfort on the metal floors and only three small bathrooms.

Fourteen hours after the ship left Beirut on a zigzag course, it landed in Cyprus early the next morning. Officials from the U.S. Embassy met the group with "food, water, and comforting words," says Charara.

Embassy officials arranged a charter plane for 140 Americans that night. When the Chararas arrived in Baltimore among the first evacuees to reach America, "there were at least 300 people to meet us," says Charara.

U.S. officials, Red Cross volunteers, and counselors met the group, helping them transition. Most evacuees were "distraught and dazed," says Charara, who was surprised to get a glimpse of himself on television news coverage that morning. Looking exhausted and disheveled, he thought: "That's me?"

Charara says a "comforting" U.S. official shadowed him his entire time in the airport, helping work out kinks with connecting flights. Back at home in Long Beach, Calif., the Chararas discovered their neighbors had filled the neighborhood with yellow ribbons. Charara, who is Muslim, says his neighbors, who are Hassidic Jews, welcomed them home with relief and tears.

But the crisis isn't over. When Charara talks to his family by phone in Lebanon, he hears the bombing in the background. He feels guilty for being safe at home. His children have "bounced back," he says, but it is harder for his wife, who's been in America for 11 years.

Israeli attacks on civilians are embittering the Lebanese toward Israel, said Charara. "The more they hurt civilians, the more the Lebanese will support Hezbollah." Charara says he believes Israel has a right to defend itself, but not if that means "indiscriminately killing civilians. . . . It's unconscionable."

Charara, who was supposed to be on vacation until the end of the month, says he planned to head back to his job as an aerospace engineer at Boeing a week early. He can't bring himself to enjoy his vacation. He can't even bring himself to listen to music anymore: "I keep thinking about the people who are listening to bombs."

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