KIRYAT SHMONA, Israel—Eight-year-old Revaya Edri clambered from her bottom bunk up two rungs to her mother, to hold on to someone while she watches the news until 3 a.m. each night.
Dorit Edri, 38, her mother, struggled through the haze of sleeping pills to help her tiny daughter down the row of orange metal bunks, past the young man who sleeps on the middle bunk. She needs the pills to sleep because there's too much noise: from the 15 neighbors snoring in the bomb shelter, from the warning sirens above ground, from the explosions—the thump of artillery heading out and the rumble of Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets coming in.
"It's not the Katyushas that will kill us, it's the stress," she said. "But that surely will kill us if this doesn't end soon."
Here in Kiryat Shmona, where many of Hezbollah's rockets have fallen these past three weeks, life has become confined to small places. Residents still here, the poor, the disabled, those with no place else to go and no resources to get away, spend their days largely in bomb shelters—not so different, they think, from Lebanese civilians on the other side of the border.
So far, 27 Israelis have been killed by the rockets, including eight on Thursday, though none have died in Kiryat Shmona.
It was no surprise that rockets would land here. Kiryat Shmona has been an occasional Hezbollah target for years.
Still, these are hardly normal times. Most of Kiryat Shmona's 22,000 residents have left; estimates suggest only 7,000 remain. Shopkeepers—those that are still doing business—think only a thousand people remain. In nearby Metula, where the population is 1,600, there are 250 residents left.
Yael Dryer, 37, a pharmacist, has kept her pharmacy open because people need medicine. But it's not easy.
"The grocery next door was also open this morning," she said. "But there were two attacks before noon, where we had to run to the shelter, and after the second one, they decided to give up. I stay because I think I must, for the people who cannot leave."
Those who cannot leave pack the bomb shelters: the aged, immobile, recent immigrants, low-income. They're all underground in a simple concrete block room about the size of a back yard pool.
There are seven sets of orange metal bunks, each with three beds equipped with three-inch-thick mattresses.
The walls, once white, are now covered with the crayoned graffiti of the half-dozen young children who've been trapped here: pictures of ponies, and moms and dads.
Every day, there's a small window of peace when residents can climb out into the sun. One afternoon this week, seven residents sat near the entrance to the shelter on two couches they'd pulled down from their apartments. They ate the last of the fish one couple had caught during a fishing trip on the Jordan River and drank the last of the beer from their refrigerators.
Doris Hassan, who has lived here for 30 years, said the people in the bunker dream of nothing more than normal life, the chance to go to work, to fall asleep in their own beds, to take an evening walk.
"The banks are closed, so we run out of money. The stores are closed, so we live on the scraps of what we had before the war," she said. "Rich people, they've left for holidays, hotels and meals in restaurants. The poor, we're here, waiting underground."
She admitted that she's surprised she still cringes each time the sounds of explosions come from outside the bomb shelter. She said the experience is wearing, and she can't imagine what goes on in the heads of the little children.
Dorit Edri looked at her daughter, Revaya, and winced. "How can I comfort her? This is reality. This is life in our town. Katyusha rockets have been landing here since I moved in 18 years ago. What can I say to her? Get used to it."
For her part, Revaya has. She skips cartoons and playing on the nearby swings. Instead, from when she wakes, groggy, to when she drops to sleep in the early hours of the day, she pays close attention to the war.
"We need to watch the news if we don't want to die," Revaya explained. "One man was riding his bicycle and a rocket fell on top of him. That could have been me."
Then she added, with sigh, that she doesn't have a bicycle.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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