Israelis displaced by the battle with Hezbollah want to return home as the conflict moves closer to full-scale war

In November, Avi Avraham and his wife left their home in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel to attend a wedding. Moments later, a rocket ripped through their third floor, shattering the windows—destroying life as they knew it.

They and their son moved south to safety and have since been living as evacuees in a hotel paid for by the Israeli government in the hills of Birya, Israel, halfway between the Sea of ​​Galilee and the border with Lebanon.

“Living in hotels is not a solution,” Avraham told CBC in Hebrew through a translator. The family of the 72-year-old retired bus driver has been living in the hotel for seven months and there is no clear plan for the future.

We see a house with a large, round hole piercing a wall on the top floor.
No one was injured when a rocket smashed through the wall of the top floor of Avi Avraham’s home in Kiryat Shmona, Israel, seven months ago. Avraham and his family have been living in a hotel in Birya, northern Israel ever since. (Avi Avraham)

“We don’t know what will happen. That puts us in an unpleasant situation.”

He is one of tens of thousands in both Israel and Lebanon displaced by the volley of cross-border missiles launched by Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group in Lebanon, and by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Israel. a conflict that, according to observers, has long been in danger of escalating into a full-blown war.

Defending the northern border

In recent days, talk of further defending this northern border has been on the minds of both Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, before his Sunday trip to Washington, DC, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a Sunday interview with Israel’s Channel 14 .

“After the intense phase [in Gaza] is finished, we will have the opportunity to move part of the armed forces to the north. And we will do this,” Netanyahu said. “Primarily for defensive purposes. And secondly, to take our [evacuated] residents at home.”

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Hezbollah has exchanged attacks with Israel almost daily since the war in Gaza broke out on October 7 after a Hamas-led attack in southern Israel aimed at pulling Israeli forces out of the disputed Gaza Strip.

Ofer Shelah, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, says that with the longer-range weapons and drones Hezbollah now uses, “the margin for error is shrinking,” and the conflict is heading toward a full-blown outbreak. scaling up war “without either side deciding they really want it.”

He says there is no way to truly guarantee safety for displaced Israelis to return to their homes.

Researcher Ofer Shelah.
Ofer Shelah, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, says there is no way to guarantee safety for displaced Israelis to return to their homes as the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah continues to evolve into a large-scale war. . (Jean-François Bisson/CBC)

“The problem is, again, just like in Gaza: what are you trying to achieve? What is the end state you want to achieve? And I don’t think we will be able to achieve a stable end state through military means.”

The end of the conflict cannot come soon enough for Yakov Naftali, another resident who has been evacuated and lives in the hotel in Birya.

“I think the situation as it is now, quite frankly, has been stretched to the real edge of possibility,” he said in Hebrew.

Naftali, 62, held out in his home in Margaliot, located along the border with Lebanon, until March this year when his six sisters and four children finally convinced him it was not safe to stay.

His parents helped establish the farming community in the 1950s and he had lived there all his life, but he says that after two workers on his farm were killed in rocket attacks, his family finally convinced him it was too dangerous , so he left. , reluctantly.

A man with close-cropped white hair wears a black sleeveless shirt as he sits in a stone-walled courtyard draped with Israeli flags.
Yakov Naftali, 62, has been living in a hotel near Birya in northern Israel for several months after his family finally convinced him to leave his home closer to the border with Lebanon. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

“In my opinion, the solution is to go in and destroy them,” Hezbollah’s Naftali said.

“There is another solution, a political one,” he said, adding that he believes it would only last a few years before the situation returns to what it is now.

Rocket attacks lead to fires

At the fire station in the nearby town of Hatzor HaGlilit, firefighters must deal with the now almost daily rockets that land across the northern landscape – often in smoldering pieces.

Fire Chief Dror Buhnik, 49, who was also a firefighter in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, says the main difference between then and now is intensity.

A man with close-cropped gray hair wears a firefighter uniform and stands in front of a vehicle bay as a group of firefighters speak behind him.
Dror Buhnik, the head of the fire station in the Israeli town of Hatzor HaGlilit, served in the 2006 Lebanon War and says that “the intensity” of rocket attacks in 2024 is much greater now than then. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

“In 2006 there were missiles, but they were weaker, and it was temporary,” he said through a translator. “Hezbollah is launching more rockets that are more powerful, and those attacks have escalated in recent weeks.”

The problem is only exacerbated by the dry, hot summer weather.

“Now every missile has the potential to lead to a major fire,” he said. “And it’s happening. In recent weeks we’ve had some very large fires.”

On the afternoon CBC News visited the fire station in Hatzor HaGlilit, there was an emergency call about a rocket landing at a nearby military base. Fire engines went to the scene and plumes of smoke were clearly visible coming from the ground.

The IDF posted a message on its Telegram messaging channel saying that a soldier had been seriously injured as a result of a drone hit.

A red fire truck is parked in front of a fire station.
One of the fire trucks in Hatzor HaGlilit used by firefighters to rush to the scene of rocket attacks. Buhnik says the dry, hot summer weather means any rocket landing in northern Israel could lead to a major fire. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

An uncomfortable holding pattern

It’s all been taking too long for Avi Avraham.

“We have not seen anything that has changed in the slightest the situation we have been suffering for the past eight months,” he said.

‘I prefer an agreement. But if war comes, it is the government’s decision, not mine.”

In the meantime, he longs to return to Kiryat Shmona, but he’s found himself in a kind of awkward holding pattern, waiting to see what happens next.

A man with close-cropped gray hair wears a T-shirt and folds his arms over his chest as he sits in a courtyard.
Avi Avraham longs to return to Kiryat Shmona, but has found himself in a kind of uneasy waiting pattern, waiting to see what’s next. The retired bus driver saved a piece of the rocket that hit his house and says he plans to use it as an ashtray. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

He kept a fragment of the rocket that hit his house as a sort of dark souvenir and went back to his hotel room to retrieve the metal piece to show the CBC News team.

“Now I have an ashtray,” he said.

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