Fleeing Hizbullah rockets, Israelis find beach refuge
It's the middle of summer, and on one of Israel's most popular beaches, workers have set up water slides, miniature pool tables, and two stages where some of Israel's most popular singers are performing nightly concerts.
But what at first glance looks like the state fair is actually a refugee camp for 6,100 people who fled their homes since fighting broke out more than three weeks ago and Hizbullah rockets rained down on northern Israel.
Despite the comforts of an air conditioned theater, laundry service, counseling services, and three prepared meals a day – the $500,000 daily cost is footed by Russian-born Israeli billionaire Arcady Gadamak – those holed up here say life is not easy.
The refugees sleep inside 20 half-acre canvas tents, furnished with stacks of mattresses, plastic chairs, and more than 500 fans and swamp coolers.
"There's no privacy, the bathrooms are far away, the kids are going a bit crazy," says David Shmuel, a construction worker, who came here two weeks ago from Kiriyot, next to Haifa, with his family after rockets smashed into a neighbor's home. "It's still better than taking our chances with the rockets."
About 1 million Israelis have been displaced by the war, according to Gideon Meir, a foreign ministry spokesman. That is around the same number as in Lebanon. Most are staying with friends or family, or in collective communities that have opened guest rooms to them.
Since the government has not organized any public shelters, this private camp represents the largest concentration of the war's Israeli refugees. Efi Gil, a volunteer psychologist at the camp, says many at the camp are experiencing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder from near misses in rocket attacks.
"My daughter lost 20 pounds in two weeks," says Shula Asulin. "Every time she heard an explosion she was throwing up."
Though Ms. Asulin wants an immediate cease-fire in the conflict, she is not among the majority in the camp.
"We have to continue the war until the Hizbullah can't threaten us anymore because if they're allowed to stay [in southern Lebanon] it will just happen again," says Shoshanna Zakai, who came here with two of her children three days ago.