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thedrifter
07-22-06, 08:02 AM
Grapes of Wrath
Israel hasn't been so united since 1967.

BY BRET STEPHENS
Saturday, July 22, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

NORTHERN ISRAEL--Ask Moshe Haviv how he's doing, and he responds in one acrid word, unsuited for a family newspaper.

Mr. Haviv, 54, is the CEO of the Dalton winery in the hilly Northern Galilee, about two miles from the Lebanese border as the crow flies. Most days, as many as 600 customers arrive in his tasting room and stock up on cases of Dalton's Chardonnays, Fume Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignons. But when I paid a midday visit Thursday, there were no customers, and no staff. "The last one just got called up from the reserves," says Mr. Dalton, explaining that his 15 employees were now either in the army or had fled south, out of range of Katyusha rockets, mortars and sniper fire. "I'm trying to keep a positive attitude, but it's hard."

It's strange, being in this part of this country. There are battles raging nearby, and the farther north you drive the louder is the sound of Israeli artillery pounding Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. But the feeling is less that of war than it is of, say, plague. Safed, Rosh Pinna and Carmiel, all attractive and typically bustling towns, are nearly vacant, as if some terrible virus had overnight struck down everyone in their beds. The few cars on the road tend to be military vehicles, ambulances or civilians driving at twice the speed limit. In Kiryat Shmone, I saw a traffic signal that somehow had come off its post and was swaying from a cable. It reminded me of the first of Mel Gibson's "Mad Max" films--the one where civilization hasn't quite collapsed but is fast on its way.

That's not what's happened here--yet. So far, the civilian death toll from Katyushas has been comparatively small (less than 20 as of Friday morning, according to news reports), given that they are falling at a rate of scores, even hundreds a day. But Katyushas are weapons of terror, not mass destruction. "The war now isn't what it was then," says Yaacov Abutbul, 52, a veteran of the tank battles of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. "Back then, you knew where the enemy was coming from. Here the enemy comes from right under your feet."

I met Mr. Abutbul this week in a Safed hospital. The previous Friday a Katyusha explosion had sent him flying from the pavement and put shrapnel in his legs and back. Three days later, as he was recovering from an operation, another Katyusha landed 30 feet short of the hospital, throwing him from his bed and blowing out the windows of the hospital's pediatric wing. He admits to being an emotional wreck and would like to join his children in the south once he's discharged. But his parents are here, as is his job. And so he's stuck.



Also stuck--at least for now--is Captain Boaz Rakocz, 24, the commander of a battery of 155mm guns deployed several miles northeast of Safed. Two weeks ago, Capt. Rakosz's unit was stationed just outside the Gaza Strip, where his job was to lob shells into empty fields as part of a signal-sending exercise against Palestinians firing short-range Kassam rockets at nearby Israeli towns. Now his cannons are trained on several Lebanese villages suspected of harboring Hezbollah guerrillas and rocket launchers. They fire so frequently that their steel turrets have been charred black. (During my visit with the battery, Hezbollah mortars also flew directly overhead, sending soldiers and journalists running for cover.)

"It's not like a regular situation," Capt. Rakocz says during a brief lull in the artillery fire, explaining how he sees this war differently than the one he's been fighting in the south. "We're not dealing with the usual attacks. It's an emergency. Haifa is being attacked; the north is being attacked." But why should rocket attacks here be dealt with so much more severely? The captain pauses to consider his answer: "Because we love the north." This may seem insouciant, but it helps explain the outrage Hezbollah's attacks inspire among Israelis. It isn't just a matter of Israeli troops being killed and kidnapped inside their own country, or of major Israeli population centers being hit. It is also a matter of what is being attacked.

Tel Aviv may be the economic and cultural capital of Israel, Jerusalem its political and symbolic capital. But the Galilee is where Israelis come to play, the forested and breezy getaway from the sweltering coast and the incessant dramas of everyday life in this region. Israelis were prepared to give up sandy Gaza and might also have been prepared to do the same with the rocky West Bank, if only the Palestinians would behave themselves. Yet places make a nation as much as principles do, and the Galilee was one place no Israeli could part with if his country was still going to be worth living in.

So even as terror-stricken residents of the north flee, the rest of the country is prepared to fight, whatever the cost: A recent poll found that 80% of Israelis support the present military operations, and three-quarters of those would be prepared to launch a full-scale invasion of Lebanon if that is what it takes to defeat Hezbollah. No similar consensus has existed among Israelis since the 1967 Six Day War.

Up in his winery, Mr. Dalton fears that if the war continues, he will have no one to tend the vines and take in the harvest, and an entire season's worth of business will be ruined. Yet as we stand beside one of his fields, watching an Apache helicopter fire missiles at a Lebanese village visible in the far distance, he muses on what his decision to remain here means. "Being here is part of defending the country. If Hezbollah wins this, the terrorists win this war, and not just against us but against the free world. You think I'm coming down from here? Never."

Ellie