Trickling back to Kiryat Shmona, residents survey scene of wreckage


KIRYAT SHMONA — The entire Gigi family was cleaning out Hamburger House, a small fast-food restaurant along Kiryat Shmona’s main road.

Jars of condiments, cases of orange soda and stainless-steel pans lined the sidewalk as the family prepared for its reopening last week, after the restaurant closed during a month of war.

Omri Gigi, 25, who opened the restaurant just more than two years ago, hopes its reopening will herald better times in his hometown.

“It will be hard, but we have to keep going,” he said.

The streets of Kiryat Shmona still were largely empty, with only a handful of residents trickling back since a cease-fire was declared in Israel’s war with Hezbollah.

Busloads of residents who took shelter in the center of the country slowly are making their way back to the city. Residents, some of them gone for the entire month, had a chance to survey the damage — the shattered windows and crumpled ceiling of a ceramics shop, the gaping hole in the ceiling of one of the city’s main shopping malls.

Nurit Masiky, 43, got off a bus after almost three weeks of wandering between family and hotels, and could not stop smiling.

“I want to kiss the ground. This is what we have been waiting for,” she said, her two daughters by her side.

Across the road, a new, cream-colored house with red shingled roof lay in silent disarray: A Katyusha rocket had crashed through its roof and through the second floor.

Most of the shingles lay scattered in the garden below. Exposed silver roof beams reflected the harsh afternoon sun.

The family that lives there had yet to return. But a neighbor from an adjacent house arrived home Tuesday and tried to grasp the new landscape of the city he has lived in since he immigrated from Iraq in 1956.

“Kiryat Shmona has been destroyed,” said Yehuda Yehuda, 75, looking at the house and then to the nearby hills, where forest fires have destroyed what was a view of endless green.

Nearby, Shaked Perets, 23, sat in the ruins of her father’s ceramics shop which before the war sold bathtubs, tiles and building supplies.

The store’s large showroom was empty; all the merchandise had been destroyed when the store took a direct hit from a rocket.

“I think of all it took to build this business, and now it’s all destroyed and we’ll have to start again,” she said.

Perets wondered out loud if government compensation would come in full. She said she resents the government for giving partial payments at first, forcing people to pay out-of-pocket with money they don’t always have.

Sitting on a black leather couch, the one piece of furniture that remained unscathed, Perets said she feels numb. Not only were her father’s shop and her own apartment damaged, but she’s grieving the death of a friend, killed in Lebanon over the weekend, just before the cease-fire went into effect.

“This is just property,” she said, looking at the remains of the store. “Nothing compares to the lives taken.”

Outside of the store, whose windows were blown out, a few drivers navigated down the street. Most businesses were still closed, some of them shuttered.

One of the few businesses open was a small barber shop owned by Shai Buhbut, 30. A long line of young men sat on the bench inside, waiting for haircuts.

Buhbut said he had lost a lot of money in the month he was not working, but was sure he’d be able to recover financially if the cease-fire held and fighting indeed stopped.

“If it happens again I will have to consider moving to the center of the country,” he said.

He turned toward a customer, and continued buzzing the side of his hair.