Israel's Arab citizens caught in a war they never wanted

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Hassan Nasrullah, the leader of Hizbollah, has spoken of having more "surprises"in store for Israel after the deluge of rockets which culminated in the killing of eight Israeli civilians in Haifa in a single attack on Sunday.

But few residents of northern Israel can have been as "surprised" as those in the Arab village of Majd el Krum when it was hit by a volley of six Katyushas.

"We never saw anything like this," said Inas Ayub, 25. "There was no warning and we never expected anything like it."

Mrs Ayub lives next door to the fortunately empty house her brother-in-law Mahmoud is building for his son, part of whose roof and top floor was blown away by a direct hit from a Hizbollah rocket. She described how she was sitting inside her house with her two sons, one-year-old Mohammed and Liaan, three, when "I heard a very loud explosion. It was very strong. I took my sons downstairs. I started to scream because I saw that all the windows were broken and the front yard was full of rubble. Then I fainted."

This experience - though traumatic for the Ayub family - is trifling compared to the death and destruction in Lebanon they were seeing on their television screen yesterday. But it is especially vexing for the Muslim inhabitants here who, while reluctant to talk politics, mainly proclaim their neutrality in a war in which they have no part.

As the vulnerability of the village to a repeat of last Thursday's Katyusha attack was underlined by a volley of rockets on Karmiel three kilometres away, Mrs Ayub said that Hizbollah appeared not "to make a difference between Jews and Arabs. But we all eat from the same plate."

Najib Sjeer, 63, a former deputy superintendent of schools, echoed the frequent complaints about discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens by saying there were no warning sirens in the village and no shelters in the schools. While the village had not been caught up in a war since 1948, he added: "There are no public shelters. We have no protection.

"We are a part of Israel but Israel does not see us as part of the country," he said.

Mr Sjeer did not directly apportion blame for the war but declared: "Israel has planned to destroy Hizbollah for a long time and now they have found an excuse. This is not about the two soldiers who were kidnapped. Basically this is to destroy south Lebanon. If you shoot at a bus with 20 civilians you are not just going after Hizbollah."

Mr Sjeer insisted that the village would not be deterred from its normal life by the rocket volley. "Yesterday we had a big wedding here, and it would have been a disaster if there had been a rocket. But we have faith here. If it happens it won't be because of Nasrallah or Olmert or Peretz. Everything is from Allah."

Aslan Hammoud, 18, returned home yesterday from hospital having had three pieces of shrapnel removed from his shoulder after being wounded by a Katyusha which landed across the road from his family's home and pet shop. Part of the rocket was still embedded in the car park opposite the house. His father Mahmoud, 43, explained that as one of the relatively few residents to have built his house with an official permit, the family does have a secure room in the basement, but none of the family had been in it when the Katyusha landed without warning.

Mr Sjeer, like Mrs Ayub, said he did not believe that Hizbollah distinguished between Jewish and Arab villages. "They don't ask for people's ID cards before firing," he said. But Mahmoud Hammoud was convinced there was a reason why there had so far been no repeat of the Katyusha attack here. "This is a Muslim town and that is why I believe they have stopped shooting in this direction."

Maybe. But yesterday a Katyusha landed on Abu Snen, an Arab village seven miles away.