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Israelis Rebuild, But Question Benefits of War

Israel's parliament has returned after its summer recess, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's center-left government is bracing for renewed criticism, especially from hardliners, for its handling of the war with Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. That conflict lasted just more than one month and caused widespread destruction and many casualties, especially in Lebanon. Now, many Israelis are questioning whether it was worth it, as VOA's Sonja Pace found out when she visited the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, just a few kilometers from the Lebanese border.

There is not much left of Margalit Messika's front garden. Bits of broken glass, pottery shards and roof tiles lie about everywhere. Twisted pieces of metal are strewn among uprooted plants.

During the month-long war in July and August between the Israeli military and Islamic Hezbollah militants across the border in Lebanon, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, many of them into border towns like Kiryat Shmona. One of them landed in Margalit Messika's garden.

Messika walks through the house she has lived in for the past 25 years - much of the roof is gone, the windows have been blown out and there are large cracks in the walls.

Messika says she remained in the house throughout most of the conflict, staying in a built-in underground shelter whenever the sirens went off, warning of another Katyusha rocket attack. But, finally she says, she had enough and moved farther south, out of range of the rockets. A day later, she says the Katyusha hit her home.

The conflict erupted after eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two others abducted in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah militants. At the same time, Hezbollah began launching rockets into Israel.

Israel struck back, bombing cities, towns and infrastructure, and later sent ground troops to southern Lebanon to root out Hezbollah, which both Israel and the United States has designated a terrorist group.

More than 1,000 Lebanese were killed, most of them civilians. More than 150 Israelis died as well, including more than three dozen civilians, killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.

A U.N.-mediated ceasefire took effect August 14. Israeli troops began to withdraw from southern Lebanon, as Lebanese forces and international peacekeepers deployed in the area.

Yakov is a carpenter. He is helping re-build Margalit Messika's home. He says he, too, stayed here during the rocket attacks. He says many people did - some who did not want to leave, and others who could not afford to leave.

Yakov gives only his first name. He says he fully supported Israel's reasons for going to war. But he is less certain about whether the conflict was worth it.

Some things are better, he says, at least Hezbollah has been pushed back from the border. The war would have been worth it, he says, if it had been properly carried out. But, he adds, Israel failed to achieve its goals - it did not get back the kidnapped soldiers, nor did it eliminate Hezbollah, two things the government had promised.

Yakov's reaction is not unusual. According to opinion polls, most Israelis strongly supported the war early on, but became increasingly critical, as the conflict dragged on and Israeli casualties mounted.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's popularity has dropped in the polls, his left-of-center government is under increasing criticism, his defense minister, Amir Peretz acknowledged some serious failures and the government's handling of the war is being investigated.

Margalit Messika says the war did not make her feel safer, and she believes another round of fighting will follow at some point.

Messika says it is a shame there is no peace in the region - whether in Lebanon or with the Palestinians. I am a mother, she says, it is hard to think of losing a child, whether you are Israeli or Palestinian.

Yakov chimes in.

The Palestinians elected Hamas and in Lebanon, he says, they have the Hezbollah. He blames the problems on extremism, fanaticism - "you can't make peace with people like that," he says.