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 CNS Story:

MAGHAR-FEAR Feb-21-2005 (1,040 words) With photos. xxxi

A week after violence, fear remains on faces of Maghar's Catholics

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

MAGHAR, Israel (CNS) -- Fear remained on the faces of Melkite Catholics who returned to Maghar a week after fleeing Druze-led violence.

In the village's Christian neighborhood, cars were vandalized, overturned and burned. Windows of houses and businesses were shattered; shutters were broken and hacked through with hatchets and axes; buildings were blackened from flames reaching up to the third floor; and the insides of businesses -- which were first plundered -- were destroyed and charred.

The scenes of destruction ended abruptly where the Druze neighborhood begins.

"They destroyed all the Christian businesses," said one man, as he stood outside his family's ruined pastry shop Feb. 20.

Shattered glass covered the floor of the newly renovated store; trays of Arabic sweets lay among the ruins. A chocolate cream cake was smashed on top of the cash register, which lay broken and open on the floor. Cream cakes, filled pastries and cookies were askew in the broken refrigerator. Pieces of glass pierced a red heart-shaped cake -- prepared for Valentine's Day -- inside the front counter display case.

Maghar's Christians all are Melkite Catholic, and many declined to give their names or have their pictures taken, afraid they would be singled out later for attacks.

"I was born here and my father and grandfather were born here. My family is here for 600 years, but at the moment nobody feels safe. I am afraid to return, there is nobody to defend us -- not the state, not the police. I am ready to sell," said businessman Yousef Karawani, 45, as he sat nervously smoking a cigarette on the edge of his sofa.

Karawani and his family left the village; he returns to his home only during the day. His children, like the other Christian children who attend the village public school, had not been to school for a week.

There is no Christian school in the village, and no one can assure the safety of their children in the public school, where they are harassed almost daily, said the Catholic villagers.

Everyone has a horror story of how they escaped the attacks. Some, whose cars were still intact, fled their homes with their children as soon as they had an opportunity. Those whose cars were already in flames ran to family and friends for safety, and others were forced to remain in their homes while outside the mobs tried to break in or set flames to stores on the lower floors.

Alif Khoury, 35, whose head was still bandaged from his injuries, was next door at his parents' house when the violence broke out. He told about his desperate attempt to save his sleeping 3-year-old daughter after the mob opened up gas canisters next to his house. He was beaten back, but other Druze came and pushed away the extremist mob, allowing him to reach his daughter. Another Druze friend rescued his other daughters, who were at a relative's house, he said.

The Druze sect originated in Egypt and broke off from Islam in the early 11th century. They live scattered in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. There are also immigrant Druze communities in the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America.

"I don't know why they hate us. We believe in tolerance. There was something like this in the '80s, too, and here we are in the year 2005 in the same situation," he said.

Most of the men interviewed spoke about moving away from the village for the safety and future of their children, while the women insisted they would remain in the village.

"This is where I am staying," said 33-year-old Hanan, as she stood in the courtyard of the church, her 2-year-old daughter in her arms. She said her house remains barricaded, just in case of another wave of attacks.

"I am waiting for those responsible to be punished and for the Druze to prove that they want us here," she said, adding that for now she was not sending her two older children -- ages 10 and 6 -- to school.

"There are things I need to teach my children. I teach them what love is. I open the Bible and show them what Jesus told us about loving our enemies. My children argue with me, but I am their mother, and I must teach them values in life. Even at this prayer today we are not against (the Druze); we are praying for our enemies, for God to help show them the light."

Across from the church, Faraj Artoul, 60, maintains a daily vigil in front of family property destroyed by the rioters. One side of the building housed a pharmacy run by one nephew, and on the other side another nephew ran a minimarket.

"Things will not improve overnight or from one day to the next, or from one year to the next. This will take a long time," he said.

Noor Artoul, 38, his nephew, came to assess the damage to his minimarket. He said his four children are terrified to return to the village, and his first concern is for their safety and emotional well-being. The children watched from the family apartment behind the minimarket as the store and pharmacy went up in flames, he said, his eyes puffy and red-rimmed.

"This was everything we had. I don't know what to do. I don't even have money to buy milk or bread for my children," said Artoul. He said he never purchased insurance because he never thought such a thing would happen. The pharmacy is insured, he added, but some business owners said they do not know if their insurance will cover them from acts of vandalism and riots.

"If there won't be help from somewhere, it will be impossible to live. Look, the minimarket is not so important, but look what they did to the pharmacy, to the medicine sick people need. How, how in the world could this happen? I thought they would throw some rocks like they have done before, but it would pass. I never in a million years thought it would reach this situation," he said.

A return to life as it was before, he said, is impossible.

END


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