At Tourist Hotels, Israeli Evacuees Plan for Long Stays to Escape Border Attacks

NAZARETH, Israel — A joyful clamor echoed in the ballroom of the Golden Crown Hotel. Kindergarten was in full swing for 30 children from Arab al-Aramshe, a village next to Israel’s border with Lebanon. Only this class was meeting 44 miles south, in Nazareth, where nearly 800 of the village’s residents have been living since mid-October, when they were evacuated because of the risk of attacks by the militant group Hezbollah.

“On an emotional level, it’s hard for the children because their parents are under stress,” said Dalal Badra, an inspector from Israel’s Education Ministry, who was helping to organize the classes. “They can sense that something is wrong.”

These children are part of the largest internal displacement in Israel’s history, a modern-day exodus of more than 125,000 people. They have been evacuated from towns in the south, near the Gaza Strip, where Hamas extremists massacred Israeli civilians and soldiers a month ago, and from the north, where tensions have escalated in recent days as Israel has exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, fueling fears that Hezbollah fighters will swarm across the border and do the same to them.

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It is a logistically complex and costly operation for the Israeli state, which is paying to house the evacuees indefinitely in 280 hotels and guesthouses scattered across the country. As the days stretch into weeks, the government is setting up makeshift schools and medical clinics. In the south, where many of the evacuees survived the Hamas attacks, it has recruited specialists to offer trauma counseling.

The Golden Crown, which usually caters to tourists visiting biblical sites in the hometown of Jesus, has been converted into a kind of refugee resort, offering a simulacrum of village life. Its souvenir shop is closed, and the swimming pool has been drained, but the dining room offers three meals a day, the lobby heaves with strollers, and laundry flutters from the balconies of rooms packed with families.

Hunched over a laptop at the bar, Adeeb Mazal, Arab al-Aramshe’s community manager, tried to keep track of his vagabond villagers. He said he worried about getting enough aid to pay for their accommodations. He worried about how long they would have to stay in Nazareth. (Israeli officials estimate until the end of the year.) And he worried about their mental health, with the idleness nourishing their fears about Hezbollah.

“I try to explain to people, ‘We’re in an emergency situation; we’re not on vacation,’” said Mazal, who is 34 and, like virtually all of the residents of Arab al-Aramshe, a member of Israel’s minority Arab population.

Being Arab makes little difference to their perception of the threat from Hezbollah. Several of Arab al-Aramshe’s residents have served in the Israeli military and the police force. An Israeli flag flies at the entrance to the village. Some said Hezbollah’s fighters would not hesitate to attack them. As for the rockets, said Ali Mohamid, 68, “They don’t discriminate between the blood of Arabs and the blood of Jews.”

Still, questions of identity are never far…

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