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Monday, August 28, 2006

What to do with your children on the upcoming Succot holiday: A Katyusha tour

Looking for something to do with your kids during the upcoming Succot holiday? How about a Katyusha tour! No, I'm not kidding:

The tours, offered through the Kibbutz Gonen Holiday Village, have provided an opportunity for Israelis outside the Katyusha strike zone to see firsthand some of the key sites of the summer's war.

Beginning at Moshav Avivim, the scene of bloody fights between IDF special forces and crack Hizbullah squads, the tour winds through the hills of the Upper Galilee, stopping to view UNIFIL posts, overlook key Lebanese villages such as Maoun a-Ras, and view the damage caused by Katyusha rockets to both forests and houses.

At Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, tours visit the improvised memorial at the place where 15 reservists were killed when a rocket hit the parking lot in which they were standing.

"By the third day of the war, we were already trying to design a plan for the 'day after'" said Ori Alon, the marketing director for the holiday village. "I asked around at the tour agencies that we work with and received the answer that people wanted to see the damage from the war. I was shocked, and decided to ignore the requests at first, but then more requests kept coming."

Since the end of the war, tourists have paid NIS 100 per vehicle to participate in the tours, and while Alon is certain that the excitement will drop off, more tourists keep coming.

Alon said the desire to see the sites connected with the war is natural. "It is one thing to see things on television, or on radio, and another thing to see it," he said.


The tour hit its emotional climax at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, where tour participants joined with cars full of other tourists who had come to visit a makeshift memorial where the reservists were killed.

They bent over and touched the burned, twisted pieces of the deadly Katyusha, tangled together with blackened branches and chunks of the vehicles that were near the point of impact. A mother and daughter stood silent, arms linked across each others' backs, looking at small placards with the faces of the people placed at the spots where there bodies were recovered. After long minutes of contemplation, group members walked back down the hill, and got back into their cars to drive to a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch.

"Kfar Giladi is a place where you see before your own eyes something that could happen to anyone. I didn't believe the force that the Katyushas have. I saw what was left of the trees, the cars, and realized that it didn't matter where you stood, you had no chance," said Oded, a tour participant from Kibbutz Tzuba, near Jerusalem. "It makes you sad, it makes you angry."

Alon said this emotional reaction to the visit was part of the goal in beginning the tours. "It wasn't so much to earn money as to give answers to people who wanted to know about what happened," he said.

After lunch, the tour concluded with a visit to nearby Kiryat Shmona, where the members saw two heavily-damaged houses as well as the damage to one of the city's two shopping malls. Then they got back into their cars, with some spending the night at Gonen and others beginning the drive back southward, back to the center and far away from the Katyusha-scarred buildings and hills.

Have to ask my kids if they want to go....


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