Tel Aviv, Israel’s sprawling cosmopolis, has come under fire five times since Operation Pillar of Defense was launched last Wednesday in the Gaza Strip. The air raid sirens succeeded in bursting the city’s famed “bubble,” sending residents racing to bomb shelters.
Some seemed panicked. Others aimed for a carefree c’est la vie attitude.
The Mediterranean city-by-the sea experienced its first siren since 1991 at around 7 p.m. Thursday. People were presumably on their way home from work, or heading out, when an extremely loud boom resonated across the city.
“Oh my goodness, did you hear that?” asked a girl, Anna Tsurkov, 31, while her dog barked incessantly. She was shaking.
Huddled in a group, people told jokes and boasted about the opportunity to meet neighbors in shared stairwells or public safe-rooms — but the worry had already seeped in. It was palpable. The fear, one neighbor said, wasn’t due to the chances of getting hit, but rather to “not knowing what’s to come.”
“It just caught me off-guard — I would have never imagined this yesterday,” said Nathaniel Krav, 24, sitting in a makeshift shelter at the bottom of a building in south Tel Aviv. “I just can’t believe this is happening… I haven’t sat in one of these since the Gulf War. I forget what I’m supposed to do!”
Another neighbor chimed in: “Shtuyot [nonsense], this is nothing,” he said, vowing that a few rockets wouldn’t keep him from following through with his plans for the evening. “I’m still gonna go out tonight.”
After the siren wailed, people tried calling loved ones, but the lines were down, which only added to the vague sense of chaos. The mood was suddenly shaky. In the normally bustling flea market in Jaffa, the outdoor bars were now empty, the restaurants slow.
Although the situation in Tel Aviv was mild compared to the onslaught against southern Israel, residents got a taste of the psychological effects that rockets bring — the nightmares, the looking around for places to hide, and the lurking suspicion that normalcy’s gone. Shabbat was eerily quiet. Lone individuals and the occasional couple walked down one of the city’s usually bustling main boulevards, Rothschild, as dusk settled in.
On Sunday, not one but two rockets targeted Tel Aviv. The second projectile was downed by Iron Dome. The boom vibrated through residents’ homes in south Tel Aviv and Bat Yam.
By Monday, resilience was beginning to show. Restaurants filled up, and cafes were crowded. “Life goes on,” said a waitress at the popular cafe across from Habima Theater, Nechama. “People have been coming in nonstop all day.”
“It’s made me understand just a little bit about what people in the south are going through. We’ve had just one or two sirens a day and now I jump every time an ambulance or even a noisy bus goes by,” said Leora, 28, a Briton who’s been living in Tel Aviv for the past four years. “On the plus side, I finally got to meet my neighbors while we shelter on the stairs together.”
Said another Tel Avivian, Danny Breslaw, 29, originally from Maryland, ”All I have to say is, thank god for Iron Dome.”
On Tuesday, Rishon Lezion, just south of Tel Aviv, was hit by a 90 kg. rocket, which smashed through several floors of an apartment building. Amazingly, nobody was badly hurt. The mayor of the town, Israel’s fourth-largest, remarked that his city had now become “part of the south.” Tel Aviv is beginning to feel just a little like that, too.