The Tel Aviv bubble is usually able to weather the storms of the Israeli news cycle with barely a ripple in its overpriced espresso, but a rocket salvo on the Dan region Tuesday morning cast an unusual and eerie quiet over the city streets.
Coffee shops normally bursting with customers began to slowly fill toward mid-day, though the streets and parks remained fairly empty. With schools and many offices closed, parents struggled to entertain rambunctious children while juggling work messages and remote meetings.
“She was supposed to be in nursery school today, but it was closed, so we came out here,” said Noam Koren, mother of eight-month-old Noga, speaking with The Times of Israel in a little municipality park at the end of Rothschild Boulevard. “We came here to get out of the house.”
Koren said that normally this area next to Habimah Square, home to the national theater, is full of people, even on a weekday. “It does feel empty,” said Koren.
Habimah Square’s underground parking lot is the largest public shelter in Tel Aviv, with a 2,000-person capacity. However, the square itself was completely empty, and the restaurants around the theaters in the square had few customers.
Koren and her mother, Levana Carmi, said they chose this park next to the square because it was around the corner from their house, not because it was adjacent to a public bomb shelter.
“If there’s a siren, we have a minute and a half,” said Carmi. “We’re just acting as usual, we’re following the directions of the authorities, and we’re just waiting to see what happens.”
With a sunny sky and a summery 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) outside, the beaches were surprisingly empty, filled mostly with confused tourists.
“I’m not really sure how to feel, it’s my first time here,” said Alessandro Morello, who was in Israel on a business trip. “I think I heard the alarm at 8 a.m., and we were supposed to go to meetings but the customers canceled,” he said. “I didn’t even hear the siren,” said his coworker, Alessandro Carminati.
Both Alessandros suddenly realized that in the event of another alert, neither one knew what to do. “What are you supposed to do?” Morello asked. “We’re from Italy, so this is strange for us. We don’t know what to think. I’ve been traveling for 20 years and this has never happened to me. Even when we were in Turkey and there were some issues, it didn’t mean that the customers canceled meetings with us.”
Other tourists hadn’t heard about the rockets at all.
“In the morning, the staff at the hotel told us to be safe, but I thought they were just being nice. I didn’t know there were rockets from Gaza,” said Ho Pakyu, a 32-year-old from Hong Kong in Israel on his first trip. “It feels normal, I feel very safe here, I trust the Israeli government, I know the Israeli government can handle this. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the conflict between Israel and neighboring countries, but I still feel very safe in this environment.”
Other Israelis took a more cynical view of the situation. “This is probably directly from the prime minister to save himself,” said Tal, a 30-year-old lawyer who was “working from home” along with four other friends at a coffee shop.
“We’re a little skeptical. I believe there’s a security situation, but I believe it’s more or less initiated by Netanyahu, to scare the citizens and create a sense of shock. Bibi knows it will help him get a few more seats in the elections we all know are coming in the next few months,” said Tal.
A group of friends sat sipping fresh orange juice on Rothschild Boulevard, down the street from a coffee shop shuttered due to the security situation. “It’s Israel, it’s not new that there are sirens,” said Shir, a 32-year-old communications manager at a credit card company.
“We’re not afraid, we have faith. It’s not the first time that this has happened, and it’s not like we’re in the south [of the country] where it’s really bad. There’s that Tel Aviv euphoria of being in a bubble,” said Shir.
She said her office was initially closed for the day, but around 10:30 she received a message that since her office has bomb shelters nearby, she could make her way in.
She laughed when asked if she’s going to the office today. “No way, it’s like a vacation. I’ll see what happens today, but I’m definitely not staying at home locked up.”