“I'll tell you what the problem is, people in Tel Aviv are cowards. Do you think it's better to sit around in your building and wait to hear the siren and then it hits you and kills you there anyway? If you're going to die, die drunk”, bartender Shir Azaria, 21 said from a near-empty bar at Dizengoff Square on Friday evening.
About 9 hours earlier a rocket siren sounded in Tel Aviv for the second time in 24 hours, as Gush Dan was hit by long range projectiles for the first time since the Gulf War in 1991, bringing the rocket terror that has plagued the south of Israel for over a decade to the bubble of Tel Aviv for the first time.
When the rocket siren sounded on Friday afternoon people began to scatter in all directions from the Tel Aviv beach, with no real idea where to run moments before the two rockets landed in the Tel Aviv area, lifeguard Uri Shik said.
Shik said he got on the loudspeaker and began shouting at people to run for cover, but that people did not know where to go, did not understand the message, or in some cases, decided to carry on doing what they're doing and not heed the warning.
The second rocket salvo at Tel Aviv in less than 24 hours sent the police into a higher level of preparedness and prompted the IDF to deploy a fifth Iron Dome anti-rocket system to the Gush Dan region
Yarkon Subdistrict Commander Yoram Ohayon said the city was running like normal, but called for citizens to heed IDF Homefront Command instructions and to find a safe area or some sort of cover when a siren goes off in Tel Aviv.
The rocket strikes in the Gush Dan area the night before already pushed the Tel Aviv City Hall to take emergency precautions and open all of the hundreds of public bomb shelters across the city. Large piles of second-hand clothes and various junk could be seen outside some of these shelters on Friday, after they underwent their first cleaning in years earlier in the day.
Despite the rocket scare, it was hard to see a dramatic effect on the city on Friday afternoon. A group of Israeli tourists on rented segways rode down the boardwalk and though there was a little less traffic than usual, it was nothing unheard of for the last few hours before Shabbat, and cafes and bars still seemed rather full.
By the evening hours however, the city did appear to be running at about half speed for a Friday night.
Up and down Ben Yehuda Street and Dizengoff Boulevard around 9pm, most restaurants appeared to be half full, and the sidewalks weren't as thick with pedestrians as usual. Not a war zone, certainly, but noticeably less busy than on an average Friday night.
Doron Nachman of the upscale “Adora” restaurant on Ben Yehuda said about 40% of their reservations for Friday dinner and Saturday brunch had been cancelled, but that he expected to still have a steady stream of customers.
“It's important for people to return to normalcy,” Nachman said, adding that in the afternoon he and the staff held a rocket drill, during which they all made their way to the back of the kitchen, where he said there are no windows or exterior walls.
At the Maoz bar, across the street far from a bomb shelter at Meir Park that was reopened on Friday, Idan Poleg, 24, said “the rockets won't keep me home, and there's no real reason to stay inside the whole time and it's not like Ashdod or other places in the south where there are strikes all the time. Here it was just a couple times.”
Poleg added “it is a bit weird to sit here drinking in a bar when there's people sitting in safe rooms.”
Neither he nor his friend, who lived in Kfar Aza on the southern border with the Gaza Strip have received call-up orders, but both served in a combat unit and there is a strong possibility they'll be on their way south soon he said.
It was a typical scene at Lewinsky Garden around 11pm on Friday; dozens of African migrants milling around in the park talking or resting on the grass. Next to the public library at the center of the park a bomb shelter had been opened and cleaned out by the municipality, but remained empty with the lights out on the bottom floor. Like in other bomb shelters visited in Tel Aviv, no one appeared to be sleeping inside, though at Lewinsky, just like most nights, there were seven migrants sleeping on cardboard under the stars directly outside the shelter, and another 15 or so at the adjacent playground.
Earlier in the day, Eldad Tzion, a 27 year-old Israeli who volunteers with migrant children at the shelter, said that when the siren went off around 50 or so migrants scrambled for the shelter and crowded their way inside for safety. He added that they appeared to be fully aware of what was going on and up to date with the situation in Israel.
While there was a noticeable drop in foot and street traffic in Tel Aviv, walking around the city you could constantly hear passersby talking about the rocket strike or the chances of getting called up for reserves duty, hours after the government approved the call-up of up to 75,000 reservists. Comparisons to Operation Cast Lead where also by no means scarce.
Outside the Barca bar on the bar row on Vital Street in Florentine, Ilia Tzegev and Yaron Yitza argued in a doorway about the chances that there will be a major ground operation like in Cast Lead, reaching no argument or ironclad conclusion.
Tzegev, a bartender at the Barca, said “there's about 30% less people on Vital street than on a usual night, but people here [Tel Aviv] live in a bubble, they'll keep coming out.”
Yitza, a 24-year-old former paratrooper who fought in the final days of Cast Lead, said he doesn't feel an atmosphere of fear in Tel Aviv.While at the moment he was polishing away shots of Arak with his dinner, he said he'd be ready if he gets the call up.
Yitza then offered a free shot to a friend, who told him “no I'm driving”, to which he replied “so what, tomorrow I'm getting a tzav 8 [reserves call up order], drink!”