Defying expectations that they would again wait until the last minute, a group of around 100 Israelis crowded a gas mask distribution center in Bnei Brak on Sunday morning, even as President Barack Obama delayed the expected strike on Syria until after approval by Congress no earlier than September 9th.
The distribution center was still rather crowded, but nothing like the chaos of last week, when frantic crowds thronged the centers in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the North, with fist fights, mass frustration, and general chaos being the order of the day. Instead, the scene was similar to any large Israeli post office or pharmacy on a busy day - people grabbing numbers and waiting in line, generally appearing annoyed and impatient, but without anybody coming to blows.
Speaking to people at the distribution center - one of four open Sunday along with others in Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, and Kiryat Motskin - there appeared to be confusion about Obama's speech the night before, with some saying that they believe the strike will still come sometime in the next couple of days, or at most by the end of the week. Overall they expressed uncertainty about what the coming weeks would bring, with the likelihood of an attack by Syria still a solid possibility.
“Maybe he'll strike maybe he won't but if God doesn't protect us it doesn't matter anyway,” said Yoel, a Haredi man from Elad, as he filled a large cardboard box with the ten gas masks he had just picked up for himself, his wife and their eight children.
“The media did it's part and people became panicked. I still think it could happen, but I'm not worried,” he added.
One man, Araleh Sadan, said he believed that the attack may have been delayed because the Americans saw that Israel wasn't ready, largely by watching the footage of the chaos at the gas mask distributions, which he said “made a mockery of all of us.”
Others in line said they had waited all day last Thursday at the distribution center in Tel Aviv before giving up and leaving without gas masks, only to return on Sunday to Bnei Brak, earlier in the morning with a fighting chance of getting a mask.
Content and sitting next to a mound of about a dozen gas masks they had just picked up, two women who had recently made Aliya from Iran expressed a similar lack of familiarity with Obama's statements on Syria the night before.
In a common refrain Sunday morning, one of the women said “I don't think anything will happen, God will protect us, but it's never 100%, better to have peace of mind.”
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