Kikar Dizengoff 311.
(photo credit: Joanna Paraszczuk)
Last week Tel Aviv enjoyed some temperate, even cool weather. Residents and visitors to this famously lively and gregarious – but hot! – city enjoyed one last gasp of the Israeli “spring” before the fierce summer. But on Wednesday the temperature shot right up, and with it heightened tension and fear.
The government had scheduled a nationwide day of emergency preparation for Wednesday. At 11 a.m., alarms rang throughout the country, and school students, office workers, bus drivers and all were told to follow wartime procedure and head for the nearest bomb shelter.
The drill had passed without incident, and Tel Avivians had returned to work or whatever they do at noon, when word emerged that a man and a woman had boarded a No. 5 city bus on Rehov Dizengoff in the center of town, shouted “Death to the Jews,” and allegedly (for their intentions remain unclear) attempted to blow it up.
The plan failed. The passengers of the bus were safe, but the suspects remained at large. The center of Tel Aviv now became the site of a frantic police search for two people possibly wearing vests laden with explosives.
AS ALL of this was occurring, I myself happened to be right next to Rehov Dizengoff, researching one of the new but quickly proliferating reggae music humous bars, a culinary-aesthetic synthesis that somehow says a lot about contemporary Israel. The sight of the rushing of police and security guards around the chickpea joint did not quite cause my fellow humous eaters and Bob Marley enthusiasts to leave the restaurant (a very tall order), but tensions were palpable.
Back on the street, passersby glared at one another with suspicion, fearing the sight of an awkward knapsack or puffy jacket. Others affected or genuinely felt a mood of bored frustration at such a thoughtless interruption of their routine: Suicide bombing is such a drag!
The only ones who seemed to be enjoying the process were the security guards posted around the Dizengoff Center mall. Normally bored to death, they were relishing the opportunity to introduce extra security measures to those entering the mall. Many had their hands ready on their pistols.
To the relief of all, there was no explosion on Rehov Dizengoff this day, although no word yet on the suspects. But the event reminded the residents of this self-consciously “carefree” city that their troubles were far from behind them. There has been calm in Tel Aviv over the last half decade, and amid the new food shops, bars, omnipresent cafes with Montmartre-style patios and huge new bizarre and innovative residential developments, one could almost forget the sirens and scorched buildings and pavement which had been commonplace during the second intifada. But that very same No. 5 bus has exploded before. In 2002, a suicide bomber killed himself and 13 people on this very same part of Rehov Dizengoff.
Wednesday’s excitement comes at a time of heightening tension in the
region. Also on Wednesday, the Lebanese army staged a mock attack on
Israel, and in recent weeks the belligerent pronouncements of
Hizbullah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, have escalated. With fresh
sanctions credibly awaiting Iran, wouldn’t this be a convenient time
for Teheran to stage a pleasant distraction from its nuclear ambitions
in the form of a Lebanese attack on Israel?
Meanwhile, Iran moves remorselessly forward toward development of a
nuclear weapon. How much longer will Israel be prepared to wait,
especially with the track record of “intelligence estimates” in this
Summer is the traditional season of war in this part of the world, and
as the summer of 2010 begins, one has the inescapable feeling that
events in the region are moving toward some kind of climax. The
residents of this modern metropolis of Tel Aviv generally prefer not to
think about this possibility, but the time may soon come when they’ll
have no choice.The writer is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow at Georgetown University.