My roommate Laura said that the bombs Hamas rained on Israel during Operation Protective Edge, the most recent war in the Gaza Strip, did not really scare her. The designated bomb shelter for our apartment is located in the basement of the elementary school which is right across the street, but she has never been there, and she has lived in her current apartment for the past three years (I only moved here this October). Besides the interruptions to her sleep cycle, Laura considered herself to be untouched and unfazed by the rockets, the hard work of the Iron Dome, and the sirens which spent the summer trying to save her. When I asked Laura how she could she could be so blasé about the whole conflict, she shrugged and offered that sometimes her cat would hide under the couch.
I asked at least twenty people who were in Tel Aviv during the war about their reactions to the bombings in July and August. I have, thus far (and obviously this is not a scientific sample), not met anyone who said that they followed procedure and bunkered down in a shelter. It's funny, I think, how the majority of people in Tel Aviv believed in Israel's defensive offensives in Gaza because they ostensibly felt that their lives were in danger yet nonetheless felt safe enough in their homes to stay put and take selfies during Hamas's errant missile strikes. American media gave the impression that Israel and the Gaza Strip were equally beleaguered, whereas my elderly and vivacious downstairs neighbor in Ramat Gan told me over mint tea that despite following the fighting closely in the papers, she was secure enough in her surroundings during the summer clash to go about her life (visiting her grandchildren in the north, grocery-shopping, and volunteering with her synagogue) as usual. After living in Israel for over forty years (my neighbor is originally from England), she found the endings to all Arab-Israeli conflicts hopelessly predictable. Reporting of the ceasefire terms for this 2014 episode in Gaza essentially could have been copied verbatim from the media archives of 2008 and 2012.
Media-framed reality was largely absent when I went out with my friends on November 18th, 2014, the night of the synagogue massacre in Jerusalem. I read articles online and saw on television political commentators who were not even present in Israel that day describe how the heinous act of terror had terrified and paralyzed the nation. The Tel Aviv I saw, however, was completely cut off from the events unfolding in its more pious counterpart. Like always, bars and restaurants were packed with cheerful patrons, and the sidewalks were busy with joggers, dog walkers, and bikers. My friends and I had an Italian dinner, and for those few hours the stabbings from the morning never figured in. Too sad I guess. Lest you think us ignorant, we did talk about some topical matters: my friend from France recounted her weekend trip to the West Bank and the cruel and mocking behavior of the Israeli officials at the checkpoint. To reenter Jerusalem my friend waited over an hour, a period that the Palestinians waiting with her were long used to enduring. The Israeli officers stood around dragging on cigarettes and smirking at the crowd until finally my friend ran out of patience, stomped to the front of the line, and produced her French passport – this worked like magic. Time was valuable again and the people were permitted to pass through. Given the bloodbath in the synagogue earlier, checkpoints and their utility probably can't be argued with. On the other hand, the imperialistic nastiness of the officials who man them leaves much to be desired...
Individual security checks on the Israeli west coast are limited basically to train stations, malls, and Ben Gurion Airport. Tel Aviv is a bubble made impenetrable by the Iron Dome and strategic importance, and intelligence and military coups of thwarted bombings here are taken for granted. A lapse in tranquility, such as the recent stabbing in Tel Aviv's HaHagana train station, elicits heightened awareness for a matter of days before dissipating. As an American, I’ve become somewhat, accustomed to school shootings, and Israelis perhaps regard terrorist attacks the same way. We're upset, we don't forget, but we can't be expected to hate ourselves for still existing. Gaza is only fifty-two miles away this beach town? Jerusalem’s fear feels further.
It is normal and necessary for a nation's population to move forward after a massive tragedy. My father has lived in New Jersey and worked in New York City for the last two decades, and post-9/11, his routine did not falter. Raw footage of the planes meeting the towers is seared into my brain, but I'm pretty sure my parents took my sister and me to eat dim sum in Chinatown the very next weekend. Maybe after the Twin Towers attack Americans living in Los Angeles identified with the nation's depression and thought New York City was a frightening place to be, yet I doubt that their daily lives were materially affected unless they were personally connected to someone in the Financial District. My grandfather in Kolkata, India had us on the East Coast and he couldn't sleep or eat well for the remaining months of 2001. With New Jersey only a bridge away from the city, my family in Kolkata feared that my family in America could be besieged at any moment. The idea of us moving back to India was floated semi-seriously. My grandfather is restless again, thirteen years later, not understanding why I would want to leave the Garden State for the Middle East. Everyone wants to move to America! All the refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, they all want to get out. They want to live. Why are you going there? There are trees everywhere here and I'm comfortable with walking home alone in the evenings, I tell him over Skype, laughing. This is natural, the way we both feel. People who are right next to the danger, it seems, are far less worried than the people who live thousands of miles away.