Hope amid the storm in Tel Aviv

THE TEL AVIV skyline (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE TEL AVIV skyline
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Rav Chen Dizengoff was quiet for a Thursday night.
An Israeli/Australian friend and I found ourselves as two out of approximately 20 people in the cinema on a cool and rainy evening in Tel Aviv. We noticed the almost empty 7 p.m. showing in the main theater, turned to each other and acknowledged that an eerie silence had enveloped this usually vibrantly exciting city. Even as I sit writing on a Friday morning on the usually bustling Rothschild Boulevard, the tension in the air among the city’s residents seems palpable.
In the wake of what seems to be the beginning of a possible intifada (which people have been quick to label this recent wave of terrorist attacks as), the only ones walking about are seemingly hesitant residents.
Despite this, there is a sense of defiance in the air – that these new threats will not shake the resolve of the Israelis. This is tempered only by the increasingly strong sense of caution exemplified by the wishes expressed to one’s friends as they venture outside. Nobody knows when or where the next attack will be. Sadly, it appears as though the answers to these questions is anytime, and anywhere.
These incidents seem to be distant until they happen right in front of you – a possible example of which was witnessed firsthand last night: My friend and I departed from the theater to go down to the serene beach, an area here commonly known as the Tayelet which in recent years has been untouched by terrorism. We gleefully recapped the movie we saw (The Martian), and joked about both the cleverness of the film as well as other funny moments. Walking into the Mike’s Pizza place where a few of my friends work, we shared a fun and silly evening.
As is the usual practice among Israelis, we sat outside drinking an assortment of beers that exemplify both the European and Israeli influences in this beautifully diverse and multicultural city.
Almost as if to signal an imminent change of mood, a light rain began to fall. One can hope that this tired metaphor doesn’t mirror real life, as the fireworks of lightning could be seen off in the distance over the Mediterranean. As a usually astute observer of my surroundings I uncharacteristically found myself forgetting the encroaching storm.
Life, however, does not usually let us linger in the embrace of peace for long.
Sirens pierced the quiet night and ended any semblance of normalcy.
Unfortunately, as one has found in recent days, police and ambulance sirens have become the new norm.
In a scene that can only be described as coming almost straight out of a Bourne movie, two American embassy guards rushed past us in the direction of another American institution: McDonald’s.
Simultaneously, four uniformed Israeli police officers exited their cars adjacent to my us – with guns drawn – and ran up the stairs in an all-out sprint.
A moment later more police vehicles carrying anywhere from eight to 12 heavily armed units pulled up and rushed out of their cars. They too flew up the stairs, weapons out, safeties off and fully cocked.
People started to flee the scene.
Realizing the potential seriousness of the situation I, of course, attempted to get a closer look. In order to ensure others knew I posed no threat, I wore my usual flat-brimmed Ironman hat, hoping it would scream out, “I am an American!” Venturing as close as possible, I stopped when an officer blocked my path. As fate would have it, the encounter was over in a matter of mere moments and the culprit was already in handcuffs.
There was no kicking or beating of this individual, only the seeming routine of a normal arrest. Although the encounter was not seen in its entirety, one can only commend the officers on their level of expertise and professionalism. Even afterwards while trying to place all of the pieces together they answered my inquiries respectfully, all while knowing they would not tell me the whole story.
Upon asking multiple witnesses only an American embassy guard gave me what seemed to be an accurate account. The driver, who happened to be Arab, was driving erratically.
When requested to pull over by the police he refused to do so.
Leading them on a brief chase he then exited his vehicle and ran up the stairs, past the McDonald’s and near an adjacent hotel where he was apprehended.
One witness stated that this man had a short sword with him; the police would give me no such details, only that the culprit did something stupid and was almost shot. Like most truths, this too will almost certainly be lost. It was then that I was reminded of another altercation, which happened that very morning.
Earlier in the day my good friend and roommate told me about an experience his father had. While picking up something in Yaffo, his car was surrounded by a crowd of around 20 Arab individuals. While they carried no stones he knew he had to get away from this increasingly aggressive group. Thankfully, he managed to nudge his car through the crowd before a more serious altercation took place. This is a testament to how this new rise in terrorism affects us all; there is no escape.
It is with great regret that such negative incidents must be reported as those which have occurred in the past week. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the altercations described above. Unfortunately, this cannot be said regarding all of them. We can only watch and hope that this brewing storm stays offshore.
The author, a new immigrant, is a former high school history teacher and aspiring writer.