Tel Aviv – The Tel Aviv City Hall has launched a playful game Social media campaign This month declares itself as an immunized city eager to get back international travelers on their first post-Corona trips abroad.
That was before the rockets started attacking.
During the last week of fighting between Israel and militant groups in Gaza, Tel Aviv was the target of at least 160 rockets fired from the Palestinian coastal enclave about 40 miles south.
The bombing of Tel Aviv was a devastating turnaround for a bustling metropolis that branded itself as Israel’s relentless party city in the Mediterranean and the country’s financial center. Over the weekend, incoming alerts and rocket dances sent crowds of beachgoers Ran for shelter And closed many of the city’s famous restaurants and bars.
Tel Aviv has been a target for rocket fire in previous rounds of fighting, but not as intensely as in recent days. And while the military says its Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts about 90 percent of the rockets toward populated areas, with large barrages fired, some eluding.
Shahar Elal, 30, an Israeli woman who returned for a family visit from her current home in Zurich, She said she and her mother rushed to a shelter in a sheltered space behind the kitchen of a beachfront cafe when a siren sounded Saturday afternoon, frightened after being caught.
“Beer in hand, sunscreen on the face, we ran,” she said and dropped a purse on the way. When they got out, they saw the white smoke trail of a rocket that fell into the sea in front of them.
One day last week, during hours of operation, gunmen fired about 100 rockets in the direction of Tel Aviv and its environs, saying they were responding to Israeli airstrikes against what they described as civilian structures.
The incoming fire sent close to a million Israelis to shelters and protected areas. On Saturday, one person, Gershon Franco, 55, was killed by shrapnel after a rocket hit in the middle of the road outside his apartment in a Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.
Often referred to as the “State of Tel Aviv”, the largely secular, liberal coastal city and its metropolitan area has long had a reputation of being somewhat detached from the dangers of the less affluent and peripheral areas of the country close to its volatile borders. It is said that many residents of this city of skateboards, surfing and electric scooters live in a hedonistic bubble.
“This is a kind of escape,” said Sagi Asraf, 31, a medical engineer, explaining the state of mind of Tel Aviv while sitting on the beach with a beer and some friends on Sunday, a day after everyone was forced to flee the beach. The same strip of sand looking for cover.
“Ultimately they are people who just want to live in peace and quiet,” he said, adding, “The explosions shook them from that.”
He and his friend Ben Levy, 32, a graphic designer who details the guitar, both performed their compulsory military service in combat units and said they did not shy away from rocket fire.
Major General Uri Gordin, commander of the Home Front Command in the army, said that he believes that more rockets were fired at the Tel Aviv area on Saturday night than during the 50-day Gaza war in the summer of 2014.
Many residents spoke in harsh terms of resilience and defiance, saying that showing weakness and fear would give victory to the enemy.
“We need to remain optimistic and continue with our routine,” Mr Levy said.
Even in Ramat Gan, in the bloc where the deadly rocket landed, shop owners and locals displayed similar sang-Freud.
Menachem Horowitz, who owns a small cafe and bakery on the street and lives just around the corner, was at home that afternoon when he heard the siren followed by a boom that shook the entire house.
He went out to check on the damage done to the bakery. “The police have arrived,” he said matter-of-factly. “I cleaned and put everything back in place.”
Saturday was Nakba Day, in which Palestinians commemorate the escape and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees during the hostilities surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948.
By Sunday morning Mr. Horowitz had replaced the shattered glass in his shop window and had almost run out of Pentecost cakes from sunset.
A handwritten sign in the window reads: “Thank you to the residents of Ramat Gan for their support. The people of Israel are alive,” dotted with a Star of David instead of a dot or exclamation mark.
In a nearby apartment block, all the windows facing the front were smashed out. Shards pierced the refrigerator at the back of one apartment, like a bullet. Residents fled, leaving the half-eaten lunch on the table. City officials provided all residents with temporary accommodation in hotels.
Ms. Elal, the visitor from Zurich, stayed with her family from the north of the country on a vacation by the sea, and returned to the beach on Sunday.
“It doesn’t make sense to stop our lives,” she said. But she added that she had never seen the streets or beaches of Tel Aviv so quiet and empty on a holiday weekend. According to her, most of her childhood friends who lived in Tel Aviv today returned to their parents in the north – an area that suffered mainly from rocket attacks from Lebanon.
Josh Korkus, 30, Shai Asraf, 29, and Yuval Mengistu, an Israeli friend who visited Mexico, were sitting on Sunday at the same cafe on the beach where Ms. Elal had been sheltered the day before. Mr. Asraf came from Netivot, a town in the south that was a frequent target for rocket attacks from Gaza.
They ate French toast and Benedict eggs at a breakfast restaurant open all day when the sirens sounded on Saturday afternoon. They took shelter, went out 20 minutes later and went back to eating, they said.
Some people panicked more than others, they said.
“We’re all been in the military, so it’s not that bothering us,” Mr Corcos said of the rocket fire. “But still, you don’t expect it in the middle of breakfast in Tel Aviv.”
That night, Hamas sent a warning that Tel Aviv residents must return to their homes by midnight. The three men returned to their rented vacation apartment at 11:30 p.m. to wait. At 11 minutes after midnight, the sirens sounded and additional rocket launchers headed for the Tel Aviv area.
“Four days ago, the city was normal and bouncy,” Mr Asraf said. “There has been a change since the rocket hit. Most people stay home.”
City officials said they were confident that tourism would recover in due course.
But as the sun began to set in the Mediterranean, the streets of Tel Aviv, usually crowded with blazers, were strangely deserted. The city non-stop came, at least temporarily, to a halt.
Irit Pazner Gershovich contributed a report from Jerusalem.