Psychological Warfare With Missiles: Why Tel Aviv Matters
Tel Aviv is not Israel’s largest city - Jerusalem is nearly twice the size — but Tel Aviv is much more than the 400,000 people who reside within its municipal boundaries. Both in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the name is shorthand both for what Israelis call “the center” — the matrix of freeways and palm trees where half of the country’s population resides - and for a lifestyle enjoyed beyond the tensions that define “the conflict.” It’s a sangfroid that galls more religious and ideological Israelis, and utterly enrages Palestinians who sense the despair of their own situation deepened by the lives being richly enjoyed in the center.
So the sickening wail of air raid sirens across the tree-lined grid of the Mediterranean city on Thursday night was a significant development in the Gaza conflict, now a couple of days old. So were the reports of residents seeking cover under the tables of the cafes where they had gathered to begin the Israeli weekend, not that Tel Avivans gather anywhere else during the week. The conflict had finally come to Tel Aviv.
“Some of the places were empty last night,” Nadav Shoshan says in a café that, on a Friday morning at 10, usually requires a wait for a table. There was no waiting now. Not half dozen customers sipped cappuccinos and browsed menus, weighing the merits of muesli versus shakshuka, an Israeli dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce. “It’s not a typical Friday morning,” the waiter says. The streets, while not empty, were far from crowded, and even farther from carefee. In the Jaffa section, an older man escorting his wife into a mid-block crosswalk screamed at a driver who slowed to a stop a bit too slowly for his frayed nerves. The driver rolled down the passenger side window to scream back. “Maybe we will die today,” a lawyer told her cleaning lady. The cleaner, a Third World national imported to fill the jobs done by Palestinians before Gaza and the West Bank were sealed off, laughed. Everything is relative. But nothing is more contagious than fear, or less rational.