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Sunday, November 18, 2012

In Tel Aviv, missiles matter, but so does a tan

After the alarm signals an incoming rocket, tourists scurry around a bit then head back for the beach.

It didn’t take much time for Tel Aviv to return to normal after the warning siren went off Friday afternoon. The cafes and restaurants were packed, and the crowds milling around the streets didn’t worry too much about the rocket that had been fired from Gaza.
“In the city, despite the boom, people kept on sipping their espressos. I was pretty stunned,” says Yoram Ohayon, commander of the Tel Aviv police’s Yarkon district. “After the boom it was back to normal.”
The rocket hit an open area, causing no damage or casualties, Ohayon told reporters. The police have beefed up their presence in the center of the country, and Israelis should get on with their lives while listening to the directives of the Home Front Command, Ohayon said. Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv municipality has opened the city’s bomb shelters.
The siren that sounded at 1:29 P.M. was the second in 24 hours. At the beaches, confusion reigned.
“Most people on the beaches were tourists. We were worried about them, so we told them over the public-address system to lie on their stomachs with their hands over their heads,” says lifeguard Stephan Sarkissian. “But they didn’t take us seriously. They didn’t understand what we wanted. Then, after the alarm stopped, we heard the boom.”
The lifeguards thought twice about rushing the sunbathers to a shelter. “We didn’t want to trigger a panic,” says lifeguard Uri Shik. “We wanted to show that if they lay on the ground, everything would be okay.”
On other beaches where the lifeguard stations were closed, the confusion was worse. No one was there to tell the tourists what to do.
“I ran into a building and then heard the boom. I ran but a lot of people stayed where they were,” says Rachel Shemesh, an Israeli visiting from New York. “There were some Asian tourists who kept on eating as if they didn’t have a care in the world. There has to be information in English, too. It’s scary. It worries me, but I want to get a bit of a tan before I fly back,” she smiled.
Caroline John, a tourist from the Netherlands, was on the beach when the alarm went off. “A girl next to me jumped up and started running. I followed her to the bathrooms. She was pale and shaking. I was scared too,” she says.
“Then I heard an explosion as I’d only heard in the movies. I asked her what we should do in a situation like that. She said find a bomb shelter.”
John went back to her hotel, a small one by the sea. It has no bomb shelter; she was told to walk along the beach to the Opera Tower. She went there, looked at the bomb shelter and wondered what would happen in the basement if a rocket hit that huge building.
She wasn’t exactly afraid, just uneasy. She called home and said if one more rocket fell she’d try to come home early.
“It’s sad for the people here that tourists won’t come anymore,” she says. In the meantime, she decided to spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach. “I can’t stay in the bomb shelter until Monday, can I? If there’s another alert I’ll run to the bathrooms.”
A French couple sitting on the beach next to her didn’t seem particularly concerned. “We aren’t in a panic, “Eli Leon Ohayon says. “I’m sure the Israeli army is doing everything excellently.”
At a table near them were Yafi and Yossi Zvi, Israelis who live in New York too. “It caught me at Derech Hashalom,” Yafi says, referring to a street that connects Tel Aviv with the suburb Givatayim.
“I stopped the car in the middle of the street. Somebody behind me waved her hands and asked what was going on. I told her to get out quick. We ran to the end of a parking lot, to a long high wall. A few dozen people were there. We bunched up against the wall. After a few minutes somebody said he’d heard the boom, so everybody went back to their cars quietly and calmly.”
Yossi had also been in his car — with his father in Tel Aviv’s upscale Bavli neighborhood. They hadn’t heard the alert but saw people flattening themselves up against a wall.
“I opened the car window and heard the boom,” Yossi says. “I didn’t stop — there was no reason to stop anymore. It’s amazing how the missiles are reaching Tel Aviv and everybody’s so matter-of-fact.”
The couple had intended to spend their afternoon on the beach and saw no reason to change plans. “Everybody says the water is fantastic, so we came to the beach,” says Yafi. According to Yossi, “We saw that life in Sderot goes on. If they can go on, there’s no reason other people shouldn’t, at least until the next missile.”