In once-innocent Tel Aviv, terror sparks fear and anger

TEL AVIV — Horns honk furiously, as usual. Traffic at the intersection of King George and Dizengoff streets crawls, as usual. A warm sun shines from a spring blue sky, as usual.

And nothing is as usual. Shards of glass still crunch underfoot.

The lacy cotton curtains on the second floor of Bank Leumi on the corner swing tipsily from buckled rods. There are rows of candles beneath the walls of Bank Hapoalim across the street.

Canadian Elizabeth Shields looks at a handwritten poster stuck on the wall of the Bank Hapoalim with a paraphrase, in Hebrew, of Bob Dylan's Blowing in the Wind: "Blowing in the Wind, March 1996."

Everyone from Prime Minister Shimon Peres to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is saying Israel is at war — with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. But in Tel Aviv, it feels like something between war and normalcy.

One young girl ran along a downtown street after hearing of the suicide bombing at the Dizengoff Center mall in the heart of Tel Aviv that killed 14. "I can't take it anymore!" she cried.

Outside Dizengoff Center on Tuesday, hundreds of people were jamming the sidewalks, spilling onto the street.

"They did their work in Jerusalem, now they've come here," someone shouted. "Revenge, revenge," others shouted. "Peres should be bombed. Let him explode."

A bad brew of feelings hangs in the air. People are grief-stricken, enraged and tense. They know Hamas may well strike again, anywhere. On the newsstands the papers are filled with color pictures of the disaster. "NATION IN FEAR" reads the huge half-page headline over a red background in the tabloid Yediot Achronot.

People may be afraid, but not many are paralyzed by fear. Israelis, even in Tel Aviv, are still walking outdoors, going about their business. Some people were shouting that they had no security, yet they were staring at the blasted-out windows four stories up, in a crowd, making themselves a tempting target if terrorists decided to strike in the same place.

The emotional reaction did not have the element of amazement of a year and a half ago, when a Hamas suicide bomber struck on the No. 5 bus on Dizengoff killing 22, the bloodiest attack in Tel Aviv yet. Before that many Israelis felt Tel Aviv, and the trendy Dizengoff, was immune to terrorism.

But the city has since lost its innocence.

On the 61 line running along Dizengoff the day after the bombing, a woman from Ramat Gan said that before sitting down, she checked the aisle for any suspicious-looking objects.

But the woman said she was not changing her daily routine. "I went to Dizengoff to get my hair cut," she said. "The day after a terror attack there's fear, but after awhile it wears off and things go back to normal."

The bus driver was tight-lipped. Asked if he was concerned, he managed a half-grin and replied, "I don't feel fear, I don't feel anything. I'm just carrying on."

Others voiced frustration at Israel's response to the latest spate of terror.

"This is the straw that breaks the camel's back," said Tel Aviv resident Roni Leibovich just after Monday's bombing. "I wouldn't have said this two weeks ago, I wouldn't have even said it yesterday, but [Benjamin] Netanyahu's got my vote because of what's happened."

Around Dizengoff Center on Tuesday, near storefronts for Benneton, Burger King and the Hard Rock Cafe, workers began repairing windows shattered in the attack and sweeping up piles of glass.

One broken sign was still visible — the marquee to the movie theater Lev Tel Aviv — The Heart of Tel Aviv.