When the sirens wailed in Tel Aviv last Tuesday, it seemed the famous bubble had finally burst, and we Tel Avivians were part of the country again. No more would we be called stuck-up and aloof – especially when Hamas gave advance notice that it was going to bombard the city at 9 P.M. the following Saturday night. But the bigger barrage that struck Tel Aviv was of text messages, phone calls and Facebook pleas from abroad, telling us to get out of this crazy place.
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We tried to play by the rules – even went to the stairwell, cappuccino in hand, with the rest of the neighbors as the siren went off – just so we could feel at one with the rest of the nation, well used to the siren routine. But as a solidarity mechanism, it didn't really work.
The previous day, Friday, sirens and rockets notwithstanding, the line at midday in the supermarket on Ibn Gabirol was as long as usual, and the streets were just as busy. Early on Saturday morning the old-timers and diehards were marching briskly along the Mediterranean promenade as they always had done, literally taking the situation in their stride.
The prime minister and other ministers kept repeating on news stations, that continued broadcasting nonstop nothingness, that we are all united and the world supported us.
In a gesture of feeling one-with-the-nation, I switched on the television and zapped through the news channels. Channel 2 showed five images of the intimidating Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya'ari, as though one wasn't enough, while Channel 1, in a burst of creativity, went all “24"” on us and featured a quartered screen showing four different locations simultaneously. Hey, if I wanted to watch four places with nothing happening in any of them, I have the “real” Jack Bauer on Channel 14.
So, a quick flick to see what the foreign channels were doing. Were they still scarcely paying us any attention, as I heard a radio news broadcaster complain before the offensive began? That was when Israel was still turning the West Bank upside down looking for the three abducted teens whom the authorities already knew were dead.
A BBC TV crew was standing in the rubble of a home for disabled persons in Gaza, where locals were trying to dig out the bodies of those who couldn't make it out on their wheelchairs in the less than 60 seconds warning they had been given before the Israeli bombardment. It's hard to imagine how anyone in this building could have been a threat to anyone, the reporter said. Sky News showed more rubble.
Homes destroyed by air strikes and toddlers in diapers with no shelter to hide in, even if they did hear the warning in time. I didn't have to switch to Al Jazeera to know what they'd be showing. Does the world really support us? Unless the cabinet ministers have their own exclusive news channel, what planet are they living on?
This is a battle Israel has already lost, and if it hasn't yet, it's about to. You can't win against pictures of bombed streets and civilian casualties, no matter how right you are.
So who's really cut off from reality and who's living in a bubble? Is it really Tel Avivians and the many Israeli media columnists who see things in a wider context? More likely, the bubble boys are the ministers and generals who still think we're winning, endlessly yakking away on TV.
After 9 o'clock on Saturday, we heard the sirens go. Hamas kept its promise. We considered going to the stairwell, to hear what the neighbors were saying, but then saw that Israel’s Channel 2 was broadcasting the Iron Dome interceptions of the rockets aimed at Tel Aviv in real time. Naturally, we stayed to watch. If we see the interception work, there's no reason to go out, I said. If you hear the boom, it means you're still alive, said my husband, who always knows what to do.
That same night, scores of incensed right-wing thugs stormed a demonstration of leftists at Habima Square who were protesting against the military offensive on Gaza. They shouted curses and racist insults about Arabs, pushed the protesters and threw eggs at them.
Eyewitnesses and protesters said the 20 or so police officers sent to safeguard the event did nothing to protect them. At some point, everyone ran for cover when a siren was heard. But the rightists chased after the protesters on motorbikes, armed with clubs, sticks and eggs.
“It was the most frightening thing, I've never experienced such violence in Tel Aviv at a leftist demonstration … we never imagined such a thing could happen in Tel Aviv. The police didn't fight them off either,” a protester told Haaretz.
This Sunday, a trauma expert with kind eyes spoke on one of the Israeli TV channels about the distress that living under sirens can cause children. On Monday, on the radio a psychologist advised on how to deal with the fears of children and elderly people under fire or stuck in shelters and protected areas for prolonged periods of time.
Neither said a word about the hundreds – thousands – of children on the other side of the border who have no sirens to warn them, no shelters to go to, and no summer camps to be sent to outside the range of massive Israeli firepower.
So much for unity and solidarity, never mind basic compassion, under fire. I'm beginning to conclude it was always an illusion anyway. Those who babble on about unity all the time are the only ones living in unity, inside their own delusional bubble.
Michal Yudelman-O’Dwyer is a translator at Haaretz English edition.