Iraqi missile attacks on Israel prompt awkward leave-taking WAR IN THE GULF

January 22, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent Yael Ashkenazi in the Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun contributed to this article.

TEL AVIV,ISRAEL — TEL AVIV, Israel -- Victor and Shirley Hasson pleaded with their daughter to leave here.

"We begged her, if you won't do it for yourself, do it for your son," said Mrs. Hasson. She and her husband, a postman from Portland, Ore., flew to Israel to be with their daughter as the gulf crisis neared. Now they were going.

"We begged her to leave with us. But she said she would never leave Israel, never leave her husband," Mrs. Hasson said. "But she said she would let us take our grandson back to the states."

The Hassons had not decided yesterday if they would take the child. But many others in Tel Aviv have made the decision to leave.

Since the first missile dropped here Thursday night, thousands of residents of this coastal city targeted by Saddam Hussein have left town.

It has been a quiet exodus; no roads jammed with cars or riots at the bus station. But nearly everyone in Tel Aviv knows of neighbors whose house is suddenly closed and vacant.

Some have left the country. Others have simply driven out of town, headed someplace else in Israel

where they could feel more secure. The best places, ironically, are those closest to Arabs.

"The day after the first bombing, people started calling. They were not our usual clients," said David Ben Hamo, deputy manager of the guest house Hof Hadekalim. His establishment is in the Gaza Strip, an occupied territory of nearly 1 million Palestinians.

"There are a lot of Arabs here and not many Jews. There's little chance a rocket would hit us," he said. They came with their gas masks, and some "were really hysterical. They threw anything they could into a car and came."

The decision to leave is not just a personal one here; those who do so take political baggage. Staying has become a test of loyalty to Israel,with editorials deriding those who go and cheering the others.

Jews from overseas have flown to Israel during the crisis to show their allegiance and support. And every morning, state radio trumpets the number of full El Al planes scheduled to arrive, filled mostly with the continuing stream of Soviet immigrants.

PTC But even this desperate flood has slowed: The January immigration rate so far is half that of December's. And the flights of the national carrier are jammed going out, too. Its seats are no longer filled by tourists; those flying out are Israeli citizens.

"I had a terrible time getting a ticket," said a 30-year-old Israeli restaurant owner. "All the travel agents are closed, so I went to the El Al office. There must have been 500 people there. You couldn't see the doors and couldn't dream of getting through."

After six hours in line, he said he paid $780 for a round-trip ticket to Paris. It was $300 more than usual, he said, but "by the time they told me the price I was willing to pay it."

All foreign airlines had suspended their flights to Israel, but El Al has kept on a dozen or more flights a day. Tower Air, a U.S. airline, was scheduled yesterday to resume a daily flight to New York.

Many of those leaving are embarrassed about it. Even the language reinforces social disapproval. Emigrants are "Yordim" -- literally, people who go down, a clear judgment of the move. Those who leave temporarily during a time of crisis are not viewed more favorably.

Many at the airport have refused to talk to reporters, and others would not give their name.

"I'm very confused about it," said a mother with two small children waiting for a flight to take her to her sister's house in New York. "I want to stay and help my country. But my mother knew some people who got hurt. The Scud [missile] came within two blocks. I don't want to stay here and hurt my daughters."

"I was very scared. The bomb was scary," said another woman, taking her 8-year-old son to the Netherlands. "I decided when I heard it we should go."

Others leaving the country insist previous plans made it necessary.

"I don't want people to think that I'm running away," said Channah Sonnenfeld, 38. She was committed to go to a New York wedding, she said. "Israel is the safest place in the world," she insisted.

If leaving the country is a social felony, driving out of Tel Aviv is a misdemeanor. Many risked that minor crime.

Hotels at Eilat, a Red Sea resort thought to be beyond the missiles' range, were said to be full. Many Tel Aviv residents stayed with friends, or booked a hotel room in Jerusalem. They felt the capital was safe from Iraqi missiles because of the large East Jerusalem Arab population, and the presence of the Dome of the Rock and other Muslim holy sites.

Vicky, a 35-year-old mother who brought three children to stay in a hotel in Jerusalem, said it was the effect of the missiles on her children that made her leave Tel Aviv.

"What really broke me was this morning when my 6-year-old son got up early and told me that if Saddam Hussein comes to kill him today, he's going to tie Saddam's feet and turn the rope around him. Then my 5-year-old son said we have to wear the mask because if we breathe the bad air we're going to die. That's when I decided to leave."

But even the short trip to Jerusalem is politically too far for some.

Gadi Roshkovan, 30, lives in Jerusalem but decided to come to Tel Aviv when his brother's family moved in with him.

"I don't like that they left," he said. "There are other people who don't have the money to go to a hotel in Jerusalem or Eilat, or don't have relatives. They have to stay here, and to see other people escape is wrong. So I came here instead."

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