Israel's 'shop window' isn't immune TERROR IN TEL AVIV

October 20, 1994|By Doug Struck and Danna Bethlehem | Doug Struck and Danna Bethlehem,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

TEL AVIV -- The suicide bomber aimed for the soul of modern Israel yesterday when he chose a bus on Dizengoff Street for his deadly work.

"Dizengoff was the shop window of Israel, like 5th Avenue. It is a street that is identified with our existence here," said Yossi Melman, author of the book "The New Israelis."

If any single street represents the way the silent majority of Israel sees itself, it is Dizengoff. They view it as a mix of Greenwich Village and Rodeo Drive, a place of chic boutiques, sidewalk cafes and a changing parade of the beautiful and the ordinary.

It is definitely not a religious place, like Jerusalem; not a right-wing enclave where Jewish settlement of the West Bank is considered a moral imperative.

That is why the attack yesterday so stung those in Tel Aviv. It wasn't supposed to happen here.

"Mayors sometimes cry, and I really feel like crying now," said the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ronny Milo. "We have never seen anything like this."

Justified or not, Tel Avivians consider themselves safer than those who live in the interior, in Jerusalem, or on the West Bank. They are less gripped by the fervor of the conflict with Palestinians, and therefore they feel less likely to be caught as its casualties.

"Tel Aviv people are definitely cut off from the intensity of politics. People are different here," said Yael Bluchman, who lives a few blocks from Dizengoff Square.

In fact, Tel Aviv has been a target more often than its residents admit. It was bombed by Egypt in 1948, targeted by Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles in 1991, and has been the scene of seaside terrorist attacks and plots to blow up its tallest high-rise, Shalom Towers.

But mostly, Tel Aviv's residents think they are too busy being a part of the modern world to be a casualty of the Palestinian conflict.

"Tel Avivians have always thought they are like Londoners or New Yorkers," said Mr. Melman, who writes for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

"In Tel Aviv, there are hardly any religious people. You don't have the same conflicts" as in Jerusalem, he said. "In Tel Aviv there is the beach. It is a Mediterranean city. There are cafes, hotels, night life, opera. . . . It is a very Western city, full of life."

And Dizengoff Street is at the heart of that feeling. The street has lost some of its past glory; in fact, has gotten seedy in patches. But it still draws thousands of shoppers in the day, and more strollers at night.

The street is filled with cafes and bars. Wooden tables spread with the neon lights out onto the sidewalk. Nut vendors and falafel shops do a brisk business.

The bomb blast yesterday exploded outside a popular Italian restaurant, and seemed to call for an end to the relaxed mood of Dizengoff. But those who live here say it will not work.

"I am not afraid to go out," Daisy Aharon, 58, who lives on Dizengoff Street, said yesterday. "Ten minutes after it happened, I took a bus. I won't give them the pleasure of making me scared."

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