You’re walking down the street, you’ve just left the Dizengoff centre to walk the five minutes to your apartment. It’s a Thursday afternoon, the shopping centre is packed with people coming to taste the array of food at the market and doing their weekend shopping. People crowd the pavements and buses and cars jam the road. A normal Thursday afternoon in Tel Aviv. Then you hear a noise, you think it’s the siren of an ambulance or police car so you carry on walking, talking to your friend. A couple of seconds later you look at your friend. Something about the sound isn’t right, but it’s familiar. You notice people around you turning around and walking into the shops. The pavement is slowly emptying. It takes a while for your brain to compute. The sound you hear is the siren that is played on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZickaron, the sound that can penetrate you to the very core. But it is neither of those days, it’s November and there is only one other thing this siren can mean. But still, you question it. Maybe it’s a test. You slowly turn around and almost reluctantly head back towards the Dizengoff centre as more and more people are now doing. As you are stood waiting to go in, a woman pushing a buggy runs, shoving people out the way, screaming ‘let me in, let me in’. Then a spark of panic ignites in you and everyone around you and you all hurry inside but not before you have heard an explosion somewhere in the distance.
It has only been 90 seconds but already it has affected people. Tel Aviv is no longer immune. The bubble that we have been living in has burst and there are the minute pricks of recognition in each person’s psyche that they are now vulnerable. As the crowd slowly dissipates, you see a child crying, clinging to their mother’s leg and as you cross the road you notice a teenage boy, wearing a cap and baggy trousers walking with two friends whilst discreetly and repeatedly wiping tears from his eyes with the back of his hand.
But, as soon as it comes, it goes. It was as if someone pressed pause on Tel Aviv life, the film malfunctioned for 90 seconds and then they pressed play again. Or maybe even rewind. People came out from the shops, from the cafes, cars started moving again and the pavements were filled with people. If you had closed your eyes and your ears for that 90 seconds you wouldn’t have noticed anything different except now all you can hear is multiple conversations all at once discussing the same thing – that they can’t believe a rocket has reached Tel Aviv.
It is somewhat inspiring whilst at the same time being slightly disconcerting to see how unaffected general life in Tel Aviv is. You want the outside world to know that we are a strong people and that we will carry on going to work and sitting in cafes, visiting friends and going to the shops. At the same time, you want them to really understand what terrorism means. Yes, it is the suicide bomber and the shooter and all the unimaginable killings that have taken place but it is something more than that and something that is not given enough weight.
Terrorism is striving to live your life unaffected but every time you’re walking down the street to go to work, to a restaurant, to a friends, thinking about where you are going to run to if the siren goes then. The siren doesn’t wait until you are inside somewhere with a bomb shelter so you plan. Constantly. I would run behind that wall, into that shop, I would try to get into that building and if I couldn’t I would stand around the side, away from the glass.
Terrorism is hearing a door slam somewhere, something falling outside, someone throwing their rubbish in the bin and for a split second thinking it was a rocket.
Terrorism is hearing the children in the apartment upstairs running around and thinking they are running away from a siren.
Terrorism is hearing any noise which has the same tone as the siren – a truck passing, the washing machine’s spin cycle, the toilet flushing, the beginning of a song and jumping up, ready to run.
Terrorism is sleeping at night with your shoes next to your bed, the window open so you can hear the siren and the key in the door, ready to run out.
Terrorism is being sat on the bus home from work as you do every day and watching people running inside buildings but being unable to hear anything, you can’t move anywhere because the bus isn’t stopping, you just have to watch everyone else running for safety until the bus driver catches on, 70 seconds after the siren has sounded and stops.
Terrorism is being sat here, right now writing this and hearing a noise outside that you think at first is a rubbish truck moving down the street and realizing that it is, in fact, another siren and running to the stairwell.
This is how people are feeling and we are the lucky ones, we have only had to go through it five times whilst residents of the south of Israel can go through it that many times in an hour.
So, as everyone is constantly reassuring those in Britain who are worrying, we are fine. But at the same time, we are changed by the daily realities of war and we have a new understanding of what the word ‘terrorism’ means.