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Life in the Tel Aviv Bubble

During wartime, the cognitive dissonance in Israel is overwhelming. I’m typing this piece from the safety and comfort of Tel Aviv, where I went after my neighborhood was struck by rockets. There’s a bloody and terrible war happening an hour’s drive from here. 19 year olds who would be attending keggers in America are in gunfights with Hamas militants. Little kids are being blown to bits because their next door neighbor launched rockets at Israel a few months ago. There is madness, stupidity, heroism and a million other things besides happening here. But right now I’m staying in a comfortable neighborhood in north Tel Aviv that reminds me of the Upper East Side back in New York. There are lots of ladies who lunch and a strip of coffee shops a few blocks down where you can get a decent cappucino and pain au chocolat. I am bouncing between the houses of distant relatives and friends because of the war. These days, I’m normally an MA student in Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva. However, Beersheva came under rocket attack on December 30 and 31. One Grad rocket landed less than 700 meters from my house on early Wednesday morning. I ran in midsleep to a bomb shelter and heard the explosion as clear as day through the fortified concrete. As a result, the IDF’s Homefront Command has indefinitely cancelled classes at Ben-Gurion University and shut down almost all commerce in the cities surrounding Gaza. I returned yesterday to Beersheva yesterday to pick up some personal effects. I stumbled onto a ghost town. Workplaces that don’t have rocket shelters are closed. Stores that aren’t fortified are closed. Schools are closed. Restaurants are closed. A few hardy kiosks, greengrocers and cafes that run day-by-day are remaining open and risking government fines. Nothing but stray cats, retirees chain-smoking outside their shelters and little kids sneaking away from their moms to throw rocks at the stray cats. Too depressing, too zombie movie. The only hopping place in Beersheva right now is the Soroka Hospital, the Negev’s largest medical facility. Though Beersheva has been lucky enough to escape rocket fire during the past few days, other cities haven’t had that blessing. Ashkelon, Ashdod and the poor citizens of Sderot have been under constant rocket attack since the cease fire between Israel and Hamas broke down a few weeks ago. Although both Ashkelon and Ashdod have hospitals, the critically injured are bought to Soroka. Helicopters land at Soroka carrying poor bastards whose arms and legs were shot full of shrapnel. There are Bedouins from the desert whose villages lack air raid sirens and cannot hear the warnings. There are manual laborers who work outdoors and don’t have access to shelters. And then there are just the people who can’t run quickly or who found their shelters padlocked shut by a neglectful city government. Hell, there are even a bunch of Gaza civillians who were medivac-ed out of the war-sieged territory for treatment here. Coming to Beersheva by train, almost all of the other passengers were reservists called up to duty. There was one kid who looked like one of my Russian friends from high school. There was a cute girl with a hipster-ish haircut reading Israeli gossip magazines while wearing a shoulder tag for an elite intelligence unit. There was a reservist with an iPhone and designer glasses who looked for all the world like a New York blogger. On the ride down to the Negev, we could see black helicopters flying over the Occupied Territories looking for any escalation of the situation there. Radio attachments from cell phones were playing the latest news from Gaza. I tried to use my limited knowledge of Hebrew to figure out what was happening while talking in broken English to the reservist in the next row. I came back to Tel Aviv to hear of stone-throwings by Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank and of more deaths in Gaza. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at a bar, drinking imported beer and eating a Cubano while talking about Barack Obama and the IDF with the bartender in bad Hebrew. And there’s a war an hour away, but everyone’s ignoring it here in the "Tel Aviv bubble."

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