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Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: Two different worlds

Dana RegevOctober 11, 2015

The clashes continue between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem; an hour away it's business as usual in Tel Aviv. How is it that the Nonstop City enjoys a completely different reality from the burning capital?

Westjordanland Hebron Ausschreitungen Gewalt
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Bader

Jerusalem is burning. There is no other way to put it. Recent days have seen a series of attacks by young Palestinians wielding household items like kitchen knives, screwdrivers and even a vegetable peeler.

Jewish Israelis are patrolling the city in small groups, searching for people with Arab accents to start fights with. One word can be heard repeatedly from both sides: chaos. Almost nobody's shopping, and restaurants are hardly serving. "The streets are empty," a local bar owner told DW. "It's as if the city is under siege."

People are clearly afraid. Customers are saying that they feel safer in malls rather than on the street: In closed places there are at least security guards patrolling all day long.

The CEO of a shopping center in Jerusalem told DW that he had employed dozens more security guards in the past few days alone. But, just an hour away, life in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv looks absolutely different.

'The bubble we live in'

In recent years Tel Aviv has seen few terror attacks: Israel's main conflicts are either along the border of the Gaza Strip or around the West Bank. Jerusalem - which is holy to both Jews and Muslims and declared by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital - has also always been a major clashing point, while secular Tel Aviv is Israel's city that never sleeps.

"Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are not the same. They have never been the same," Shirley Mandel, a 29-year-old pilates trainer from Tel Aviv, told DW. "It's true that stabbings occurred here too, but the bubble we live in has always stood strong - and these days are no different."

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A Palestinian flashes the victory sign during clashes with Israeli soldiers in HebronImage: Getty Images/AFP/H. Bader

Many Israelis think that Tel Aviv residents are completely detached from the country's reality, which mandates rockets in the south and a military presence in almost all communities near the borders. "Don't get me wrong, my daily reality has changed," Mandel said.

"I am no longer walking by foot anywhere, I look around me all the time to see if there's anyone behind, I'm alerted if I hear anyone speaking Arabic, but - and it's a big but - I don't avoid doing things. I don't stay at home or cancel plans."

This couldn't be farther from the experiences of residents of Jerusalem, where the violence - including an apparent revenge attack in which an Israeli stabbed and wounded four Arabs on Friday - has raised fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

There have also been multiple protests by Israel's Arab minority, with masked demonstrators clashing with police forces. And the youths behind the stabbing attacks had no known links to armed groups and seemingly targeted Israeli soldiers and civilians at random, complicating efforts to predict or prevent their deeds.

"My husband and I have a 2-month-old daughter, and we find ourselves avoiding the simplest daily tasks if they have to do with taking the train or walking around for too long," Kineret Nassi told DW. "My husband is originally from here, and even he says that the city has become foreign to him. He doesn't trust anything or anyone anymore."

Out of sight, out of mind

Since the latest wave of unrest began this month, eight Palestinians have been killed while carrying out attacks and 13 have been killed in protests and clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

A foreigner would not understand how two cities a mere 70 kilometers (about 40 miles) apart could have such polarized realities. Some Israelis even have a hard time believing it.

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Tel Aviv promotes a very secular lifestyleImage: picture alliance/DUMONT Bildarchiv/E. Wrba

"Generally I don't believe in this bubble myth of Tel Aviv," 27-year-old Yovel Zim, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, told DW. "I think they are afraid just like us. I just assume that because things are actually happening here, in our area, people are also more alerted. In the past few days I was offered to buy a tear gas at least four or five times."

But many in Tel Aviv do indeed feel that the fact that the conflict is mostly out of sight helps keep it mostly out of mind. Mandel said that, although she wouldn't dare visit Jerusalem these days, Tel Aviv is still comfortably distant from the conflict zone.

"The actual problem that we all feel - both in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but practically everywhere else - is the lack of leadership," Mandel said. "There is a sense of decadence, of uncertainty, of a society that has lost its way. This time it feels even scarier than a war, because war is something external. Now, the battle can be on your street."

Although military and intelligence officials in the country have done their best to reassure Israels that the country is not facing a third Intifada, the general hopelessness is felt everywhere. "This is a country who has neglected almost every possible minority," Mandel said, "be it the poor, the elderly, Holocaust survivors or Palestinians."

In that sense, there is indeed no difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.