Guns, lots of guns. All the cool kids have them. On Sundays and Thursdays, young Israelis can be seen on the streets of Tel Aviv, carrying machine guns to and from their mandatory army service, with extra clips strapped to their barrels or carried in bulging pockets. Weekends in Israel are from Friday to Saturday, in time with the Sabbath.
Soldiers in Tel Aviv are part of daily life. They are not manning checkpoints or setting up roadblocks, they are just going to and from work like everyone else. Which means when you walk through Tel Aviv, it doesn’t feel like the country is surrounded on all sides by enemy nations. The city feels peaceful, like most cosmopolitan cities. Some reminders of danger exist — bags are searched before entering shopping centres and train stations, for example, but the city feels remarkably normal most of the time.
But there are moments when danger feels closer. Walking along the beach I noticed a building that looked like it had once been a nightclub or restaurant. Except now it’s derelict, looking very conspicuous along the beachfront. “What happened to that place”, I asked my friend. She replied, “Oh, there was a suicide attack there, in the nineties”. I am told there hasn’t been an attack in the city for about five years.
Israelis tease me about the apparent triviality of Australian political issues — a few hundred asylum seekers, climate change, public transport, WorkChoices (“there is so much news in Israel”), then I get reminded that this triviality is in fact a good thing. It is a sign of a peaceful country. I am also told it’s good I cannot tell or do not think about who is Arab and who is Jewish, because it makes me immune to the tension that exists with such awareness.
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I was not expecting Tel Aviv to feel safer than Melbourne (where I live) but it does. The city lacks the menace of Melbourne after dark. No large groups of young men sizing you up, looking for a fight. The city is more convivial, there’s more laughter in the air. I just can’t tell if the appearance of safety is real or not.