1/1/2016 Terror Comes To Tel Aviv
As many Israelis do not work on Fridays, the afternoons are a time Tel Avivians gather in pubs and cafes. As today is colder than usual in the White City, the number of people out and about is less than usual. Despite this, Dizengoff Street, considered the heart of traditional Tel Aviv, was bustling today at 2:30 PM. As friends were gathering for a birthday party at a pub on this main drag filled with restaurants, bars, and stores, a 29 year old Israeli Arab from Wadi Ara, an area in northern Israel known as the Triangle that is heavily populated with Israeli Arabs, was standing in a small market next door.
A pub called Simta, located on the corner of Dizengoff Street and Gordon Street, very close to the beach, hotels and Dizengoff Center mall, was the target of this terrorist's murderous act. As seen from the video footage, the terrorist calmly opens his bag, pulls out his Karl Gustav sub machine gun, then steps out into the street and start firing towards the pub and towards pedestrians passing by. The shooter fired 28 bullets - the full clip of his semi-automatic weapon - into the crowd. By the time he stopped firing, Alon Bakal and Shimon Roimi lay dying and five others were wounded, three seriously.
For a few hours Tel Aviv turned into a city under siege as the police began a search for the gunman. Rabin Square, two blocks from my home, was turned into a command center with hundreds of special police forces arriving from other parts of the country to reinforce the police in Tel Aviv as they do a house-to-house search. The restaurants, the cafes, and the bars quickly emptied and busy Tel Aviv turned into a ghost city.
Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai stated, “Tel Aviv has been the target before and we knew then and we will know now how to overcome”. He went on to suggest that residents of Tel Aviv stay home until the terrorist was caught.
For a few hours the police were not sure who had carried out the killing and what was the motive. The gunmen had made no attempt to hide his identity and it was caught on video. His father saw the picture and called the police and said that it was his son. The father is a volunteer in the police. The shooter's relative was killed eight years ago by the police and the killer had served a prison sentence from trying to steal a weapon from an army soldier. His relatives claim he is mentally unstable.
Until now most residents of Tel Aviv have felt that terror took place somewhere else. Of course, anyone old enough to remember the 1990's and 2001-3 knows that Tel Aviv has been a target before. The list of bombings in Tel Aviv are long and deadly, but for the past few years attacks have happened infrequently and never in the heart of the city. This was close by and personal. One of my daughters close friends works at the bar, she ran to call him - he was at home. Another close friend was on Dizengoff during the time of the attack.
The implications of the fact that the attack was carried out by an Israeli Arab Israel is very troubling. There are over 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. They have full citizenship and full access to all parts of Israel. One of the challenges Israel has been facing is how to better integrate the Arab Israeli population and to work against discrimination that exists in the society. This will make both the task of ensuring that there are not any more attacks while fighting discrimination all the more difficult.
At the moment its not clear whether the terrorist acted alone or acted on behalf of an outside organization. He may be one of the many lone terrorists that Israel has suffered through in the past three months, or as some are now suggesting, he worked on behalf of ISIS. That will only be clear in the coming hours or days. How fast Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps, the place that most of us have felt safe in, returns to routine its hard to say. What is clear is that it will no longer be possible to call Tel Aviv a bubble
Empty Streets after the shooting