Tel Aviv tourism bears brunt of Gaza rocket attacks

Tel Aviv is well within rocket range

Israel's commercial capital is under rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza, its normally nonchalant residents using black humour to disguise the anguish of another open war with Hamas.
Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of the Palestinian enclave, is well within rocket range.
And since Israel's latest campaign began early on Tuesday, Hamas has fired at least six M75 rockets at metropolitan Tel Aviv, one striking open ground and five being intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
A loud bang rocked the city on Thursday morning, with unconfirmed reports suggesting a missile had hit the sea.
Young waiters with little to do now sit at tables at once-vibrant seafront cafes normally occupied by visitors in what should be peak season for tourism.
"It's empty, completely empty," sighs 21-year-old waitress Danielle with nothing to do except tuck into a plate of chips.
"Last week we were full of tourists, overwhelmed almost. But now they're afraid to come."
The few people who turned up late Tuesday to watch the sunset quickly scattered when the first alert sounded after realising there were no air-raid shelters in the area.
And with Israel's Operation Protective Edge against Gaza militants in its third day, the beachfront party town is feeling the effects.
Ralph, a 32-year-old tourist from Luxembourg, decided to watch the World Cup semi-final indoors with a friend, rather than sit at an exposed outdoor café.
His holiday in Israel has not turned out as planned.
- Missile alert app -
"All day we're on our phones, checking the news. I even downloaded an app for missile alerts in real time," he says.
Now Ralph is steering clear of public places such as markets and "especially the beach, where we would be most exposed if a missile hit".
More than 23 years ago, when Iraq's now dead dictator Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at Israel in the first Gulf War, young people thronged the nightclubs of Tel Aviv, gas masks within reach.
Today, black humour abounds on Internet social networks.
Since the crisis erupted, a growing number of pages are popping up on Facebook, where users share experiences about life under fire.
One writes about the fear of being forced to leave her apartment in only her underwear, while another tells how he jumped into his parents' bed in their "safe room" during one early-morning alert.
Waitress Danielle is not amused by some of the things she sees on the web.
"YouTube skits about safe rooms don't make me laugh," she says, nervously scanning her mobile phone to check whether there has been any fresh military call-up.
Military service is compulsory for both sexes. Men serve three years and women two. They then become reservists.
Since Tuesday, several of her friends have been mobilised after the security cabinet approved the recall of 40,000 reservists.
- City that never sleeps -
Repeated confrontations between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza have sapped the resilience of some living in this city that never sleeps.
A large section of the Israeli public now supports a lengthy military operation against militants in Gaza.
It would not be the first such offensive.
In December 2008, Israel began Operation Cast Lead with a massive air assault aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks.
During the 22-day operation, 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
And in November 2012 another 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during Operation Pillar of Defence.
But not everyone in Tel Aviv is in favour of another Gaza campaign.
On Wednesday night, dozens of people gathered in the city's trendy Habima Square to protest against the current operation in a demonstration which triggered anger among some passers-by.
"May the next rocket fall on you!" one young motorist shouted at the demonstrators. "Shame on you!"
One protester tried to reason with him.
"What the Israeli government is doing is also terrorism," said 38-year-old Khen.
"The people of Tel Aviv can be blase because they have shelters, but the people of Gaza have none."
As the campaign got under way, Tel Aviv municipality made sure to open its public air raid shelters.
Over the past three days, rocket warnings have now become a way of life.