Middle East

Israelis go on with normal life, until sirens sound

Many Israelis take a business-as-usual approach to daily life despite the threat of Hamas rockets

In places like this sprawling strip mall in central Israel, life at first glance looks nearly normal. There are shops aplenty, food stalls, a small amusement park.

Although the crowds at Bilu Center are smaller than they would be on an ordinary summer afternoon, for the last 20 days, many Israelis have taken a business-as-usual approach to daily life — until the sirens sound.

Which, in this part of the country, happens almost every day.

A large sign on the wall by a falafel stand indicates the location of the nearest fortified shelter. When an insistent wail signals the approach of a Palestinian militant rocket, patrons have 60 seconds to scramble for cover.

On a low stone wall near the sign, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man offered to help the devout put on tefillin and pray for good measure.

Already, the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip has gone on for longer than many had imagined it would, and the twists and turns of truce negotiations, suspenseful at first, have given way to a sense of ennui.

"So is there a cease-fire today, or isn't there? I'm confused already," said Shalom Dan, who had brought his two young sons to the amusement park. At 6 and 8, they have spent much of their summer vacation in and around bomb shelters.

"I can't figure out what to do," said Dan. "We had sirens this morning, but I just had to get them out of the house."

Many are saddened by the enormous civilian death toll on the Palestinian side — most of the more than 1,000 killed have been noncombatants. But it is the deaths of Israeli soldiers — 43 so far — that weigh most heavily on many here.

Adina Yisrael, who shrugged at her reflection in a shop window, wants the warfare to end "because of the soldiers," but said she was determined to continue her daily routines as a homemaker.

"This is the new normal, I guess," said Yisrael, 44. "Awful, but you just get used to this."

Like many of the mall patrons, she did not want to linger for fear of rockets.

"They always fire in the evening," she said. "I want to be home by then."

As the fighting has dragged on, security concerns have scuttled outdoor events and camps in Israel, and the usual lightheartedness of summer has been damped. At the mall, sales are down.

Whether people are in favor of a cease-fire or against it, support for Israeli troops in the field is a common denominator. Near the mall, a giant billboard shows a smiling boy thanking "everyone defending us."

Aware of international opprobrium over the scale of destruction in Gaza, many Israelis nonetheless voice support for their country's leadership, emphasizing that inaction would magnify the threat posed by Hamas and other Palestinian militants.

"Bibi shouldn't give in to pressure," said Ilanit Shmuel, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname, as most people here do. She is 17, she said — eligible for the military draft next year.

"It's so sad what's happening now," she said. "But if we don't do it now, it will be worse next time."

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

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