It's almost as if the war were a PR gag whipped up by city officials in Tel Aviv to attract tourists who can't afford to take an adventure vacation to an al-Qaida camp. The sky over Tel Aviv is bluer than blue, and on the Jaffo promenade, Japanese tourists take turns photographing each other before moving on to Abulafiah to buy a sesame bagel with Safed cheese.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just announced that Allah will punish Israel for its turpitude, but the Turkish Culture Center at Kikar Ha-Shaon, or clocktower square, will soon be opened. The Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv has painstakingly restored the old seraglio, where the Turkish district governor once resided, to its former glory. A young Turkish officer named Kemal Ataturk was also in charge here for just about a year.
It's easier to imagine what Jaffo looked like more than a century ago than it is to imagine what is happening just a half-hour's car journey to the south.
There's a war in Gaza with gunfire and deaths, but there is no sign of that tumult here in Tel Aviv. And with the exception of a few attacks by the Italian air force during World War II and Iraqi Scud missiles fired at the city during the second Gulf War, Tel Aviv has always been a war-free zone. Jerusalem may be the official capital of Israel, but Tel Aviv is its metropolis. People pray in Jerusalem, but they live in Tel Aviv.
This year, Tel Aviv will turn 100 years old. The residents of cities like Cologne, Krakow or Kiev might have a good laugh over such a youthful birthday, but for this city, built from scratch on sand dunes, each year counts as two or three. And anything older than 30 years is almost an eternity.
Rehov Herzl and Rehov Nachlat Benjamin are amongst the oldest streets in Tel Aviv, and the further south you go, the older it gets.
For years, the Palm House, built in Art Deco style in the 1920s by an architect named Joshua Tabatchnik, stood crumbling, held together by only a few supporting beams. It was recently restored, and a 40-square meter apartment sells for 1.3 million shekel, or about €260,000. Most of the businesses surrounding the Palm House aren't old -- they're older than old.
The cloth stores, for example, where fabric is sold by the meter for other shops to make curtains, clothing and upholstery. The rolls of fabric are delivered with bicycle carts. In a corrugated iron hut with bars on the windows, a jeweller is working on watches that have stopped ticking -- he's been in the business for 50 years. How he can manage to make a living with this trade is a secret he will take with him to the grave.
A walk along Nachlat Benjamin is like driving a car that goes forwards and backwards at the same time, like an LSD trip for architecture fans and design avant-gardists without the drugs. One never knows what to expect at the next corner. There are Bauhaus buildings -- 4,000 of them in Tel Aviv, in fact -- that are being restored bit by bit. And there are businesses that confirm the famous line by novelist and Zionism founder Theodor Herzl, "If you want, it is no fairy tale!"
At the corner of Nachlat Benjamin and Rothschild, a specialty store selling olive oil, pesto and vinegar has been opened. The store belongs to the Kibbutz Revivim in Negev, which sells its products there. The idea isn't new -- what is a novelty, however, is the willingness of people to spend five to ten times as much for a bottle of oil or vinegar than they would in a normal supermarket. One block further, at Benedict, the modern resident of Tel Aviv can not only eat 24 hours a day, he can also have breakfast at any time. Ten years ago, that would have been considered decadent.
Florentin, at the southern end of Nachlat Benjamin is probably the last neighborhood in Tel Aviv that has not been steamrolled by progress. But the precursors to gentrification are already there: boutiques and galleries that sell things that people don't need but some still buy anyway. And no one seems to be bothered by the fact that laundry has been hung out to dry on the balconies above the lifestyle stores.
In his restaurant Elimelech in the middle of Florentin, Avi Berman serves dishes that the Eastern Europeans brought with them to Palestine. Minced liver, gefillte fish, aspic made from beef bones. Earlier, these were peasant dishes that could be found on every second corner, but today they have become rare specialties. You have to search long in Tel Aviv to find a restaurant that still tastes like Poland and smells like Ukraine. Elimelech, established in 1936 by Avi Berman's parents, is the oldest eatery of its kind. The restaurant has been certified kosher by the Tel Aviv rabbinate. It has received this certification despite the fact that the restaurant is also open on Saturdays in violation of the strictest interpretation of the word kosher the standard set by the rabbinate of Jerusalem.
But Tel Aviv is different. The city's most beloved kosher bakery, Piece of Cake, is located in the Arab quarter Jaffo, and the Jews stand in line here on Friday afternoons right after they have eaten the best hummus to be found between Akko an Arish at Abu Hassan. When they finally head home, they drive by a wall covered with fresh graffiti: "The 2008 war in Gaza = Shoah 1942".
That's certainly no PR stunt thought up by city officials.