Tel Aviv Diary: A Killer on the Loose

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Israeli policemen search for a suspect in the January 1 deadly shooting on a Tel Aviv bar in which two Israelis were killed on January 4. Police were still hunting on Monday for Israeli Arab, Nashat Melhem, 29, from the village of Arara in northern Israel, who police identified as the suspect in the attack. Baz Ratner/Reuters

Tel Aviv is a different place today, three days after the shooting that took place on New Year's Day.

This is not the first time Tel Aviv experienced terror, but this time is very different. It's different not because more people were killed in this latest attack. Relatively speaking, that is. Two dead is tragic, but we have experienced bombings in which many more were killed.

Nor because this is the first time the very heart of the city suffered an attack. Dizengoff Center, just a few blocks away from the site of Friday's shooting was the scene of a gruesome attack in 1996, in which 16 were murdered.

In fact, one of the deadliest attacks in Israel's history took place very close to the same spot on Dizengoff Street, when a Hamas bus bombing left 22 dead in 1994. Those killed and wounded at the bar in Tel Aviv last week were young children when the earlier attacks took place.

The reason Tel Aviv is different in the aftermath of this attack is that the killer who perpetrated the attack has not yet been caught. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in recent Israeli history that a killer who survived after carrying out an attack was not caught and remains at large three days later.

Conflicting information disseminated by government officials about the manhunt for the missing assailant has not helped matters. On January 4, Minister of Homeland Security Gilad Erdan stated that the killer "is probably no longer in Tel Aviv," while other police officials tell reporters they believe the perpetrator is still in the city.

At the same time, attempts by government ministers to reassure residents with reminders that more people are killed regularly in traffic accidents have been roundly ridiculed.

On January 3, nearly 50 percent of Tel Aviv parents chose not to send their children to school; schools that now all have a police presence outside. On Monday, January 4, more children have returned to school—except in the northern part of the city, where the shooter was last seen and is said to have worked.

Northern Tel Aviv is also a wealthier part of the city, where parents are more able to stay home from work or make other arrangements for their kids. Around the city, patrons have returned to the bars and restaurants, but in smaller numbers than usual.

People are moving about a bit more cautiously. Fear the killer will strike again is very real. Until the gunman is caught, and his motives are understood, that fear will remain.

Israeli army and air force headquarters are located not far from where I live. I have passed by them a number of times in the past few days. As I looked at the tower that houses air force headquarters, I can't help but reflect on the irony.

We have one of the most powerful air forces in the world. We have the world's only functional missile defense system, a system that proved itself exceptionally effective just 18 months ago, when all of the missiles fired by Hamas were successfully intercepted.

During the recent Gaza war, residents of Tel Aviv were more annoyed than worried for the safety of themselves and their families. Yet, one lone gunman using a third-rate semi-automatic rifle has managed to unsettle the residents of Tel Aviv more than any individual or event in the past several years.

The bubble of Tel Aviv—which was, in reality, always fictional—is gone, but not the resilience of its citizens. Most people believe it is only a matter of time until the gunman is caught.

What I heard most from the residents of Tel Aviv in the past 24 hours is the city's free spirit and hope for the future will not be taken away by this killer.

Marc Schulman is the editor of HistoryCentral.com.

Tel Aviv Diary: A Killer on the Loose | Opinion