Tel Aviv Diary: Taking a Shrug to a Knife Fight

A Palestinian woman paints a mural depicting a masked Palestinian wielding a knife, in support of Palestinians committing stabbing attacks against Israelis, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 3, 2015. Baffled residents of Tel Aviv have adjusted to the new dangerous normal with a shrug. Abu Mustafa

I was walking home from the bank in Tel Aviv, Israel, when suddenly an unmarked police car made a U-turn right in front of me, putting on its siren and speeding down the road.

Within a few minutes, I received a text message reporting that an attempted stabbing had taken place in the northern part of the city. Shortly after, reports clarified the attack was an attempt to stab a soldier, on the same street I was walking, just a half a mile north.

People with whom I shared the news mostly shrugged and asked whether the attacker had been caught.

The calm most Tel Avivans showed did not extend to people in the neighborhood who have children in local schools. Word of the apparent attack spread immediately through school's WhatsApp groups. As a result, many parents rushed off to pick up their kids from school.

Schools in the area were told to keep their students in their building, unless parents arrive to pick them up. An hour later, schools received the all clear. In the end, it turned out that it was not a terrorist attack, just a drunken citizen who spooked an unarmed soldier.

This week marks six months since the start of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian violence, which began when rumors started going round that Israel was going to change the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, home of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The first victim was Alexander Levlovich, a 64-year-old Jewish-Israeli, whose car was stoned, causing him to lose control, crash and die. Since that day, 34 Israelis have been killed in attacks and 404 people have been injured.

Over the course of the last six months, there have been 202 stabbings and attempted stabbing attacks, 83 shootings and 42 vehicular (ramming) attacks.

During this time, a much larger number have died on the Palestinian side, with many of the Palestinian deaths seeming to be the result of a cruel version of "suicide by police"—in these cases, "suicide by soldier." The outcome of an encounter between a heavily armed, well-trained soldier and any man, woman or teenager with a knife is preordained.

Most of the attacks have taken place in the West Bank (occupied by Israel since 1967) or in East Jerusalem, with a smattering of assaults taking place in other Israeli cities. Four attacks, including one last week that took the life of a U.S. Army veteran who was here as tourist, took place in Tel Aviv.

Israelis have, by-and-large, taken these attacks very much in their stride. The average Tel Aviv resident has not changed his routine in any significant way. They are more alert than usual, and of course news of an alleged terrorist on the loose sends parents immediately into action.

Cafés in Tel Aviv remain crowded. Most of the time, residents of this city seem much more interested in the next business startup bought for an enormous sum, or the latest news from the U.S. presidential election campaign, which often leads the nightly broadcasts, than news of terror attacks in Israel.

For many, the only surprise is how little six months of violence appear to have affected the popularity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, which was elected on the promise of providing "security," a promise they have been proven unable to deliver.

The government has been at a total loss about how to end these uncoordinated but steady attacks on Israelis. The Israeli security establishment, which has been very successful in the past stopping attacks—even before they happen, recently admitted that they have had no prior warning on any of the recent attacks. The government itself, hobbled by a rigid coalition, seems unable to take any action that goes beyond condemnation of the attacks and blaming Palestinian incitement for provoking the violence.

The opposition has been trying to gain traction, without much success. The Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog, proposed a plan of Israeli-Palestinian separation, while the Yesh Atid party, led by Yair Lapid, attacked the government for not having a foreign policy, thereby leading Israel into greater isolation on the world stage.

The turmoil that surrounds Israel in the Middle East has convinced the average Israeli that it's best to keep your head down and hope for better times. For the majority of Israelis who do not live in the West Bank, the recent string of attacks have been no more than a wave of crime—i.e., something to be dealt with by exercising perseverance (the way New Yorkers dealt with crime in the '80s and '90s.)

However, for those with army-age children, the fears are very real (since it's their sons and daughters who have repeatedly been the targets of attackers). For one short and frightful moment, the situation seemed it might be spinning out of control, when an Arab Israeli, Nashat Milhem, perpetrated his attack in Tel Aviv, escaping capture for an entire week.

The clear fear remains that Arab Israelis will be truly radicalized, with a significant number of them becoming followers of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). To date, that nightmare has failed to materialize.

As the short Tel Aviv winter starts coming to a close, the gyms are beginning to fill with residents worrying how they will look when the beach opens again. The local branch of WeWork (one of the many high tech hubs in Tel Aviv) is about to more than double its rentable space.

The violence has persisted for six months. When this wave of assaults first began, people regularly changed their plans to match the perceived risks. Six months in, and the situation's impact has dulled Israelis, especially residents of Tel Aviv, who have learned to take the possibility of an attack in stride.

If, 20 months ago, it was missiles, today, it's knives. Next year, it could be something else. It's just another one of the risks of living here.

But as Israelis look out at the world beyond, with rising anti-Semitism and the occasional major terrorist attack, most conclude there is but one choice: to stand firm and persevere.

Marc Schulman is the editor of