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The cafes of Tel Aviv were pretty crowded on July 14, a week after the start of Israel's airstrikes on Gaza. / Michele Chabin for USA TODAY

TEL AVIV, Israel - A week after fighting broke out between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in Gaza, Meytal Cohen feels less afraid to report for work in the heart of this city of 400,000, despite some 20 rocket attacks.

"After a while you almost get used to the sound of the air raid sirens, but not completely," said Cohen, who works in a women's accessory store on fashionable Dizengoff Street. Cohen said she didn't miss a day of work because "staying home would be handing Hamas a victory and I refuse to do that."

It's a common sentiment in Israel's financial and cultural capital along the Mediterranean, which barely missed a beat during the latest round of hostilities. The Tel Aviv stock market has remained open, and so have the stores that sell everything from designer clothes and fine art to beach towels and diving equipment.

Residents say the rockets that send them scurrying for their safe rooms and bomb shelters have only made them more resolved to live life as normally as possible.

Israelis in the south near the border with the Hamas-governed Gaza strip have just 15 seconds to seek shelter from the hundreds of rockets fired at them. By contrast, residents here say the 90-second warning from air raid sirens has made the crisis bearable.

An air of defiance also permeates the city. Many residents lived through the 1990-91 Gulf War, when Iraq launched deadly long-range missiles at the city, as well as Israel's eight-day battle with Hamas in 2012, when air raids here also sounded.

Renowned for its Manhattan-meets-Miami vibe, Tel Aviv is known for its liberal, carefree lifestyle. With its miles of white, sandy beaches, outdoor cafes, museums and nightlife, it is as removed from devout Jerusalem as Los Angeles is from Salt Lake City.

"Tel Aviv is known as the non-stop city and we really are," said Mira Marcus, Tel Aviv's international press director. "If you walk through the streets, you see a routine life, people riding their bikes, going to concerts in the evening, but all the while knowing you have 90 seconds to reach a safe place."

Marcus acknowledges that the rockets have had an impact. A Neil Young concert scheduled for later this week in a city park had to be canceled "because 40,000 people would not be able to find shelter" in a minute and a half, he said.

The municipality's social services and education departments have been working overtime to assist the elderly and other vulnerable people and to ensure that all preschools, which run through July, and camps have a bomb shelter. Some were forced to move premises.

"The first day the rockets hit, we had many, many calls from worried residents. By the next day the number was much lower."

Business has been hurt, according to Cohen. She said sales are down about 50% but improving since July 8. "People aren't in the mood to buy accessories," she said. The store is a popular source for glittery wedding accessories "but people have been forced to postpone their weddings because their halls don't have bomb shelters large enough for all their guests."

Benji Lovitt, an American-Israeli comedian and educator who lives in Tel Aviv, says residents here are uniquely suited to deal with the conflict. "We have such an incredible energy in this city and we are continuing to go to cafes and the beach not because we don't care but because, after all the things the Jewish people have experienced, we appreciate life to the fullest."

Which isn't to say the sirens aren't unnerving. "I don't have a shelter, so I've been crouching behind the washing machine in my bathroom," he said with a laugh.



Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: Tel Aviv residents live normally amid rocket attacks

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