November 1, 2004

Tel Aviv: 'The City that Never Sleeps'

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Avi Tabib, Hero of Mike’s Place Suicide Bombing
Looking at Avi Tabib, I would never have known he had survived a suicide bombing only months earlier on April 29, 2003. Without a scratch on his muscular figure, he speaks with the confidence of a man who has never suffered a setback in his life.

His attitude: “Fuck Trauma.”

Tabib, son of Yemenite immigrants, is the security guard at Mike’s Place, an English-speaking bar located directly behind the American Embassy on Tel Aviv’s beach boardwalk amid a myriad of other bars, restaurants and shops. I sat with Tabib outside the bar on a breezy evening as he spoke between bites of dinner.

“It was Tuesday Jams night,” he remembered, “when all the guys bring their guitars on stage and have a good time. I was outside, as usual, checking people as they came in. Then a guy I didn’t recognize came by, saying he just wanted to get a drink. I didn’t like the look in his eyes — he seemed like a troublemaker.

So I told him, ‘Sorry, pal, not tonight.’ To my surprise, he tried to force his way in, and I started to block him. I managed to push him all the way back to the sidewalk, and then it happened … he detonated.”

“I woke up in a hospital room four days later,” he continued. “I was so disoriented you could’ve told me I’d been hit by a truck, and I’d have believed you.”

Mike’s Place is the Israeli “Cheers” — the bar where “everybody knows your name.” Then again, many of the Mike’s Place employees and regulars have the same name — Dave — and are known instead by their nicknames — “Outdoor Dave,” “Indoor Dave,” “Behind-the-bar Dave,” “Uptown Dave,” “Downtown Dave,” “Outback Dave” and “UK Dave.”

The “Mike’s Place family,” as the regulars called it, lost three of its members that night: Ron Baron, 23, Yanai Weiss, 46, and Dominique Hass, 29.

One of the regulars, Zeev, had shared his memories with me earlier: “I didn’t know Ron, but I knew Yanai and Dominique very well. Yanai was just an all-around good guy, great guitar player. He could jam with anybody. And Dom …” he said, holding back tears. “You know those people who can light up a room with just their presence? She was one of them.” A plaque hangs outside in their memory.

“We had a packed house that night,” said Tabib. “60 or 70 people. Had that guy made it inside, they’d all have been dead — not injured, dead.”

There was something unusual about the Mike’s Place bomber, Asif Muhammad Hanif. He wasn’t a Palestinian; he wasn’t even an Arab. Hanif was a Pakistani-Muslim from Britain who had flown in to carry out the attack. He had been an active member of the International Solidarity Movement, a left-wing pro-Palestinian organization. A few months after the bombing, Hanif’s wife was acquitted by a British court on charges that she had aided and abetted him.

Before I left Mike’s Place that night, Tabib reflected on his past military service in the Gaza Strip: “You know, Benjy, it doesn’t make you feel big inside to break into a family’s house in the middle of the night to search for weapons. To those kids you are the fucking devil. Self-defense is rarely pleasant or pretty. But, tell me … what other choice do we have?”

After hearing that question asked repeatedly with frustration, the Israeli government gave its answer — a 10-foot high, 380-mile long answer.

The Israeli Los Angeles
Suicide bombings in Tel Aviv are only the latest chapter in a history that includes aerial bombardment from Egyptian planes in the 1948 War of Independence and 39 Scud Missiles shot at the city from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.

But Tel Aviv, like Israel itself, doesn’t look like a war zone. It’s a bustling Western city with skyscrapers, universities, museums and a stock exchange.

One century ago, it was nothing but a sand dune. First settled in 1909 by 60 Jewish families, Tel Aviv is today home to 360,000 people and a million more in its surrounding metropolitan area.

While Jerusalem is Israel’s diplomatic and spiritual capitol, Tel Aviv remains its commercial and cultural center. If Jerusalem is Israel’s Rome, then Tel Aviv is its Milan; Jerusalem the heart, Tel Aviv the brain.

In this self-proclaimed “city that never sleeps,” it’s easy to forget you’re not in America, and not just because most Israelis are fluent in English. You look around and see Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Caf