From fear to fortune: Tel Aviv's attitude

Israel's largest city is bordered on all sides by danger, but its residents now seem more focused on its beaches, bars, and booming high-tech industry

(CBS News) To live in Tel Aviv is to make a choice. With a history of bloodshed and bombings, the inhabitants of Israel's largest city could live in fear of what could come next. Or they could live for the moment in a sun-filled, dynamic city that is becoming renowned worldwide for its booming high-tech industry and lots of great night life. Bob Simon travels from the bars to the beaches of Tel Aviv to examine how Tel Avivians live their lives.


The following script is from "Tel Aviv" which originally aired on May 20, 2012. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Michael Gavshon, producer.

We went looking for a place of calm in the Middle East -- a place not racked by violence, anxiety, torment. Not an easy mission these days. But we found one in the unlikeliest of spots: Israel's largest city, Tel Aviv, bordered on all sides by danger.

Tel Aviv has been through rough times over the decades. Bloodshed, bombings, scud missile attacks. And today the situation looks dicier than ever. Revolutions, civil wars, Islamic extremists are just a few hours drive away in every direction. And if Iran ever builds that bomb, Tel Aviv will be well within range. So anything could happen. Anytime. But somehow, Tel Avivians have learned how not to worry about tomorrow. For them, the only time is now.

And the best place to spend now -- 12 months a year -- is the beach. You would be forgiven for thinking this is Miami on the Med, thousands of miles from the madness of the Middle East.

Ron Huldai: This is an island of sanity in this country.

Bob Simon: An island of sanity?

Ron Huldai: The island of sanity.

Bob Simon: In this country and in the Middle East.

Ron Huldai, who fought as a fighter pilot in three wars, has been mayor of Tel Aviv for 13 years. He just started a bike share program.

Bob Simon: If I look behind you pointing to Gaza, there are hundreds of rockets, Katyushas, pointing at Tel Aviv. You look that way, there are thousands of missiles from Hezbollah pointing at Tel Aviv. How do you deal with that?

Ron Huldai: This is our life. What else we can do? When you go out of your home in New York, you have the chance to get a car accident.

Bob Simon: Yeah, you have a chance to get a car accident. But you know that New Jersey doesn't have missiles pointing at you.

Ron Huldai: But in life, there are a lot of risk. Always.

Always. Iran today, Iraq yesterday. During the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein rained scuds on the city. Soon after that, the streets of Tel Aviv became killing zones as Palestinian suicide bombers blew up buses and cars and clubs. But the bombings didn't stop Tel Avivians from going to the beach by day and the bars by night. Arik Kneller lived through it all.

Bob Simon: Do you ever feel like you're dancing on the Titanic?

Arik Kneller: Sometimes. Sometimes. Maybe part of the reasons people dance on the tables is because they really believe that tomorrow Tel Aviv is going to be attacked. And they really do live as if it's the last day of Pompeii. And they want to grab every second of it.

And many do. There are more bars than synagogues in this city of the Jews. And remember, Tel Aviv is not that far from where Moses came down the hill with those commandments.

Tel Aviv wasn't always a latter day Sodom. Twenty years ago, Tel Avivians were in the vanguard of the peace movement, cheering Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on as he shook hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the White House. Negotiations began...but then stalled so the activists went home and retreated into apathy.

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