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Schools Closed, Streets Were Empty As Israel Awaited Military Action

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The Education Ministry ordered Israeli schools closed Wednesday after consultations with the defense minister and the Israel Defense Force chief of staff.

Nervous parents had kept 25 percent of the student body home from classes Tuesday and about 50 percent had been expected to stay away from classes Wednesday.

Under those circumstances, it was decided to advise all students to stay home, Education Minister Zevulun Hammer announced.

The order applied only to elementary and secondary schools. Universities, teacher training colleges and religious seminaries stayed open. But many students were absent on military duty or taking care of personal matters.

The threat of an Iraqi missile attack on Israel had other visible effects Wednesday.

Normally congested Tel Aviv streets were relatively empty. The light traffic was characteristic of the Sabbath rather than a usual business day.

Many Israelis remained close to their radios and television sets, listening to the news in rooms scaled against gas attack according to IDF instructions.

At factories, shops and offices, it was a normal workday. But many closed early to allow parents to spend more time with their children and be closer to their scaled rooms should a missile attack occur.

But it was at nightfall that the myth of Tel Aviv as “the city that never sleeps” was demolished, at least for the duration of the crisis.

By 7:30 p.m. local time, Ibn Gvirol Street, normally teeming with pedestrians, was almost deserted. The clothing shops that do a brisk business in the evening had closed early. So did the late-night snack shops and late-night grocers.

The video rental shop opposite City Hall was open for business. But while it is usually jammed until midnight with people looking for a movie to rent, the only person in the store Wednesday evening was the clerk yawning with boredom.

“If it stays this way, I will close at 10 o’clock,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Even on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv’s biggest shopping and entertainment center, most cafes were closed by 6 p.m., and most bars did not bother to open.

Hospitals responded to the uncertain situation by discharging about a fifth of their patients, keeping only those unable to be moved or in need of continuous medical care.

That left plenty of empty beds for casualties should an Iraqi attack occur.

A STAUNCH FRIEND TURNS UP

Meanwhile, a staunch friend of Israel turned up unexpectedly Wednesday, despite a prior engagement in New York.

Zubin Mehta, the Indian-born conductor and musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, had a commitment to rehearse the New York Philharmonic and was en route there from Vienna when he grew worried about Israel after watching television reports.

“I got as far as Paris and was preparing to board a Concorde when I passed a flight notice announcing a flight to Tel Aviv within the hour,” the maestro told an Israel Television interviewer.

“I turned around and took the Israel-bound aircraft,” Mehta said. “After all, I was adopted by this country and I felt it my duty to be with the Israelis in a time of emergency.”

Asked what his wife in New York and his parents in Bombay thought of his change of plans, he said their reaction was “Gevalt!”

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