TEL AVIV (Feb. 28)
Israelis were told Thursday to put their gas masks in mothballs, remove the plastic sealants from their gas-proof rooms and return to normal routines, including the enjoyment of nightlife, suspended when the first Scud missiles hit Tel Aviv six weeks ago.
The occasion was the cease-fire in Iraq, announced at 7 a.m. local time, which ended the fighting in the Persian Gulf with a total victory for the U.S.-led forces.
The cease-fire coincided with the celebration of Purim, the festival commemorating the deliverance of the Jews in ancient Persia from the death decreed them by the villainous Haman.
It took no great leap of imagination to draw an analogy between Haman and the modern-day enemy of the Jews, Saddam Hussein.
Orthodox Jews saw the fortuitous juxtaposition of Purim with the cease-fire as proof of the efficacy of prayer and a sign of the Almighty’s special concern for the well-being of the Jews.
LIFTING OF ALL RESTRICTIONS
The Israel Defense Force and the civil defense authorities lifted all restrictions on evening and nighttime entertainment and public gatherings, restraints which were instituted to avoid concentrations of civilians after dark when the Scud missile attacks occurred.
While that was good news for the cinemas, restaurants and nightclubs, the biggest sigh of relief greeted the instructions to pack away the gas masks in their original cartons “for safekeeping should they ever be needed again, God forbid.”
Another sign normalcy had returned was the resumption of broadcast weather reports. They had been suspended to deny Iraqi missile launchers information about local weather conditions.
The rabbinical authorities quickly reinstated the restrictions they had eased for the duration of the emergency. Observant Jews may no longer listen to their radios on the Sabbath.
Israelis were told to peel off the adhesive tape used to protect windows and doorframes from poison gas. But disposing of the plastic tape and sheets that provided additional protection for windows and doors was a little more complicated.
Plastic is not biodegradable and, unless recycled, can constitute a permanent ecological hazard.
Uri Marinov, director general of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, advised people to compress the tape and the sheets separately into balls as small as possible, put them in plastic bags and have their children carry them to school.
The schools will be central collection points for recycling companies, which until now have been collecting wastepaper, bottles and metal cans.
MASSIVE TRAFFIC JAMS
The ministry is trying to figure out how to dispose of an estimated 1.2 million square yards of clear plastic sheeting. What cannot be recycled will be buried at special garbage and toxic waste sites.
Meanwhile, massive traffic jams built up in Tel Aviv, where many streets were closed off for the traditional Purim parade.
Youngsters in a variety of costumes, many reflecting Gulf war themes, snake-danced along the roads, rattling their noisemakers.
Vehicular traffic was exceptionally heavy, as many Tel Aviv area residents who temporarily home.
The Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, is being kept on alert status, a reminder that the cease-fire could be fragile.
Israel also anticipates renewed intifada violence in the administered territories from a Palestinian population bitterly disappointed by the defeat of Saddam Hussein.