For Alona Livneh, Saturday nights at Bar Noar had become something of a routine. The 18-year-old would spend Saturday nights at the basement apartment that doubled as a gay youth center to meet other gay friends, talk over loud music, and drink soda around the billiard table. The three rooms that make up Bar Noar operate as one the few places where gay teenagers can congregate in Tel Aviv. Saturday night provided a repetition so comforting to Livneh that the first five pops splitting the warm evening air didn't even register.
The night of August 1, Livneh was sitting outside the center, barely 10 minutes into a game of chess, when a masked man dressed all in black walked into the basement and sprayed the kids aged 14-21 years old with an M16 rifle. Livneh was startled -- she thought children were throwing snaps on the pavement nearby. Inside, the man blocked the only exit as he continued to shoot at those who were hiding under the tables. The victims were too shocked to scream, and the stereo's rhythmic thudding continued.
Suddenly, gunpowder rose into the air and the room erupted with shrieking as the shooter escaped. Livneh's cousin burst from the exit and told everyone to run. She remembers first thinking that the building was about to explode from a gas leak, but after seeing no smoke and overhearing her cousin's emergency 1-0-0 call, she tensed.
"There was a shooting at the corner of Nahmani and Ahad Ha'Am," he said.
Upon arriving on the scene, police ordered that all gay bars and clubs throughout the city be closed. Because the city's gay population is spread evenly across Tel Aviv, scores of police were called in for a citywide clampdown.
Shai Doisth, head of the Gay Tourism Project and a national board member of the Israeli LGBT association Aguda, says the city has long been a beacon for freedom in Israel where gays could safely be out and proud. Sixth months earlier, the city declared that attracting more gay-specific tourism to its Mediterranean shores was its major goal of the year.
"The gay community in Tel Aviv and all over Israel was shocked when we understood what happened," he said. "We didn't expect it to happen in our city."