Israelis determined to keep on traveling

Israelis determined to keep on traveling

Despite the bombing in Bulgaria, holidaymakers say they won't let terror force them to stay at home

Israelis move through the departure terminal at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv Thursday, July 19, 2012.  (photo credit:AP/Dan Balilty)
Israelis move through the departure terminal at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv Thursday, July 19, 2012. (photo credit:AP/Dan Balilty)

JERUSALEM (AP) — This week’s suicide bombing in Bulgaria, the latest in a string of attacks around the world, has made it clear that being an Israeli traveler can be risky business. But Israel’s famously globe-trotting people show no signs of curbing their wanderlust, even if the globe seems to offer a shrinking number of safe destinations for them.

Living in a tiny country, and long accustomed to dealing with terrorism, Israelis have always been quick to return to their routines following tragedies and disaster. The Bulgaria bombing appeared to be no exception. At Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday, travelers were jittery, but it was largely business as usual: Long lines of people were checking in for flights at the height of the summer vacation season.

“We are a people with a history of thousands of years, but a memory of only one day,” said Yossi Fatael, managing director of the Israeli travel agents’ association.

In recent months, Israeli travelers have been targeted in India, Thailand, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and Kenya. Wednesday’s suicide bombing on a bus in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas, in which five Israelis were killed, was the first to have fatalities. Israeli officials have blamed arch-enemy Iran, and Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, in the attacks.

Fatael said such attacks do little to alter Israelis’ plans over the long run. While visits to targeted destinations may cool for a brief period, business usually resumes within a matter of days, he said. On Thursday, four plane-loads of tourists flew to Burgas, the same as any other day.

“Terrorism has become a world problem, not just a problem for Israelis,” he said. “The yearly vacation is something that not many will allow themselves to skip. We believe that things will be back to normal very quickly.”

Fatael said that about 20 percent of passengers bound for Burgas on Thursday canceled their trips and chose alternative destinations, though he said he expected business to return to normal levels by early next week.

Still, there are signs that the recurring attacks have begun to affect Israeli behavior.

Tour operators also say Israeli tourism has largely dried up to once-popular destinations in nearby Turkey and the neighboring Sinai peninsula in Egypt. Israeli relations with Turkey, a onetime ally, have greatly cooled in recent years as the Turkish government moved closer to the Muslim world. The Sinai, meanwhile, has become an active base for al-Qaeda militants and staging ground for militant attacks on Israel.

The Israeli prime minister’s office also maintains a travel warning for a long list of countries. To be fair, most are trouble spots unlikely to attract Western visitors, much less Israelis, such as Afghanistan, Chechnya and Pakistan.

In a world of shrinking possibilities, Israeli tourists have turned to alternative destinations seen as safer and more welcoming. Greece is currently the No. 1 vacation spot, Fatael said.

For some, the list of safe spots seems to be shrinking.

Shaked Czaczkes, 19, said she was “not at all” worried about a trip with her family to Germany’s Black Forest next month. But she said she would think twice about visiting places with large concentrations of Israelis.

“It’s not a major Israeli tourist destination,” she said. “It’s not like the resorts on the beaches of Greece and Spain where there is a high concentration of Israelis. I wouldn’t go near them.”

Israelis’ love for travel is legendary, a product perhaps of a melting pot society built on waves of immigration, a high-pressure lifestyle in a country surrounded by hostile neighbors and a location near destinations in Europe, Africa and Asia. Israeli backpackers, many of them recently discharged soldiers looking for a break after years of compulsory military service, seem to be spotted at virtually every spot on Earth.

Israel also has a long experience with terror attacks on its civilians, ranging from plane hijackings and airport attacks in the 1970s and 1980s to attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and plane in Mombasa, Kenya in 2002. Closer to home, more than 1,000 Israelis were killed in suicide bombings and shooting attacks on buses, restaurants and other targets during the Second Palestinian Uprising a decade ago. Thousands of Palestinian civilians were also killed in the fighting.

This history has given Israel a knack for rebounding quickly. During the Palestinian uprising, bus stops were cleaned up and reopened within hours of deadly attacks. Likewise, Israeli leaders urged their citizens to continue with their travels, while maintaining caution.

“We must not let our lives come to a stop. That’s exactly the object of Hezbollah and their Iranian backers,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a radio interview.

Suzy Ezra, a 57-year-old Israeli, prepared to board a flight to Italy on Thursday with her husband and brother-in-law. She said they were all concerned by the Bulgarian attack but would not let it stop them.

“Israelis are very strong people. We are sorry for every life lost, but we carry on,” she said.


Dan Balilty contributed to this report from Ben Gurion International Airport.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

read more: