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Israelis Are Currently Not Part of the World

Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport is empty, foreign airlines aren’t flying here, and Israelis are only dreaming about a vacation

Every year in late December or early January, Haaretz publishes a list of destinations worth traveling to in the coming year. It’s the song of hope of all frequent travelers. This year there won’t be such a list.

Even the greatest optimists can’t consider planning a trip at the moment. I hope that we’ll travel in 2024, but a search for the most suitable destinations for the coming year for a passenger taking off from Israel isn’t possible at the moment. Even sworn travel buffs are now checking the location of the most recent missile landings in Kibbutz Manara rather than the date of scheduled landings in Manali.

There’s a sense that there’s no point in preparing such a list because we, Israelis, aren’t players in that fun game called “a trip abroad.” I hope that we’ll go back to playing it, that we’ll enjoy an interesting trip – after all, we were once outstanding players in the premier league, but at the moment we aren’t part of the world.

A glance around reveals that very few people are traveling now. The main reason is that people aren’t in the mood. The terrible depression that descended on us in early October hasn’t dissipated. Discussions about the continued fighting in the south and the chance of an all-out war in the north are driving the next trip abroad even further away for most of us. We’ve become addicted to the appearance of Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari.

The Israel Airports Authority conducted a survey in early December among a representative sample of Israelis. Two thirds of those polled replied that they intend to fly within a year after the end of the war. About half replied that they’ll fly within half a year after the end of the war. At the moment this date looks very distant.

To the question ‘What’s the pastime you miss most during the period of fighting?” about a quarter of those polled replied: flying abroad. Twenty percent responded that what they miss most is a vacation in a hotel. That sounds encouraging, since most people think that the future is rosy and that trips abroad will soon be part of our lives again. The problem is that then one is tempted to check out the present flight schedule of Ben-Gurion Airport – and that reveals a very somber reality.

In recent days about 100 flights a day took off from Ben-Gurion Airport. Ordinarily, the number would be about 500 flights a day. Most of the foreign airlines aren’t flying to Israel now. We’re not on their map. The three Israeli airlines – El Al, Israir and Arkia – are flying to a limited selection of destinations. About 20,000 passengers passed through the airport on each of the last few days. Compare that with the approximately 100,000 passengers that pass through on a busy day in the summer season. The figures are a clear indication that this isn’t just a feeling. The simple reality is that we’ve fallen off the face of the earth. We aren’t part of the world. Isolated, speaking a violent language, unpopular, unwanted.

An honest look in the mirror leads to the conclusion that we’re a small nation, which has been fighting a cruel war for about three months in a bleeding region in the eastern Mediterranean. In the meantime, people all over the world are doing other things. They’re visiting the colorful Christmas markets, traveling to ski on the slopes of the snow-covered mountains, listening to music in nightclubs, immersing in hot baths and planning to go to the February carnival. Here we’re waiting anxiously for the next announcement by the IDF spokesman.

On last year’s list I recommended traveling to Tokyo and Cairo, Sicily and Copenhagen. I dreamed about a night train to Istanbul and the Maharajas’ Express in India. What we can long for now is the blossoming of the anemones in the ravines of Be’eri. A short visit to Kibbutz Zikim aroused pleasant memories for me of green meadows and gamboling gazelles. For my friends from the kibbutz it aroused frightening memories of early October.

When they try to sleep on the kibbutz occasionally they carefully lock the doors and windows. They never did that before. A friend from Zikim told me: “I really want to travel abroad a little, but only when I know that I have a home to return to.” That’s true of the entire country. We all want to travel knowing that we have a home to return to.

This week I recalled Ray Bradbury’s classic book “The Martian Chronicles.” The book that was written over 70 years ago tells about the ordinary taxpayer Pritchard, who begs to be allowed to fly to Mars. He says anyone with a brain in his head wants to leave Earth. Among other things, he shouts at the soldiers on guard that he wants to “get away from wars and censorship and statism and conscription and government control of this and that, of art and science! Take Earth for yourselves.” The soldiers mock him. When he shouts “Don’t leave me here on this terrible world,” they arrest him.

At the moment, the television screen shows the familiar notice : “The announcement of the IDF spokesman follows immediately.”

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