Relaxing at our town’s swim club recently, I found myself catching up with a friend whose husband and two sons had gone by themselves to Israel.
Normally a laid-back person, she surprised me by stating her conditions for letting the men in her family spend a couple of weeks there.
They could only fly “yashar” (straight) to Israel on El Al, the national airline with top-ranked security. No trips to the Gush, the bloc of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. And no visiting the shuk on a Friday, when, as her memory served during previous visits, bombs had been detonated.
No visiting the shuk on Friday? The busiest and most interesting time of the week to see Israelis shop for their Shabbat provisions, the hawking of produce, the smell of Marzipan rugelach? I found that condition to be a bit extreme, as I always make it a point to go to Machane Yehuda whenever I am in Jerusalem on a Friday.
And yet, who am I to judge what’s right for her family and the peace of mind she has through establishing these boundaries? I recalled having a heated argument a few months ago after the murder of Ezra Schwartz, an American yeshiva student who was killed on a school visit to the Gush. After expressing outrage on a friend’s Facebook page that Schwartz’s school would allow students to travel through the Gush Etzion Junction, which had sustained several terror attacks last fall even before his murder, I was immediately attacked by a “mutual friend” of ours. He slammed me for my naivete and my assumption that travel anywhere over the Green Line was always more dangerous than in Tel Aviv, for example.
And yet, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect an educational institution entrusted to overseeing the general safety of American — or any — students to take the appropriate measures to do so. Of course, as we have witnessed over the last few weeks and months, an attack can happen in the heart of Tel Aviv, outside of Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, and even in quiet suburbs like Ra’anana, and to suggest that people are immune from terror by not venturing over the Green Line is foolish.
Although levels of tourism have remained relatively stable, even following Operation Protective Edge and the barrage of missile attacks from Gaza that marred the summer of 2014, it involves no leap of the imagination to surmise that the tourist industry — especially from the United States — could take a hit if there were an uptick in incidents. Which is why tour operators, schools, and yeshivot should do their utmost to ensure that trip itineraries have been vetted by Israeli security experts.
But thankfully, the threat of “what ifs” is not deterring many of my American-Jewish friends from traveling there. One of my friends, recognizing the reality in this country of mass shootings such as in Orlando, plans to take his family — including his toddler son for the first time — to Israel next month. He feels that to some degree, “it’s safer in Israel,” because people are on the lookout for potential attacks and that “the odds of that at any given time are pretty low.”
Like others, he draws his own red (and green) lines. He wouldn’t take his family through sections of the Arab shuk in the Old City or through Damascus Gate; he’d be more careful walking around the walls of the Old City; and would not travel to the Gush or even on Rt. 443, the east-west highway to and from Jerusalem that winds through parts of the West Bank. While he acknowledges that — as apparent during the June 8 Tel Aviv attack — “you can’t protect yourself against a Sarona,” he still believes that he, his wife, and two-year-old can still be “a little smarter about where we go.”