The Jerusalem Post front Page on Sunday March 20th had the following headline: “Israelis among five dead in Istanbul suicide bombing. Netanyahu says no indication that terrorist targeted Israelis.”
Whilst I understand that our Prime Minister wished to calm the fears of his citizens, I could not fathom why he made such a declaration. It is not his style to look at issues simplistically. One day later, headlines on the “Times of Israel” web newspaper read “Istanbul bomber said to have trailed Israelis from hotel.” From the moment of the announcement that many Israelis were injured, there was little doubt in my mind that they must have been the target. The odds against it being a random attack were massive. How our P.M. could have thought otherwise, is a mystery.
The potential for terrorists to track Israeli tour group activity is endless; Information can come from hotel staff, from restaurant employees preparing for the large group, from tour bus employees and from those working with the local tour guides. At every turn during International travel, the positioning of a large enclave of Israelis is known by members of the local populous. It only requires one individual with terrorist leanings to share his knowledge, and every Israeli tourist is at risk.
Israeli tours of any description, in any location, are potential targets for terrorists. The reasons are clear:
- The possibility of killing a large group of vacationing Isrelis at one time, is indeed a powerful goal.
- The actual murder and maiming of Israeli innocents abroad is a feather in the cap of whichever Islamic Fundamentalist organization is behind the deed.
- The probability of damaging the Israeli tour business is 100%.
- The effect on the Israeli economy in general is substantial.
- The ability to garner information ahead of time and create a plan of attack gives the individual or his group a great chance of success,
For years, pleas have been made to the Israeli public to vacation in safe locations. The truth is, that the location is only a portion of the problem. An Israeli is London, or Paris or Viet Nam is probably not at risk. Thirty Israelis going to the same place together, under one banner, in one bus, at one hotel is a very different issue. Israeli tour companies use the same hotels time and time again as they negotiate favorable rates and relationships. The more they repeat the same behavior the higher the risk to the participants.
Years ago, a friend of mine, Publisher Phil Blazer of Israel Today Newspaper and television and Blazer Media Group in Los Angeles, prepared a wonderful international event with the re-launch of the film Exodus. I was working with him on the UK and Israel side of the project. We realized that both the Leon Uris novel “Exodus” which was published in 1958, and the subsequent film “Exodus”, which was released two years later, had been primarily responsible for creating a positive image and understanding of the creation of the Jewish State. Their impact resulted in much of the pride which Jewish youth garnered from Israel’s birth and development. For those in later generations who missed it, there began to be a dis-connect with the Jewish State. We see it today on college campuses, and we see the positive efforts of organizations such as Birthright, and Stand With Us, working to reverse this trend.
Part of Blazer’s program for the re-launch, was the re-enactment of the journey of the Exodus ship which attempted to bring Jews from Cypress to Israel under the leadership of Commander Yossi Harel (Of blessed memory) during the British Mandate of Palestine, Mr. Harel was to be the honoree at a massive event to be held in Israel upon the conclusion of the journey’s re-enactment. Then the Intifada began.
As an advisor to the project I felt compelled to warn that the plan to bring hundreds of Israeli school children on the sailing portion of the journey was potentially a tremendous risk. Even though meetings were being held with Israeli security providers, what might happen if terrorists were to get their hands on the plans? Could we guarantee that every employee of the shipping line could be vetted properly? Could we possible know who their friends and political associations might incude? Were we in a position to be proof- positive that underwater divers could not get below the ship, to plant a bomb? We realized that in case of a tragedy, we could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of young Israeli children. It would have turned a commemoration into a historical disaster. Personally, I was not prepared to support going forth with the plan. Even after substantial financial commitment to the sailing, Mr. Blazer agreed that it was not a risk he was willing to take. The journey by sea was cancelled.
Times have not improved. If anything, they have become more complex and our enemies have multiplied. It is time to reassess not only the risks of group travel, but of the locations we select. Turkey has been an angry adversary for many years. Whilst they love the lucrative cash flow of tourists, even when they come from Israel, Turkey is clearly not prepared to provide sufficient security to ensure the safety of Israeli visitors. My mother-in-law used to say: “What is cheap, is dear.” A bargain tour-group vacation may at the end of the day, be a massive mistake.
Recent attacks at the Brussels airport and underground station have further complicated international travel.
Israelis love to explore other countries and enjoy other cultures. . Perhaps it is because our country is so tiny and the diverse world beckons to us. It is now critical that we all re-assess the destinations we select and the risk factors involved in our mode of travel. This is becoming increasingly complex for us all.