It’s August in Israel. A time of rising humidity and crowded beaches. Just about everyone is eager to take a break from the summer heat. Schools are out, and those with easy-going professions can allow themselves a vacation before the chaotic period surrounding the Jewish holidays begins.
As it often goes, Israelis wanting a quick trip to get away from the norm have two options: stay in Israel or hop on a plane. Unlike many Europeans and Western Asians, the concept of a road trip that crosses boarders no longer exists here. There were times when the notion of heading down to the Sinai peninsula for camping or cheap resorts wasn’t out of the question. Today it most certainly is. More often we’re finding roadblocks in our right to travel freely. The list of potentially dangerous countries for Israelis to travel to/in is growing.
I considered driving to Northern Israel where I’d be far from the possibility of rockets, albeit closer to our friends in Lebanon and Syria. Although central Israel has been peaceful since the ceasefire began, every accelerating motorcycle causes some level of panic, through which I subconsciously prepare the balls of my feet to move swiftly and drop whatever I am doing as quickly as possible, if only for a second. I theorized that a few days away from the threat of motorcycle-sirens would be a healthy change. A quick search led me to conclude that a trip within Israel’s “safe zone” would cost almost as much as a trip to Europe, and would be just as packed with tourists. Many of Israel’s Southern residents have been staying in the North after experiencing the traumatizing events that have come to pass in the last weeks. Who am I to interfere with their recuperation process? My mild neuroses are laughable in comparison with theirs.
I began looking into flights to Europe.
The usual affordable options were there, Cyprus, Greece, and so on. Only now, due to the season and the situation none of the typical options were actually affordable.
I was in the mood for something a little less Mediterranean anyway, so I searched for flights and accommodations in mainland Europe. I found various feasible options with only one catch: stopovers in Turkey. Turkish airline companies. Stopovers in primarily Muslim countries, or better still, flights into Ukraine.
No thanks. I choose life.
Since the common utilization of the airplane, Israelis have always been on-the-go. Israelis have been named the most traveling nation in the world numerous times, in various surveys, putting an end to the question of the “wandering Jew”. Indeed, we have restless feet, and you’ll find more Israelis strolling or backpacking across the planet than nearly any other nation in the world. I consider myself every bit the restless type. I can’t fathom how friends or family members can skip vacation for an entire year when I can hardly contain myself after a few months. I’d sacrifice 3 pairs of shoes for a journey off the beaten path. I cherish the fact that I live in the geographical border between East and West, and thus have the easiest access to Mumbai and Madrid at any given time. It’s something, perhaps, many Israelis take for granted.
Yet amidst the excitement of my upcoming travels I began to realize that our ability to tread the earth’s roads less traveled could be easily limited, if not entirely confiscated within a heartbeat. We have one airline company with hardly enough flights to appease the masses. As I skimmed through $100 tickets offered by Pegasus Airlines and $400 deals from Turkish Airlines my eyes began to water by the time I reached something reasonable. Alas, a flight with a European airline company for more than double the price, and its not like the Europeans love us all that much either.
I mulled over the prospects of stopping over in Turkey, something I had done comfortably and freely in the past. I imagined the disapproving faces of the customs officer as I handed him my passport with the word “Israel” plainly printed after “Country of Birth”. I recounted potential horror stories I had heard on the news. I remembered being scrutinized for the exact same reason in various airports in the past, and I wondered what might happen now that these people believe they have a legitimate reason to hate me. I decided this vacation would not be long enough to risk spending 1/4 of it in the airport security rooms. I passed on the attractive fares and ended up purchasing a direct flight for an extra $250.
After I sighed and booked my ticket, I thought (in retrospect) how suddenly everything has changed. Two months ago I was not afraid to go anywhere. I would have gladly taken a vacation in Turkey, somewhere I always wanted to go, and even imagined I would have some kinship with the people there- after all, there is so much that we share culturally. I would have vacationed in Paris without hesitation, jumped at the chance to visit Indonesia, did the happy dance at the notion of spending a week or two in the Norwegian fjords. All of these hypotheticals seem completely unfeasible, thanks to all of the hate that has spewed volcanically, as if from the epicenter of earth itself, within a matter of a few weeks. I could take the chance, and hope that the people who glance at my passport will only do so once before letting me pass with a blank expression or an empty smile, but my mind always meanders into doubtful “what if’s” and recollections of hateful words which have been publicly spoken in riots, political statements, media, and even from people I considered to be my friends.
Through all of our crisp coolness and don’t-give-a-damn attitudes, we’re scared. Just spend five minutes in a travel forum to find out how many Israelis have canceled their flights through Muslim countries or via Arab/Muslim airlines. We can’t play it off like we’re too tough to care anymore. Even if it’s just because we want to avoid getting stuck at the airport overnight or being interrogated because it’s uncomfortable, we can’t pretend it’s anything other than fear of not knowing exactly how much hate is circulating out there and how it might take shape.
In these last weeks the world has done the former Nazi regime proud. How successful the propaganda must have been in order to achieve — in less than a month — what Goebbels spent years of tireless effort constructing? How is the world not ashamed of itself? For haven’t we learned “darkness cannot conquer darkness, only light can do that?” I’m sorely disappointed with us, humans. That we’ve regressed to such an embarrassing state, such that what my government does defines how you treat me as an individual, never ceases to amaze and shock.