Now is the time to visit Israel

Let’s be honest, we’re all worried. It seems like since the summer we have been in a continuous cycle of violence and terror, with the occasional lull every couple of months that allows us to catch our breath and think for a minute that everything is normal.

I cannot lie to you and tell you that things are normal now that the war is over, or now that concrete barriers have been placed at the various stations of the light rail trains in Jerusalem.

When people live in a hyper-vigilant state that includes abstaining from using smart phones in public spaces or sleeping on buses for fear of unsuspected attacks, or when brutal massacres rock sanctuaries before most people have had their first cup of coffee, things are not normal. And caution becomes key.

But I will say this:

Now is the time to come to visit Israel.

As a tour guide, I have felt the effects of the summer’s war on the multi-billion dollar tourism industry that makes up so much of Israel’s economy.

It’s not just the matter of one month’s lost paycheck.  It is the domino effect that sets back reservations by months. Multiple travel agencies have told me that they have had few new reservations since the war. As one executive put it:

“Israel just isn’t high up on people’s list of places to see right now.”

Every cancelled tour is more than just a loss of income for agencies, hotels, and guides like me. Every time somebody reads the paper and decides to put their plans on hold for better political weather in the Holy Land, a panicked cry travels throughout the world, growing progressively louder with the rip of each reservation-slip.

“Stay away from Israel!”

Every seat on the plane that is not filled, every hotel room that remains unoccupied, every museum that is not visited due to fear pushes Israel deeper into the lepers’ camp.

If you care about Israel’s economy and its image then you must come and visit.

But even more so, you must come and visit  if you want to stand up to terrorism.

“Terrorism” as defined by Webster’s dictionary is:

 The use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal

Palestinian terrorists are getting exactly what they wanted when any part of Israel’s image is viewed in a negative light, when the country’s economy is compromised, and when ageneral feeling of dread keeps people from doing their daily routines.

Said plainly, if attacks have succeeded in frightening you to the point where you cannot bring yourself to carry on with your original plans to visit Israel- this is a victory for terror.  But if you come despite the fear – or maybe even because of the fear- then you send a clear message to terrorists that they have failed, that their brutal crimes are not a valid means of obtaining their goal.

The Kfar Etzion Field School has realized this, and will be holding free tours in Jerusalem this Friday so that they may (in their words) “fight [back] not with sticks but by spreading the light.”

I applaud their effort, as well as that of Birthright organizers and participants who continued to explore Israel and its complexities over the summer (despite daily changes to the schedule); the various Christian groups who arrived for the Feast of the Tabernacles last month and continue to visit; and trips like that of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy of Silver Spring, Maryland, which I will have the privilege of guiding for ten days come Thursday.

Now is the time to visit Israel- to reaffirm its right to exist and to condemn terror with your every step and bite of falafel.

We’re waiting to see you here soon.

About the Author
Yoni Zierler moved to Israel in 2004, for his last year of high-school, and officially made aliyah a couple of years later. He is a licensed Israeli tour guide, who loves connecting others to the beauty and history of the land. Yoni is a proud alumnus of the StandWithUs fellowship, who loves reading, music, and playing harmonica in his spare time.
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