Abandoned Israel needs tourists, economic support

I can use only one word to articulate the world's attitude toward Israel since Sept. 29, 2000, when the latest Israeli-Palestinian intifada began.


Not emotional abandonment. Emotionally, Israel has never had more support, especially since Sept. 11.

Physical abandonment. Simply put, I am talking about the lack of physical presence, in Israel, of anyone other than Israelis — and foreign journalists.

There is barely a single tourist visiting Israel these days and the desolation is as shocking as it is depressing.

Empty restaurants, silent streets, deserted tourist sites, even barren parking lots. I fear that the quintessential sabra, the famous Israeli, prickly on the outside while soft and sweet on the inside, is about to shrivel. The iron psyche and steadfast self-assuredness that defined Israel and Israelis for 53 years may be teetering.

Israeli morale is faltering. Malaise is in the air.

Let me immediately dispel a misconception. This malaise, this real and perceived abandonment, is by no means the result of a failed peace process, the byproduct of the current security situation or the increased number of suicide and terrorist attacks. It is because of abandonment.

Think of a father who leaves his family. In his pocket is a family picture. The father takes out the picture and looks at it, longingly, every day. But he doesn't return home.

In the past, Israel has withstood economic and security obstacles with apparent ease. Previous crises would roll off the backs of Israelis. This time it's different.

Israelis don't want donations, they want economic support. They need economic support. Donations go to charitable institutions and governmental programs. Israelis aren't looking for handouts. They want to earn honest livings, the hard-working way.

The equation is simple: Revive the economy and you revive the spirit.

If the Israeli economy was supported by friends and by family worldwide, the spirits of Israelis would soar. Israelis need not only to see support, they need to feel it. They long for the days of bustling airports, overbooked hotels, long lines outside restaurants. They need people shopping, eating, sleeping and touring throughout the country. They need to return to the days when tourism was an industry, not a faraway dream.

Since the beginning of the intifada, I have traveled to various cities throughout the United States and Europe. Time and again I am struck by the verbal support lent to Israel. And then I return to the empty streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the deserted mountaintop of Masada, the empty hills of the Galilee and am struck by the desolate landscape that Israel has become, by the physical abandonment of Israel at the hands of the world.

Every constituency has stopped visiting.

Jews are not coming. Kids are not coming. Summer programs are not coming. Backpackers and trekkers are not coming. Even Christian groups, the last holdout among tourists to Israel, have stopped coming. People are just not coming.

When you do come back, don't expect to find your favorite restaurant still open, your favorite store still selling, your favorite cab driver still driving. And there's more.

Most people are under a miscomprehension. They think the only industries suffering are tourism and hotels. How wrong they are. The trickle-down affects almost everyone. During the past few months, thousands of businesses have closed their doors, all kinds of businesses have gone bankrupt.

What does a worker in the Coca-Cola plant, for example, have to do with tourists? Well, who do you think drinks most of the Diet Coke sold in Israel? The truckers, the packers, the manufacturers who provide the plastic for the bottles and the aluminum for the cans are all hurt by the drastic drop in business.

These workers are not in the tourist industry. But nonetheless, everyone is affected.

Builders, painters, shoe repairers and tailors. Everyone. It's simple; when there is more money around, there is more for everyone. When there isn't, the litany goes on.

If there is any lesson to be learned from Sept. 11, it is that anything can happen anywhere. Danger and uncertainly and crazed ideologues are everywhere. No matter where you live or travel, we are all at risk of being targets of terror.

At least in Israel, you know why it is happening.

Israel needs its friends and its family.