Should You Reschedule?
I have a number of clients scheduled over the coming summer months, starting as early as Sunday next week. Given the constant flow of scary sounding stuff going on over here, it’s not unreasonable to ask if, maybe, it would be a good idea to cancel your trip. After all, you can always reschedule, right?
Weighing Different Types of Risk
Clear, Known, Direct Risks
When it comes to going out for a long hike in the summer heat, or in a place in danger of flooding when rain is called for, or driving to Hebron when there are riots going on along the road, or any number of other specific threats, I’m the first to throw in the towel. These are real risks, with a high probability of effecting any person who dares to ignore them.
Statistical, Avoidable Risks
However, there is another kind of threat. This is the kind of threat which is less likely to threaten any particular person. The current round of fighting with Gaza is a perfect example. There are multiple layers of protection that are, or can, encircle you. The first layer of protection is that the threat is regional. Our current round of rockets courtesy of Hamas in Gaza as an example, is happening only in the South of Israel, in an area where most tourists don’t go at all, or if they do it’s only for a day or two which can easily be rearranged if necessary. So you just stay away from the place that is dangerous.
Second, even if you find yourself in the area that is ‘hot’ when a rocket is launched, your chances of it hitting you are very close to zero. The vast majority of rockets shot at urban centers are destroyed by the Iron Dome missile defense system, and the rest land in open areas. In the last 24 hours nearly 200 projectiles have been launched at what we call the ‘Gaza Envelope’ communities, with only four lightly injured Israelis, three of whom are soldiers. That in an area with as many as a million people living in it. I’m sure there were more and worse injuries in the ‘Gaza Envelope’ from car accidents yesterday than from rockets or mortars from Gaza. I know this sort of statistical thinking doesn’t comfort a lot of people. Missiles are still scarier than driving on the highway, even though driving may be, objectively, more dangerous. You can’t force yourself not to be afraid, but you can decide that being brave is not irresponsible or foolhardy.
Third, you can respond like Israelis. If you do happen to find yourself in Sderot and a ‘Red Alert’ siren goes off, even with the small chance of a rocket landing nearby, you can follow everybody else to the nearest shelter or reinforced building where you will be safe. If you remain situationally aware, something one needs to do where safety is concerned everywhere at all times, you can respond intelligently to a threat and minimize the danger you face.
That third option freaks you out? Don’t worry. I’ll be sure to keep you far away from the Gaza border so that only the first point, ‘stay away,’ will be relevant.
But What if a War Breaks Out?
Of course, who knows when little spats along a border will break out into a nationwide conflict? Perhaps Hamas will decide to go for broke and shoot missiles as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? Perhaps Hizbullah will join in and rain rockets on the north of the country? Perhaps Iran will launch cross border raids from Syria triggering an Israeli-Syrian-Iranian regional war?
This is where we have to get a bit philosophical. A month ago everybody was afraid a war was about to break out along our border with Syria in the Golan, Israel’s far northern tip. Our armed forces, and a seeming desire to avoid a full scale war on both sides, seem to have pushed off that possibility for now. Last night I went to bed wondering if there would be a war this morning. There could have been, but now it seems there won’t be. And in the meantime life goes on as usual here.
If one of these ‘border conflicts’ were to turn into a full scale war, you would potentially be at risk anywhere in the country. But you know what? You should just come anyway. Here are the reasons why.
Nobody Knows the Future
No matter what the talking heads and the editorial pages say, nobody can tell the future. I’ve been predicting the next regional war every year since the conflict with Gaza in 2014. It will happen some day, I’m sure. And if you wait for a time when everything is for sure, you should just cross Israel off your travel map. You should also cross off many of the great cities of Europe who have struggled with terrorism in recent years, and most of the Middle East, and North Africa, and much of Central Asia, and schools in the US where random shootings keep happening. Need I go on?
Not “As Seen on TV”
In Israeli Hebrew there is a common saying which translates more-or-less as, “You can’t see from there what you can see from here.” The over-saturation of news many of us live in can lead to a lot of false impressions. 24 hour cable news, hourly radio broadcasts, minute by minute tweets and facebook posts and updates and e-mails from relatives, etc., can give you the impression that the world is coming to an end. But the truth is much more boring. In most of the country, if you’re not glued to the news, your life is completely unaffected by any of the events on the news over the last several months. Even in Sderot, the Israeli city closest to the Gaza border and the most likely target of any Hamas rocket, kids still got on buses and went to school today. How can that be?
Because in Israel We Are Prepared
As opposed to London, or Paris, or New York, Israelis know what to do when bad stuff goes down in our neighborhood. When a terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, he is ‘neutralized’ in seconds, often by a civilian with military training (we have near-universal conscription), and rarely more than one or perhaps two victims will be injured. If someone launches a rocket at us? Every building built in Israel in the last three decades has a built in ‘safe room,’ you can go into and be protected. Public spaces like malls and office buildings have reinforced safe spaces able to hold thousands at a time in some cases. We know what to do. We know how to stay safe, and our country has invested tremendous amounts of money, technology, and elbow grease to develop the systems necessary to do so. Instead of the dazed look of New Yorkers wandering the streets on 9-11, or waiting in the towers not knowing what to do, if airplanes were crashing into downtown Tel Aviv, people would react immediately and head for safety in nearby shelters.
The World Holds our Greatest Strength Against Us
In fact, Israel is so effective at preventing loss of life on our side that we are constantly berated by international bodies for the ‘disproportionate force’ we use in response to attacks by our enemies. In the war between Israel and Gaza in 2014, over 2,000 people died in Gaza, including 66 of our brave soldiers, and only 5 in Israel. FIVE. This is the kind of disproportionality we want. This is the difference between a modern state which uses its military might to protect its citizens, and a terrorist state which uses their citizens to protect their ‘military.’ Even in the worst case scenario, all out war, you are still statistically safer in Israel in wartime than at peace time in many metropolitan areas in the US.
It All Comes Down to This
So what’s the upshot? I don’t know the future and neither do you. But I can tell you what is most likely to happen if you come anyway. Either you will have a great time touring the country and nothing will happen, or in the very worst case scenario you will have a bit of a scare and get a great story out of it, all while showing your support for Israel.
So far I’ve stayed away from ideological reasons because I wanted to make it clear that safety is more of an imagined issue, or one that can be easily managed, rather than something that should put the kibosh on your travel plans. But I also want to make an argument to your heart. And that argument goes something like this: After 2,000 years of exile a small people has returned to our ancestral, tribal lands in the Middle East. A mere three years after the ashes of Auschwitz, we fought off multiple invading armies and established a new-old state on a tiny sliver of land along the Mediterranean coast. And though our enemies have never stopped trying to destroy us we have built a flourishing country, with a strong economy, one of the world’s most powerful armies, one of the longest lifespans of people anywhere on Earth, a country that is hopeful and runs joyfully to the future, where people have lots of kids and look forward to a better tomorrow. Come to Israel to support that, to be part of our story, and to stand in solidarity on the right side of history.