Dispatch, Israel 2: This time, the rockets are far from Haifa

JJISRAEL100x80Travel Weekly reporter Johanna Jainchill is spending a week in Israel. The second of her dispatches from the country follows.

Dispatch, Haifa: The fragile ceasefire with Hamas was cracked again on Thursday, with Hamas rockets falling into southern Israel around dawn. Israel responded with an air attack into Gaza.

The conflict seems distant and unthreatening to tourists in Israel’s largest cities. People go about their days and nights just as they always have.

When tourism officials here claim that Israel is safe for tourists despite what is going on in Gaza, they know the difference. Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, would not have claimed it was safe during the 2006 war with Lebanon. During that summertime conflict, Hezbollah launched rockets into Haifa, which lies just 20 miles from the border with Lebanon.

ISR-HAIFABAHAI"Lebanon was really dangerous. It was scary," said Lior Ben Ari of the Haifa Tourist Board. "It’s totally different than what’s going on in Gaza. We have to explain that Gaza is not in Israel and that it’s far away. That’s hard to do."

The good news, Ben Ari said, is that people have short memories. The Lebanon war happened during the peak tourist season and it took about half a year for tourism to recover.

"People forget quickly and come back," she said. "After 2006, people moved on and 2007 was a good year. … The hard part is to get people here for the first time. They are always surprised at how safe it is."

Like her counterparts in Jerusalem, Ben Ari is more concerned about a prolonged economic downturn than what is going on in Gaza. But security issues are always a concern in Israel, and anyone who makes a living based on people wanting to visit this country are well aware of it.

"We have to make things quiet here," she said. "The situation hurts everything. As someone working in tourism, you imagine what it would be like to be able to drive from Cairo to Syria.

"Maybe someday."

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