Travel Weekly editor at large Nadine Godwin is touring Israel
for a first-hand look at a nation whose tourism industry has
suffered for nearly a year as a result of an extended siege of
Palestinian-Israeli violence. Her second report follows:
EILAT, Israel -- I arrived in this resort city at the southern
end of Israel and was greeted by one of my hosts at the Dan Hotel
as follows: "Welcome to the end of the world. This really is like
another country in a country."
Indeed, after a day driving across a desert, stopping to look at
attractions such as the ruins left by the Nabateans at Avdat, it
did seem I had left the familiar world behind by the time we pulled
into this small town which is devoted to two things: shipping and
Eilat reminded me a bit of Las Vegas, with modern, exotic -- and
gigantic -- hotels lining a single roadway. Although I would be
hard pressed to guess which desert destination is hotter, there are
Eilat is Vegas with a lot more water -- most rooms in my hotel
overlook the Red Sea, plus three other countries (Egypt, Jordan and
Also, gambling is illegal in the hotels so gaming fans use any
of a handful of boats that sail into the middle of the Red Sea for
an afternoon or evening of play.
Even if Israel's tourism were not way down (by about 50%)
because of Palestinian-Israeli violence, I would not have expected
to see many Americans, if any, today.
While Europeans come by charter to this beach playground for a
full week at a time, Americans are more likely to drop in for a few
days as part of a longer program of sightseeing elsewhere.
It would be a long way to travel for beaches only, but there are
other options, including day trips to Petra in Jordan, traveling
via Aqaba, the Jordanian city that virtually abuts Eilat.
My guide said that, despite any inclination Jordanians might
have to side with the Palestinians in their quarrel with Israel,
such trips have not been interrupted.
In addition, she said, she can just as readily hand a tourist
over to Jordanian guides on the Allenby Bridge near Jerusalem in
these days as she could in the past; she can pick up clients
traveling in the opposite direction, as well.
Not all options have survived as readily, though, during the
current Mideast crisis. My itinerary will take me from Eilat back
north and, after visiting tourist attractions along the way, I will
wind up in Jerusalem.
Although Bethlehem is a short distance, and an obvious side
trip, from the Israeli capital, it is not on my itinerary and is
not on many another to urist's itinerary these days because it is
under Palestinian Authority control.
If my trip had been to the north, I could have visited Nazareth,
but I would not have gone to Jericho either because it, too, is
under Palestinian control. Tourists can visit these points but it
is harder these days to do so.
My guide said "it is forbidden" for her to take visitors to
those destinations because the Israeli government forbids Israelis
to enter territories controled by the Palestinian Authority.
The issue, however, is not the safety of the foreign visitors.
Therefore, at the crossing point between Israeli-controlled
territory and that controled by Palestinians, an Israeli tour
operator might arrange for a Palestinian bus and guide to pick up
groups that want to visit Bethlehem.
Or, my guide said tourists could go to the Arab Quarter of
Jerusalem and hire a Palestinian driver to take them to Bethlehem,
but she would not recommend that.
Israel on-site: A telling tour of Tel-Aviv