After rocket attack foiled, Israeli resort still booms
The Israeli military recently intercepted a rocket over the resort city of Eliat, but sun- and sea-loving tourists are unfazed.
The New York Times
EILAT, Israel — About 100 Israelis, mostly families with young children, piled onto a glass-bottomed boat one recent morning for a two-hour cruise around the bay of this lively Red Sea resort at the southern tip of Israel. The main attractions: the underwater coral reserve, the dolphin reef and sightseeing along the border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
It is not always so peaceful here in Israel’s only real resort town, located at a strategic juncture of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Loud booms rocked the night sky above Eilat two weeks ago as the Israeli military used its Iron Dome missile-defense system to safeguard the city, intercepting a rocket that had been fired from Sinai. The small airport here closed for two hours because of terror alerts originating from Sinai, where Egyptian forces are battling Islamic militants. In northern Sinai, near the border with Gaza and Israel, militants killed 25 Egyptian police officers in an attack last week on their minibuses.
But there was no sense of menace here recently, only crowds of vacationers, mostly Israelis, who flock here every year at the height of the summer season.
“If there had been another rocket, we would have considered canceling,” said Sagit Winter, 37, who was staying with her husband and children at the Princess hotel near the border with Egypt even though her mother suggested she not go.
Eilat is “one of the symbols of summer,” she said.
The visitors mostly lazed under beach umbrellas in the 106-degree afternoon heat. Campers packed a strip of sand a few yards from the Taba border crossing. Children jumped off a jetty into the refreshing water, unfazed by the looming presence of a steely gray navy patrol boat. Across the road a soldier guarded a steep path leading to a new border fence that Israel is hurrying to complete, with forces here on high alert for more rocket attacks or infiltrations.
Yet Israelis said they had come here to switch off, by now inured to possible dangers and displaying the kind of stoicism that Israeli leaders praise as “national resilience.” Others would call it a numbness.
“A rocket fell by our house in Rishon LeZion,” said Anat Cohen, 34, a vacationer who works at a high-tech company, referring to a rocket fired by Palestinians from Gaza during an Israeli offensive there last November. “So what, should we not go away anywhere?” she said, as she posed for a family photograph on the deck of the boat with her husband and three children.
“We thought about it, there’s no reason to deny it, but we are here anyway,” said Ori Harel, 27, a software developer from Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv. “If you rule out every place that has had rockets,” he said, “you’d end up staying at home.”
The economy of Eilat, which has about 60,000 permanent residents, is highly dependent on tourism. When the hotels are full the city’s population nearly doubles, according to city officials. The other main source of income is a commercial port mainly used for trading with the Far East, which together with the naval base takes up a chunk of the resort’s limited coastline and is something of an eyesore.
In a survey on internal tourism commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism in 2012, many Israelis complained that Eilat was hot, crowded and expensive. But it was also the first holiday destination that came to mind for many of those surveyed, who said it was far enough away to almost give the feeling of being abroad. According to the ministry’s statistics, almost three-quarters of Israel’s population of 8 million have taken at least one vacation in Israel per year.
After this month’s rocket interception, which caused only momentary panic in the resort, two international artists canceled their participation in Eilat’s annual Red Sea Jazz Festival that took place over the last few days. At a news conference, the festival’s artistic director, Dubi Lenz, called one of them “chicken.”
Tzigi Proper of the Eilat Hotel Association said there had been “two or three” cancellations after the rocket was intercepted here. But she said that Eilat was almost fully booked for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year that falls in early September, with hotel occupancy at 98 percent.
On Eilat’s North Beach, lined by luxury hotels, some French tourists were soaking up the sun.
“You know the risks before you come here,” said Sara Sitruk, 23, who works in marketing in Paris and was sporting a bright orange bikini. “I have been coming here every summer for the last 10 years,” she added. “We try to have an Israeli mentality.”