By Brian Gordon, a Conservative councillor in Barnet
I recently returned from a most enjoyable three week holiday in Israel. I stayed, together with my wife and family, in many different parts of the country, including towns towards the south where sirens were activated from time to time, warning of rocket fire from Gaza, and the need to take refuge in underground shelters.
Thank God we had an incident-free visit and returned from Israel safe and sound.
So, as far as I am aware, so did thousands of other visitors who chose to make Israel their holiday destination, notwithstanding the high security alert throughout the country.
The one thing that struck me above all, as on previous occasions I have visited Israel during times of ‘crisis’ was the normality of life that continued to prevail.
Of course there was an element of tension and people were riveted to the news.
But in their daily lives, most Israelis have learned to be stoical, resilient and to demonstrate a steely resolve not to buckle under the strain.
With the exception of towns very close to the Gaza border, such as Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod, where life was exceedingly tough, streets and shopping centres were bustling with activity, buses, trains and traffic were as busy as usual.
Shuls were filled to capacity, children were returning in droves to schools, teenagers to yeshivas and university.
Weddings, barmitzvahs and other simchas were being celebrated as ever before, while beaches and hotels – with somewhat depleted numbers – were in full swing.
Most of the time it was difficult to believe one was in a country that was technically a war zone.
Israelis are used to coping with war or potential war and the constant threat of terrorism.
Israeli society has endured four major wars with neighbouring Arab countries, two Lebanon conflicts, the Gulf War Scuds, two intifadas and two Gaza campaigns.
People are determined not to allow the ongoing problems to disrupt their daily lives more than absolutely necessary.
The message I received from the many Israelis to whom I spoke was fairly consistent.
People from abroad – especially Jews – should continue touring and holiday making in Israel without fear.
They should not be put off by the selectively negative image portrayed by biased politicians and the mischievous media, who are only interested in portraying bad news and undermining Israel as the positive and open society it really is.
What of the statistical reality of the danger?
Without wishing to sound complacent, the fact is that 99 percent of the Israeli casualties that have occurred throughout Operation Protective Edge (every one of which was a tragedy) were of soldiers in active combat in Gaza.
At the height of the hostilities, scores of rockets were raining down on Israel on a daily basis.
Although there is currently a flimsy ceasefire in operation the Hamas terrorists could easily resume their evil attacks at any time.
Yet among Israeli civilians, due to the IDF’s sustained military operations, the effectiveness of the Iron Dome, and most importantly of all, God’s miraculous protection, fatalities and even injuries barely reached double figures.
The likelihood of a visiting tourist being physically harmed by rocket fire from Gaza – even at the height of the conflict – was probably lower than that of someone in the UK being the victim of a road accident, a stabbing or shooting attack, a mugging or racist assault on the streets of London.
Due to the Gaza conflict a considerable number of people from abroad consciously avoided holiday making in Israel, even cancelling their bookings out of fear for their safety.
Although I understand where such people were coming from, I believe their decision to avoid Israel was unnecessary and ill-informed.
They were effectively deserting Israel in her hour of need, damaging Israel’s economy and awarding a psychological victory to Hamas.
Of course, from a religious perspective, one is not allowed to put oneself in a deliberate situation of danger.
However, I hope I have illustrated that by visiting Israel even during a war situation one really is not doing this.
On the contrary, one is surely taking a firm and peaceful stance against terrorism and Arab aggression.
One is demonstrating the faith, solidarity and unity that are the bedrock of Jewish survival.