JERUSALEM (Dec. 19)
The drop in tourism to Israel caused by the Persian Gulf crisis has cost the Jewish state $750 million in lost revenue this year, Tourism Minister Gideon Patt told a world conference of Jewish National Fund leaders meeting here this week.
Patt urged the JNF professional and lay leaders to encourage their constituents to tour Israel now. But his assurance that gas masks would be available for every visitor should the need arise might have reduced the effectiveness of his message.
The big decline in tourism began after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, Patt said. But he was optimistic that “everything will change, and change fast, once the situation in the Gulf reaches some sort of solution.”
But tourism is not Israel’s only pressing problem.
On Monday, the JNF leaders heard from Housing Minister Ariel Sharon that construction of new homes is not keeping pace with the arrival rate of immigrants from the Soviet Union.
Sharon, known as the “aliyah czar,” chairs the Ministerial Absorption Committee, a panel of Cabinet minsters who deal with immigration and absorption issues.
Meeting with the JNF group at a new housing site in the Negev township of Sderot, Sharon vowed that no newcomers would be without a roof over their heads.
The Sderot site is one of a dozen where the infrastructure work was done by JNF heavy equipment teams.
Sharon spoke of 400,000 olim next year, out of an estimated 2.5 million Jews still in the Soviet Union.
“This means we shall have to build half a million homes over four to five years, which is one-third of all the homes built here since 1948.” Sharon said.
He said housing construction was 18 months behind schedule and needed an immediate infusion of $4 billion.
Pointing to the Sderot site, where 700 homes will be ready in six months, Sharon said they would only “solve the housing problems of two nights of immigrant arrivals.”