TEL AVIV (Jan. 9)
The flood of foreigners leaving Israel is being balanced in part by arriving groups of American Jews, determined to display their solidarity with Israel even though it could become the target of Iraqi missiles should war break out in the Persian Gulf.
Although many of the visitors will be gone before the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face the possibility of war, others are here for relatively long stays.
They include 100 Jewish senior citizens who arrived Tuesday on a three-month B’nai B’rith volunteer program in Netanya and a 270-member mission sponsored by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. It will Join a 250-member group from Atlanta already here.
Smaller missions from the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia and the Midwest Region of the United Jewish Appeal were due to arrive by the end of the week.
Other Jewish groups with missions in progress include the Association of Reform Zionists of America, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Zionist Organization of America, according to the National Committee for Tourism to Israel in New York.
Meanwhile, the wave of departures appears to have crested. The lounge at Ben-Gurion Airport where travelers wait for outgoing flights was less crowded Wednesday than earlier in the week. And the lines at the checkout counters were shorter.
Airport officials reported 7,385 departures on Sunday and 4,736 on Monday. But those figures were lower than on the corresponding dates a year ago, when the numbers were 8,245 and 7,282 passengers respectively.
The explanation is that tourism is sharply down, so there are fewer foreigners to leave.
The rush to get out of the country seems to have been triggered less by war fears than by the decision of foreign air carriers to suspend or curtail service to Tel Aviv and other Middle East destinations because of soaring insurance rates.
Transport Minister Moshe Katsav has urged foreign governments to try to persuade their national air carriers to resume normal service to Israel. So far, he has had little success.
The number of airlines no longer flying here reached eight Wednesday, when Spain’s Iberia Airlines and Turkish Airlines announced their service would be suspended. Four other carriers have reduced the number of weekly flights.
They include British Airways, which cut its flights from six to four a week, and Dan-Air, a British charter service that suspended flights until the end of February, after reducing them last week from four to two.
COPING WITH WAR ANXIETY
Both companies cited reduced demand and higher insurance rates. Had Dan-Air continued to fly to Israel, it would have had to charge its passengers a $285 premium on each ticket to cover the insurance, an airline spokesman said.
El Al, Israel’s national airline, said it would accept any passengers stranded by another airline.
The foreign residents already out of the country include students at the U.S. Embassy-sponsored International School at Kfar Shmarayhu, north of Tel Aviv.
The school has been closed for the duration of the crisis. Its student body included the children of American and other foreign diplomats and embassy personnel stationed in Israel.
Also gone are foreign athletes who played on Israeli basketball and soccer teams. Several international tournaments scheduled to have been played in Israel have been canceled or postponed.
Meanwhile, Israel Radio and Television have been giving the public free advice from psychologists and psychiatrists on how to cope with anxiety brought on by the war fever.
Israelis are being told not to bottle up but to verbalize their fears and to try to distract themselves with work or hobbies. Said one expert: “It’s normal to be worried but not to panic.”