Why I won't travel to Israel
"It's fine," my friend Jo wrote from Tel Aviv. "So far all of the rockets fired at the city have been shot down."
Um, right. Somewhere along the line, in the intervening years between her moving away from the Gold Coast and going to live with her now husband in Israel, Jo's version of "fine" might have diverged slightly from mine.
Fine, for me, is a nice sunny day. It's not deadly rockets being shot down by a state-of-the-art defence system.
But in this definition of "fine" lay the conundrum: did I trust my friends, or did I go with my gut?
Israel was at war, and had been for week or so when I got that message on Facebook from Jo. I had been planning to visit the country as a tourist, scheduled to touch down in about 10 days' time and head first to Jerusalem, and then back to cosmopolitan Tel Aviv to check it all out, a country I'd wanted to visit for years.
News out of Israel, however, was bad. Gaza was being attacked. Rockets were being fired. Violence had broken out in the West Bank. Civilians were being killed. Air raid sirens were blaring. And I was going to go to this place for a holiday?
I took to Twitter to gauge the opinion of the masses. "At what point do I cancel my trip to Israel and go to Italy instead?"
My cousin Sam was one of the first to reply: "Think we passed that point mate. When kids started being bombed on beaches."
Fair call. But still, I was getting tired of warfare disrupting my travel plans. I'd been all set to visit Ukraine back in May, but decided to cancel that one when fighting broke out. Now it was looking like the same thing would happen in Israel.
It begs the question: how far would you be willing to go in the name of travel? What level of risk would you take? I'd always wanted to go to Israel, it's one of those places I think everyone should see with their own eyes before they make judgments - but at what point do you decide that the danger is too great?
The line sits in a different place for every traveller. I've been to plenty of supposedly dangerous countries and had an amazing, safe time. And I've always liked to think that I'm not easily scared off, that I'd take risks for the chance to see places I'm really interested in. But on Israel, I was wavering.
How do you decide? Reading the news was petrifying. Listening to Jo was calming. Government warnings are usually a decent indicator of the danger involved; however, DFAT's rating of Israel at the "exercise a high degree of caution" level seemed mystifyingly relaxed to me. That was the same level as Turkey, which apparently had "the threat of terrorism".
A vague threat. Meanwhile Israel was at war, with actual rockets being fired at it. But, you know, be cautious.
Jo in Tel Aviv was telling stories of trips to bomb shelters when the air raid sirens went off. She'd advised me not to use public buses because of the threat of terrorist attacks. But she still had foreign visitors, she said, who were perfectly safe. What to do?
On one hand, there's never a particularly good time to visit Israel. Just less bad. You feel there's always the threat of danger lurking in the background. You just have to accept the risks and go.
For me, the line wasn't drawn at the air-raid sirens, or terrorist threats, the possible war crimes in Gaza or even the Hamas rockets that were still being shot down. It was something much more simple than that: travel insurance.
A quick read through my policy revealed I wasn't covered for acts of terrorism or war, even if war hadn't officially been declared. I was also expected to take action if I knew of any circumstances that could affect my safety while travelling. Say, for instance, a war.
So should I have visited Israel, I wouldn't have been covered by insurance. That was enough for me. I cancelled one set of flights and bought another, swapping bomb shelters in Tel Aviv for a scooter adventure in Sicily.
I'll get to Israel another time. When there are fewer rockets.
What would it take for you to cancel your travel plans? Have you ever had to alter a trip because of civil unrest? Where do you draw the line?
NOTE: This is a travel column and not a forum for political discussion. Please stick to the topic of travel and assessing the risks when you're planning a trip to somewhere that might not be safe. Posts that stray from this topic will not be published.
Sydney Morning Herald