UPDATE (6:00 pm Saturday): Several roads blocked due to a forest fire near Kibbutz Gonen.
What is it about Israel?
What is it about Israel that despite being surrounded on all sides by terrorist entities such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and countries that at best maintain an icy peace . . . what is it about Israel that draws tourists by the hundreds of thousands?
According to statistics just released this past week by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, more tourists (232,000) visited Israel in February than in any other February in history. These tourists poured into Israel from all directions; remarkably 81,000 visitors came in through the Taba crossing alone (the Taba crossing is the crossing between Egypt and Israel down on the Red Sea near Eilat).
And where did most of the tourists come from?
*most of the Asian tourists came (in order) from South Korea, China, and India
*most of the African tourists came (in order) from Nigeria, South Africa, and Morocco
*most of the European tourists came (in order) from Russia, France, and the United Kingdom (with Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Italy close behind)
*most of the South American tourists came (in order) from Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia
*most of the Oceania tourists came from Australia and New Zealand
*most of the North American tourists came from the United States and Canada
According to a statement released by the Minister of Israel Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov, the five markets that the Ministry is focusing its greatest efforts on are China, India, South Korea, Russia and South America (tourists from North America and Europe currently dominate the Israel tourist scene).
Your humble servant was struck last summer and Fall with the extraordinary number of tourists that he encountered in all parts of the country from Rosh Hanikra in the north to Tel Aviv in the center to Eilat in the South. Tourists on tours, tourists on archaeological digs, tourists volunteering with the IDF, tourists working on kibbutzes (yes it still happens!), and tourists just coming into Israel for a day visit from a cruise ship or on an airplane flight–Israel is literally swarming with tourists.
And nowhere more so than in Jerusalem. On every visit to Israel’s capital this past year, your humble servant ran into Nigerian groups, Russian groups, German groups, American groups, Dutch groups, Spanish groups, Brazilian groups . . . the list goes on and on.
Why are so many tourists coming to Israel? There is no easy answer to this question–people are just drawn here for religious, political, and personal reasons. Israel is simply an experience like no other–it is a place where history is alive.
It may seem immodest to say so, but Israel is literally the center of the world.
I think that the Israel Tourism Ministry has it right with its marketing slogan:
Come To Israel To Find the Israel In You