Shattered peace on a quiet day in October

Richard Turen

It was going to be a special week. My wife had just left with a “ladies only” group of like-minded health fanatics to dive into spa life in the Berkshires. I was looking forward to spending some downtime with my daughter and the office dogs. The four of us were all set to enjoy new episodes of “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race,” and we were anxious to have dinner at the new Chinese restaurant that had opened in town. I needed the downtime.

Then my watch started vibrating. It was the New York Times. My phone started a symphony of notifications. Early in the morning of Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists crossed the border along the Gaza Strip to kill 30 policemen, mainly in the village of Sderot.

By the afternoon, Israeli officials announced that the death count had already exceeded 700. As I write this, on Oct. 13, Israel has declared war, and there are reports that troops from Lebanon may have breached the border to join the fight. 

I have two televisions on at the moment — one tuned, always in times of crisis, to the BBC News channel. 

Last year, 858,000 tourists from the U.S. visited Israel. This year, the figure was headed higher. Our first task was to create a list of those clients in Israel and those en route. Everyone needed to be contacted.

Almost a dozen of my clients were on cruise ships headed to the Holy Land. Cruise schedules were going to be changed — but how? Where would each cruise end? How would the air home be arranged? Would hotels be provided for guests unable to fly out on the same day. And what about the 30% to 40% of guests who had post-cruise arrangements paid for in Israel.

Then we looked at tours and on-the-fly arrangements to move 40 or so people to an improvised location.

We had to contact every client personally. They had questions. We had to get back to them, not by old-fashioned thumb-typing — by caring human voice. 

The Russians have launched vicious attacks on the second-largest country in Europe. Yet, despite the war in Ukraine, we have trouble finding available space on riverboats plying the Danube just a few hundred miles away from Kiev. We’ve always been able to compartmentalize European conflicts.

But the Middle East is different; it is spoken of as an entity unto itself. You either want to go there or you wish to avoid it. So the next steps for the travel advisor are the phone calls and the emails from guests traveling to Egypt and Jordan as well as destinations in North Africa like Morocco. 

We start to hear from those headed to Dubai and surely from guests scheduled to visit the Greek Islands, Italy and numerous locations in the southern Med. Those calls run long into the night. Some of them serve to remind me that world geography is no longer a required course in most public schools. 

This column is a “break,” as I am still at my desk 10 hours a day since the original attack. Most suppliers are enforcing cancellation rules for travelers not visiting Israel. The “divine” intervention of an advisor is often the only way to secure a refund or a future credit. The insurance companies have offered coverage and then revised policies heading forward. 

Meanwhile, I know something I must, somehow, communicate to my clients. The 2023 release of the respected Global Peace Index shows the United States slipping to 131st place. There are, given the interpretation of statistical evidence, 130 countries on this planet that are safer, on average, than ours. But that, dear friends, is a very hard “truth.” 

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