Israel-Gaza violence creates complications for Utah travelers
He's been on a church trip for past three weeks, but Dick Jensen still checks the news every day.
Jensen, co-owner of Farmington-based Dick Jensen & Alan McKay Tours, wants to know when it will be safe again to take tourists to Israel.
After more than two weeks and hundreds of fatalities, mostly on the Gaza side, the violence between Israel and Hamas shows no signs of abating.
"It's one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but it's a little crazy right now," Jensen said Tuesday. "You'd be better off going to Tooele."
Jensen has been taking tour groups to Israel for decades, so he's accustomed to the ebb and flow of violence that can waylay his clients' travel plans. With a cruise planned for October that stops in Ashdod, a port just north of the Gaza strip, and another trip planned for November, Jensen and McKay hope the conflict in the Holy Land ends soon.
"The tricky thing for us is, things might be well settled down by October," McKay said, "but a cruise line might have to decide in August whether it will go there."
Devon Ogden of Jordan-based Cruise Lady is also monitoring the news from Israel; his company also has a tour scheduled for October.
"If things don't calm down, then the whole trip doesn't go," Ogden said Tuesday. "We can't just go and skip certain sites, because essentially this is one of those circumstances where the whole country is affected."
When Ogden spoke with some his clients Monday, however, they seemed largely unconcerned about the violence.
"It's still three months away, and the plan is still to go," Ogden said. "Our hope is this will end very, very soon, things will be back to normal, and we'll be able to go in October."
On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration placed a 24-hour ban on U.S. airlines from flying to Tel Aviv after a missile exploded near Ben Gurion International Airport, creating a complication for American travelers.
Utahn Mandy Green has been in Israel since July 2 studying archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She had planned to fly home Thursday, July 31, but Delta allowed her to push her flight forward by a few days so she could get back home to her husband and three kids sooner.
She plans to fly out Sunday, but until then, she's stuck in Jerusalem, where air raids have been sounding every few days to alert residents that they have 90 seconds to find shelter before a missile hits.
"Initially it was terrifying. The first time I heard the air raid siren and raced to the safe zone, my heart raced for quite some time," Green said in a Facebook message. "But the longer one is here, it just becomes part of life."
Green had planned to move her family to Israel so she could pursue a graduate degree in biblical studies, but the recent violence has changed her mind. Now, she said, she will likely continue her education in the U.S.
"You begin to grow a much deeper empathy and understanding for the people who live here who deal with this kind of uncertainty on a daily basis," Green said. "For them, there is no other place to run to. This is home."
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