I mark the passing of the years by the reaction of secular folk to news of my holidaying in Israel. In the mid-1970s, school friends would be wide eyed at the exotic holidays taken by my family. In those days, travelling further than Spain was unheard of in my neck of the woods, so to fly to a tiny country in the Middle East was the equivalent of back-packing in the Himalayas today.
In the ’80s, when I said I was going to Israel, university acquaintances eyed me accusingly as if I was a war criminal for even contemplating such a holiday destination. Tut tut.
Conversely, in the early ’90s — in the heady post-Oslo days before Rabin’s assassination — I was right on the money as far as my secular mates went. Tel Aviv was perceived as one of the trendiest cities in the world — in competition with New York — and for knowing intimately THE party city of the moment, my street-cred went through the roof.
Throughout all of this, I never contemplated not visiting. No matter what horrors were reported, nothing would have deterred me from visiting friends and family in the country I loved.
Recently, however, when I announced to colleagues that, with my husband and our daughter, we were off to Israel for a wedding and some winter sun, there was a horrified reaction. “How can you take your daughter into a war-zone?” someone asked, as if we were holidaying in Iraq or Afghanistan.
In the last few days before we were due to leave, as a constant barrage of Gaza images has knocked Mr Mugabe’s charming regime off the front pages, I heard similar remarks so often that I began to waiver.
“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” I asked Husband when I read that Hamas intended to unleash “the wrath of Hell” on Israel and its allies. Suddenly, being a mother responsible for a two-year-old made me ask myself a question that had hitherto been unthinkable: should I visit Israel and would it be safe?
Well, here I am in Israel. I have seen my brother-in-law called up to the army; I have talked to my friend Paul Kaye about the tragic death of his mother-in-law, hit by a Hamas rocket; I have been shocked by the losses in Israel and Gaza. But, conversely, I have never felt safer.
It’s a sorry state of world affairs when being in Israel at the height of nightmarish attacks on both sides leaves me feeling more secure and protected than I do at home. I’m in a county that has lived with terrorist attacks for over 50 years. As a result, its vigilance for all things suspicious, its acceptance that bags must be checked and bodies scanned for explosives and weapons at all communal places, has left my husband and I feeling secure.
Take it from us, we know how random death can be. We survived the 2004 tsunami while on honeymoon in Phuket. Since then, the world has caught up with the Israeli experience and the world isn’t coping too well. In New York, London, Glasgow, Madrid, Bali and Mumbai, they know what it is to feel a knot in the stomach as they take a mundane trip on a train or bus, sit in the lobby of a busy hotel or board a plane. Those places have all been hit with “the wrath of Hell” from a small group of people who have warped the meaning of the Koran. We are all living in a war-zone now.