A year or two after my arrival in Israel (Nov 1968) I was given a book (in English) entitled The Second Million. The first million being the immigrants that Israel had adsorbed in the years prior to and immediately following Independence. The Second Million refers to the target of attracting one million tourists to Israel in a single year. This week my thoughts returned to that book and it’s (at the time outrageous) proposal following postings on FB, a news article that referred to attracting 10 million tourists to Israel and conversations with visitors to my work place. Sometimes (outside of work) I’m slow on the uptake. It hit me earlier today that Israel’s greatest source of positive PR is the impression that visitors return with to their own countries / communities. To this I’ll add 22 Syrians who have/are being treated in Israeli hospitals and would otherwise be dead. And a young Palestinian boy who has a future due to the parents of a young Israel boy who died. Not sure that either story made the international papers – but there again why should it? Why show Israel in a positive light? One group of visitors I met this week were from a major Nordic bank and in Israel for the first time. Family, friends and work colleagues had warned them to be careful, to appreciate that there are armed solders and police everywhere, and be prepared for the worst! Their only regret was that they were here for just 36 hours. Those 36 hours were nevertheless a game changer for them. Tel Aviv - a bright modern city, good infrastructure, hotel, restaurants, friendly people, hi-tech and other businesses booming – they were stunned. And apart from a couple of female solders in uniform and the odd police car driving around, there was nothing “to see”.
Later in the week, met with visitors from Switzerland and their reaction was much the same. Maybe 10 million visitors a year is a pipe dream, but isn’t that what Israel is about – achieving the impossible! Not many in 1948 gave Israel a chance of survival and yet 65 years on the dessert is blooming, there is prosperity and the country goes from strengthen to strengthen. Israel somehow makes the old adage true – “the impossible can be achieved immediately, everything else takes time”. What is critical regardless of 10, 9 or 8 million visitors is that each, no matter the reason for visiting Israel, returns home as an ambassador for the country. The more evangelists we have to counter the negative publicity put out by certain sections of the international media, the sooner a just peace can be achieved for all people of the region.