Tens of thousands of young adventurous Israelis backpack to weird and wonderful destinations every year. You will find them in the jungles of Peru and Colombia, climbing Mt. Everest, on the beaches of Thailand, trekking in Costa Rica. But the one place you don’t seem to find them is Sinai.

Sinai still holds a mystical and magical aura for Israelis and rightly so. But fearmongers abound in our world, and Sinai is a favorite punching bag. That is not to say that there is no validity in being cautious in life. Yet the question remains – do we control our fears, or do they control us? Israelis not going to Sinai is like Americans not coming to Israel “because it’s dangerous,” as the saying goes. We who live in Israel know that Israel is not any more dangerous than most other places in the world – including those places where young adventuresome Israelis go backpacking.

The same goes for Sinai.

Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada at the end of September 2000, Israelis stopped going to Sinai (although my friend and I did not); they started to go again within a couple of years; but after the bombing of the Taba Hilton in October 2004, they stopped going altogether. The notable exception is the Arab community of Israel.

By and large, they go to the fancy hotels in Sharm e-Sheikh (or to the Taba Hilton); and they go with their families. It’s the young Jewish Israelis who are giving into their fears.

My own love affair with Sinai began the first time I went there in 1973. It never stopped. Nor have my visits there.

I returned last week from a four-day sojourn to my traditional visiting spot in Sinai. It’s a mere 45-minute drive once you cross the Taba border. For nearly 20 years, my friend and I have been making the short jaunt south to the bay called Ma’agana and staying with our Beduin friends, including Salah Hossen Hoda, who runs a local camp site called Freedom Camp.

The Beduin in Sinai who run such camps have suffered terrible distress over the years due to the ups and downs of Israelis letting their fear get the better of them.

The Beduin in Sinai are not one collective group and should not all be tarred with the same brush.

There are Beduin who live near Al-Arish near the Mediterranean who have been active as smugglers for the last number of years. And there are Beduin who live and work along the Red Sea running camping locations, such as Salah.

There are bamboo huts, spectacular scenery, brilliant snorkeling, serenity, and great fresh food at Salah’s restaurant.

For the first time, we also saw ten young Egyptian university students staying at the same camp where we were. Older, more established Egyptians often go to the fivestar hotels; but younger Egyptians rarely had the chance in the past.

Prior to leaving Israel, everyone we knew insisted that Sinai is too dangerous; that we shouldn’t go. We are fully conversant with all the incidents which are publicized.

We also know that driving around the roads of Israel is much more dangerous than visiting Sinai. Hundreds die here every year.

For those of us who are a bit older, we have grand memories of the Sinai of a few decades ago. What surprised me was the reaction of young soldiers manning the checkpoint just north of Ein Gedi along the Dead Sea. When they asked where we were going and we said Sinai, they wanted to know if it’s really possible. They didn’t even know that going there is permitted or physically possible.

Think how much wiser we would all be if more of us went to Sinai to find out for ourselves and talked to the locals. So if you seek a short holiday, a few days away from the maddening crowds, don’t let your fears overwhelm you. Call Salah and tell him you are on your way. Enjoy the splendor and serenity which Sinai offers. It beckons to us all.

Call or write to Salah at 0020-100-551- 1538 / Salehfreedom17@yahoo.com

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