Israeli tourists glad to be home from Egypt

There are still a number of Israelis in Egypt, including businessmen, diplomats and journalists, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Israeli Tourists  311 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Israeli Tourists 311
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The first thing Rachel Assraf did upon landing in Ben-Gurion Airport after spending a week in the midst of the Egyptian upheaval was to kiss her husband, Shimon.
They hugged briefly, by the small indoor glass waterfall.
Zamalek – Cairo’s island of tranquility
Reporter's Notebook: Coffee and politics in Cairo
“It was a relief to see her,” said Shimon Assraf, who had waited anxiously for over three hours at the airport late Wednesday night.
Rachel Assraf and a plane full of Israelis, mostly tourists and some reporters, had been due to arrive at 8:40 p.m. from Cairo, but did not actually land until close to midnight.
There are still a number of Israelis in Egypt, including businessmen, diplomats and journalists, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Assraf called her husband as soon as the plane hit the ground, but Shimon did not breathe easy until he saw her walk out of the glass doors with her bag.
“I had been very worried. I called her every day,” he later told The Jerusalem Post.
“I didn’t realize how concerned everyone was until I arrived back in Israel,” said Assraf, who is a mother of two and a grandmother of three.
“It felt good to be home,” she added.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in EgyptClick here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Assraf was among a group of tourists who had headed out to Egypt last week for a planned trip in spite of the early signs of unrest in that country.
The bulk of her eight-day trip, she said, was spent away from the fray.
She and others in her group went to see the pyramids and took a boat trip down the Nile. Like viewers across the world, she had watched the massive demonstrations in Cairo on television from her hotel room.
One Israeli tourist who also returned on Wednesday night, Yuval Dax, told the Post that many people who saw the protests on television assumed that the entire country looked like that. But it was actually calm in many places, he said.
Still, the tourists didn’t escape the ripple effects of the unrest. Halfway through their trip, in Luxor, many said they had seen tanks on the streets. Some mentioned seeing homes with broken windows and speaking with Egyptians who described how they had armed themselves against rioters.
There were the phone calls from relatives back in Israel, at least when the lines were not down.
Their itineraries were changed numerous times. Travel was difficult.
Internal flights were canceled, as was the train.
Toward the end of the week’s trip, they became increasingly concerned about making their return flight to Israel.
“Every second they changed the plans. There were many people, not just Israelis, who wanted to get out of there,” Assraf said.
But it was really the last day, as she neared the airport and saw more tanks, that Assraf said she’d understood the scope of the unrest.
During one nerve-wracking moment, soldiers boarded her bus after they saw her take photographs out its window.
“They stood next to me and yelled, ‘Why are you shooting?’” Assraf recalled.
They did not leave the bus until she had erased the camera’s memory card.
The scenes she saw outside the bus window reminded her of media images she had seen of unrest in China and of a visit she had made to Teheran a year or so before the revolution there.
“I felt like I was in the same kind of historic moment,” she said.
Dax added, “We went to view archeology, and instead witnessed history in the making.”
Traveling to the airport on that day reminded him of Yom Kippur in Israel because there was no traffic on the roads, he explained.
“It was like being the only vehicle on the Ayalon [Highway],” Dax said.
A number of the tourists told the Post that they had felt very comfortable in Egypt as Israelis, and that they had been very well protected.
Dax, however, said Egyptians had had varied responses to Israelis, depending in part on their age.
He recalled talking with two young Egyptians at the train station who asked him where he was from.
Dax replied, “Israel.”
“If you’re Israeli, then return to Israel. We do not want you here,” one of the young men said. Then he reconsidered and said, “But if you are just visiting here, that is all right.”
Dax said he had immediately backtracked and told the men that he was German.
Back at Ben-Gurion, he told the Post that it was scary to think the unrest could descend into chaos.
“I am fearful that the next government will be anti-Israeli,” he said. “I hope we are not among the last tourist groups to visit Egypt.”