Tuesday, September 30, 2014

There are not many places nearby that Israelis can visit that are inexpensive and not hostile. However, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is a place that Israelis can visit, enjoy for relatively little money and be welcomed for who they are. There should be direct flights so Israelis can more easily visit Northern Cyprus.

These days, there are very few places for Israelis to visit for vacation that are geographically close to Israel and inexpensive, and where the population is not hostile toward Israeli people. With the advent of the Arab Spring, visits to Egypt and Jordan are no longer advisable for Israelis. The vast majority of the population is not only hostile. Both countries are in the middle of revolutions, making visits very dangerous for any foreigner. Other countries in the Arab Middle East aren’t even options for Israeli tourists because of the absence of diplomatic relations.

Greece is not too far away geographically. But with the rise of the Golden Dawn Party, which is neo-Nazis and the fourth-largest political party in the country, the environment in Greece is not welcoming for Jewish people. Aside from that, the Greeks use the euro, which is an expensive currency for Israelis. Regarding the Greek side of Cyprus, while it is safe to visit there as an Israeli, the basic problem with going there is that everything is very expensive for Israeli passport holders. It is not an affordable vacation for Israelis.

So where can Israelis travel to that is nearby and relatively inexpensive and where the population is not hostile toward Israelis? This year, my husband and I decided that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was the ideal place to vacation. There are many beautiful historic sites from many historical periods. There are magnificent medieval castles, such as the one in St. Hilarion and Kyrenia, which houses the archaeological remains of the oldest ship in the world, dating to the times of Alexander the Great.

There are ancient ruins, such as the beautiful mosaics in Soli and Salamis, which has the potential to be as great of a tourist attraction as Pompeii, given the fact that it contains the remains of an entire ancient city dating back to the 11th century B.C. that was destroyed by Arab pirates in A.D. 648. The Old City of Famagusta has an uncanny resemblance to the Old City of Rhodes, with its numerous souvenir shops, restaurants, historic sites and general magnificent atmosphere.

The beaches in Northern Cyprus rival the beaches in Israel. Not only are they prettier, but they are also easier to swim in. From the port city of Kyrenia, one can take a day trip on a boat, visiting different beaches that the island has to offer while enjoying the Mediterranean waves. My husband and I enjoyed these wonders while staying in a three-star hotel that was much cheaper and better quality than the average hotel in Eilat. Even without direct flights existing to Northern Cyprus, it was cheaper to fly Pegasus into Northern Cyprus than it is to fly into Limassol on the Greek side of the island.

Every Turkish Cypriot person we met was very friendly. No one seemed to have problems with Israelis at all. We did not hide from anyone where we came from, and I even walked around wearing Star of David earrings. Although they are Muslim, Turkish Cypriots are very secular and don’t have any problem with Jewish people. Their government is also very liberal, secular and democratic. Freedom House ranks TRNC freer than Turkey.

There is only one impediment that might prevent Israelis from visiting Northern Cyprus, and that is the fact that there are no direct flights. When you are flying from Israel, it is very silly to need to fly to Istanbul just to reach Northern Cyprus, which is geographically closer. Many Israelis don’t want to have to waste so much time reaching a vacation destination that is so close. For this reason, the Israeli government should seriously consider initiating direct flights to Northern Cyprus, so more Israelis can take advantage of this prized tourism destination without having to fly via Turkey. Political calculations related to Israeli policy on the Cyprus conflict should not have to block Israelis from enjoying such a wonderful and affordable travel destination.

Reprinted from JerusalemOnline.com.

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