Israel is on edge in a way it hasn’t been since the wave of stabbing attacks a few years ago, or the weekly bus bombings that characterized the Second Intifada.
Coronavirus has arrived in the Jewish state, and it likely found its way here via one of the successes of which Israel is most proud: booming Asian tourism.
In recent years, one has been as likely to see Chinese and Korean visitors in Israel as those from Western countries. Christians from the Far East today make up a large and growing percentage of the pilgrims arriving annually in the Holy Land.
Coronavirus in Israel
Over the weekend, 200 Israelis were ordered to self-quarantine after coming into contact with a group of South Korean tourists.
The group had already returned to South Korea, where 18 of their number were subsequently confirmed as having contracted coronavirus.
While in Israel, they had apparently visited a number of sites at the same time as Israeli school groups. Those children and their teachers are now confined to their houses for the next 14 days. The group was also escorted by 12 Israeli Border Police officers when visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Those officers have also been quarantined.
The Palestinian Authority likewise ordered anyone who had come into contact with the tourists to self-isolate and be checked for infection. It also closed all tourist sites in the so-called “West Bank” that had been visited by the group.
Foreigners not welcome?
On Saturday night, Israel turned back a Korean Air flight, eliciting strong protest from Seoul. After extracting 12 Israeli nationals aboard the flight, Israel sent the plane back to Korea with the rest of its passengers.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that it regretted what it saw as “excessive and unreasonable” measures by Israel.
Around the same time, an update was posted to the website of the Israel Health Ministry warning that the Jewish state might soon close its border entirely to all non-citizens.
The warning was later removed, but the fact that it was posted at all indicates the level of stress in Israel considering the large number of East Asians that visit and work here.
The Israel Foreign Ministry has expressed concerns that barring travelers from South Korea, Japan, China and Thailand will harm not only incoming tourism, but diplomatic relations and burgeoning business ties with those nations.
But the average Israeli doesn’t care about such things. At the moment, most people are terrified over the thought of an airborne virus that the media has portrayed as apocalyptic floating around Israel.