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August 29, 2015 | 14th Elul 5775

Handwriting on the Wall?

December 22, 2002
Marc Rosenstein

In October, we got a call in our hostel from a new company based in Tel Aviv, "Iruach Bituach" ("secure hospitality") founded to market hotel and hostel rooms in the Galilee to Tel Avivians fleeing in the event of a war with Iraq. We smiled, and figured, what do we have to lose? So we signed on: they have the right to sell half of our 12 guest units, and we have the obligation to hold the rooms for them for the first two days of the war. They get a 20% commission. We laughed about the extent to which capitalism has developed here, and filed the contract.

The other day, a woman called from Tel Aviv:
"Hello, is this Makom ba-Galil"
"I was referred by someone who lives in your area; do you rent rooms for the war?"
"Yes, I guess so; I mean, we rent rooms, and the winter is always slow, so we have rooms available most of the time now."
"What's in the rooms?"
"They are mobile home units: two bedrooms, living room, shower, fridge, coffeepot."
"Do they have cooking facilities?"
"No, but one could plug in a hotplate."
"And what are your rates for three adults and three children?"
"That would come to 450 shekels a night without breakfast, or 400 on a weekly basis."
"How do I make a reservation? Do you want my credit card number?"
"No, in the off season we don't require a guarantee, unless we are nearly full; just give me your name and address and phone and we'll hold the room; but do you have a date in mind?"
"Yes, I'd like to reserve beginning January 29."
Pause. "OK. By the way, do you have inside intelligence, or is this just a feeling?"
"Oh, I have connections high up in the army."
"Un hunh. Good, well, OK, we have your reservation. But of course, it may all be for nothing... I hope so!"
"No, I wish it were, but I am afraid it is too late for that. See you on the 29th."

A friend with four young children reported that his mother-in-law has been pressuring him to get plane tickets to London. When he laughed, she insisted that he look into a room-size chemical-biological safety tent. So he broke down and investigated: yes, one can buy a specially treated 8 ft by 8 ft by 8ft tent-like contraption that sets up inside the house and filters the air for the whole family closed inside. They only cost $1,500. But they are backordered 10 weeks...

As in the Gulf War, it is fascinating the range of reactions to the news reports. Some panic and really do buy plane tickets or order hotel rooms or invest in expensive protective equipment; others casually check to see that their gas masks are intact and accessible in the closet; others laugh (fatalistically? cynically? disbelievingly?) and go on with life as if the daily dose of panicmongering by the media were just a circus -- or an election ploy by Sharon. We find ourselves somewhere between the second and third category. It makes you think about all the other cases of people struggling to make sense out of unpredictable and incalculable risks, from the Jews of Spain in the 15th century to those of Germany in the 30's to the residents of fault lines and flood plains and hurricane coasts in the United States today.

Be sure to check this diary on February 2.


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