Israelis angered as some foreigners, airlines act on their gulf war jitters

January 08, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

TEL AVIV,ISRAEL — TEL AVIV, Israel -- Rita Morse and her family found their careful plans to leave Israel were an early casualty of gulf war jitters.

Pan Am and five other airlines abruptly canceled their flights to this country. Mrs. Morse, her husband and four children had to scramble through a frustrating day of long lines and unanswered telephones to arrange a flight on an Israeli airline to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there back home to Southfield, Mich.

They are leaving one of their children -- Jordana, 17, who is studying here for the year and who was the object of their visit to Israel.

"I think she's fine," Mrs. Morse said with conviction yesterday while waiting at the airport. "I don't think there's a safer place in the world for my daughter to be. This country is ready."

Contrasts in the assessment of danger abound in Israel as it ponders the possibility of war next week. Many foreigners prepared to leave, and many Israelis reacted with scorn, even anger, at their departure.

"All the Americans are running out. All the Israelis are coming back," said one government official. "Israelis want to be here."

Yesterday, the Israeli transportation minister, Moshe Katzav, met with representatives of the airlines and "demanded" they resume regular flights.

"It's a matter of principle," Shay Shohami, head of the Israeli Civil Aviation Administration, said of his objection to the airlines' suspensions. "There is no danger today. There is no danger tomorrow. We will have to wait and see what happens in nine days, but they should wait, too."

Pan Am, along with SAS, Alitalia, South African Airways, Lot and Cypriot airlines, said they had suspended service because their insurance premiums for flights to Israel and the Mideast had risen sharply, in some cases tenfold.

The German, Swedish and Finnish governments have advised their citizens to leave Israel before Jan. 15. United Nations

offices here have drawn up a list of non-essential staff and plan to send them to Cyprus.

Great Britain renewed a warning yesterday to its citizens about the dangers of travel to Israel. The United States issued general travel advisories in October cautioning citizens about dangers.

A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy said that U.S. citizens were not being urged to leave the country, and that there were no plans yet to reduce the 125-member staff.

"We're keeping an eye on things," said Don Cofman, press attache.

"But as things now stand, we are not recommending that our citizens leave."

He estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Americans were in Israel. Many hold dual citizenship and would be likely to remain, he said.

The decision on whether to be here as the deadline nears seemed to become a test of loyalty in the eyes of Israeli officials and commentators.

"I don't know anyone leaving because of the situation," sniffed Rosalind Margolis, a 15-year resident of Israel who holds dual citizenship with Israel and Great Britain. "You see, we are not panicking."

Tourism to Israel has dropped sharply, and the head of the Israeli

Hotel Association said his members had lost $60 million since the crisis began. But the vacant hotel rooms symbolized more to the ever-besieged Israelis than just an economic sting.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations released a letter expressing dismay to Pan Am for "undermining America's closest ally, Israel."

Groups that did not cancel plans, such as 250 conventioneers from the Chicago United Jewish Appeal scheduled to arrive today, touted their determination. And the government announced that El Al, the national airline, would step up international flights to ensure that air service to the country continues.

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