During 2014, for example, after a spectacular 18 per cent jump during the first half of the year, visitor totals later crashed by an overall seven per cent because of Operation Protective Edge – the IDF’s invasion of Gaza.
Indeed, the 182,000 recorded visitors to Israel during August marked the lowest total for the month since 2006 – the year of the Second Lebanon War.
Instead, Israelis fled in their droves and trips abroad during July and August rose by two per cent compared to the same period in 2013.
In September, soon after the war ended, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau revealed that incoming tourism had plummeted by 20-30% during the hostilities but it was estimated that matters would be back to normal within three-six months.
However, while Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug expressed confidence that the war would have only a ‘moderate effect’ on the economy, she warned soon after it ended that its impact on certain sectors, especially tourism, was likely to continue for some time.
Her words now seem prophetic as recent IDF-Hezbollah clashes in the Golan have had a harsh effect on domestic tourism.
Indeed, I’ve seen the consequences first-hand while dining at two excellent eateries.
The first, in July, was at the Eitz Tut (Mulberry Tree) Restaurant deep in the artists’ quarter of Tzfat, the famous holy hilltop city of mystic piety.
The other, during January, was at Bella Mia, an Italian Grill Bar in Ma'alot-Tarshiha, a mixed Jewish-Arab town, near to both Karmiel and the coastal resort of Nahariya.
Eitz Tut, in Tet Vav Street and adjacent to the Khan of the White Donkey cultural centre, was previously known as Isidora. The new owner has renamed it in honour of the splendid, ancient tree that provides a presiding presence over both the trellised courtyard and patrons while they dine.
As customers were so few the day we visited, the friendly young owner’s wife and infant daughter enjoyed their own meal at a table directly under the tree while he served us.
It was, as my husband observed, war or no war, an idyllic setting on a perfect summer late afternoon. The only thing missing was more company for us all!
Although Eitz Tut is not fully vegetarian, the menu is varied and between us we chose an imaginative blue cheese salad and a pasta dish accompanied by hearty bread, followed by suitably indulgent desserts. An English language menu is available on request.
Our only caveat was that when we visited, the restaurant was not open in the evening. This policy may have changed but I can offer no further details as none are apparent on the web. I must presume this is because of the relatively recent change in owners.
Bella Mia is billed as ‘romantic’ but also suitable for families with children! Whatever the reason for an outing there, we found it eccentrically fetching with its log cabin facade and European bar interior.
Again, we noted a dearth of fellow diners but were greeted by extremely friendly and efficient staff who provided a full English language menu.
Portions at Bella Mia are extremely generous and soon we began to wish we had not devoured such large starters of home-made bread and savoury dips!
Dishes each of richly flavoured ravioli and spaghetti followed in speedily served succession, with a grand finale of a shared giant slab of excellent cheesecake.
But Bella Mia, like Eitz Tut, is well worth a second visit, so we’ll be back to both soon.
Bella Mia is open: Sunday – Saturday- 10:00 - 12:00 midnight.
This piece first appeared in the March 2015 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=9988) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.
© Natalie Wood (24 February 2015)