Israeli Businesses Feeling the Impact of Gaza Escalations

The toll on restaurants in Israel's southern communities is immediate, while the tourism industry frets over the longer-term losses

An Israeli man takes his belongings from a house damaged by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, November 13, 2018.
AFP

When the first sirens went off in the Be’er Sheva on Monday, it didn’t take long for the phone to start ringing repeatedly at the city’s Giggsi Sports Bar. It wasn’t to check up on owner Asaf Ben-Attiah’s well-being, but to cancel reservations.

“More than 120 people who reserved tables never came. For the one table we have where the reservations were kept, only half the diners showed up,” said Ben-Attiah.

Monday afternoon, when Giggsi is usually filled with 300 or so people, he counted only 15.

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Ben-Attiah estimated his losses amounted to 50,000 shekels ($13,500) just in two days. “If it continues like this a few more days, it’s going to be a real problem,” he said before news surfaced Tuesday that Israel and Hamas had agreed to cease-fire terms.

The situation at Giggsi isn’t unusual in the south, where many towns and cities have come under fire since Monday. The Iron Dome has brought down a lot of rockets, but still several homes have been hit, one man was killed and scores injured.

Even in a place where Israel’s conflict with Hamas is part of life, the impact on business has been immediate and severe. Restaurants have been hurt the worst for now, but those in the tourism business are worried that news of the fighting will lead to a wave of cancelled visits to Israel.

“The situation can’t continue like this,” said Ben-Attiah. “We live with a constantly sense of uncertainty – whether it’s security alerts, or sirens or just plain fear. They should decide if there’s going to be [a war] or not,” he said.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon promised Israelis living near Gaza that they would get some compensation for lost work days and damage to businesses.

Kahlon said he had agreed with Eran Yaacov, who heads the Israel Tax Authority, to provide financial aid to parents who were forced to stay home with children and not go to work after the Home Front Command ordered schools within 40 kilometers of Gaza closed.

Tourism-related businesses inside the range that were hurt due to the fighting, as well as beekeepers whose businesses were hurt by incendiary balloons coming from Gaza, will get compensation as well.

Shai Berman, who heads the Israel Restaurants Association, said his group would be seeking aid for all small and medium-sized businesses.

Inspectors were already out on Tuesday to assess direct damage to homes and other property, which is covered up to a legally-set ceiling by the government. But the state doesn’t compensate for losses like jewelry, artwork or cash that is lost when a home or business is rocketed.

Indirect damage, such as the cost of lost business, are more difficult to assess and harder to win compensation for, creating a lot of frustration for victims.

In the summer of 2014, the time of Israel’s last big conflict with Hamas, Ben-Attias had opened his sports bar a month before the fighting, in time for the World Cup, and was hosting 400 people a day. “We were hurt a lot and we didn’t know if we would be compensated or not,” he said. “In the end, we didn’t get properly compensated for our losses because we weren’t able to show our business was worse off than in previous years.”

The Israel Hotels Association said Tuesday that fighting in the south has affected hotels all over Israel, not just in the south. “The impact on the tourism sector isn’t limited only to the areas of fighting. … The sector is extremely sensitive to security problems and their impact is immediate,” it said.

Gal Mor, who is head of development for Abraham Hostel Tours, said his hotels haven’t been affected yet.

“We haven’t seen a big wave of cancellations,” he said. “Nevertheless,, experience shows that if the situation continues and people are thinking about where to take their next vacation, they certainly aren’t going to pick Israel, and will go somewhere else.”

Given the situation, he said a solution in the form of a “security net” had to be found, which he said he hoped would emerge from a meeting scheduled for the next few days between the Hotels Association, insurance industry executives and the Tourism Ministry.

Amir Levy, the ministry’s director general, sought on Tuesday to play down the impact of the fighting on tourists, saying that Israel was no more dangerous than Europe, which has had to cope with terror attacks on its soil.

“Israel is one of the safest countries in the tourism world,” he said. “Beyond that, security personnel are found at every tourist site and the result is that the level of security for tourists is very high.”