Israelis Forced to Change Sinai Travel Plans After Israel Shuts Egypt Border Without Warning

Some Israelis unable to join family already in Sinai, while tourism professionals complain of harm to their livelihoods

The Sinai Peninsula, which has been drawing surging numbers of Israeli tourists, autumn 2016.
Maya Horodniceanu

Many Israelis had to change their Passover plans at the last second after the Israeli army closed the Taba crossing into the Sinai, Egypt on Monday morning due to a terror threat. Unable to enter the popular vacation destination, many travelers were forced to reverse tracks.

Some have complained about being unable to join family members or friends already in the Sinai.

Liat and Mika Levy in Sinai.

Liat Levy of Rehovot had crossed into Sinai with her daughter Mika last Saturday. Her husband and second daughter were supposed to join them on Wednesday but are barred from doing so. "We want to be together," Levy told Haaretz. "We're trying to check if it's possible to travel through Jordan. I understand there's a ferry from Aqaba."

Rina Bacharach of Rishon Letzion planned to enter Egypt on Monday with an organized tour, but on the bus ride, they learned their visas had been refused, for reasons unclear. In any case she thought to continue alone into Sinai but then learned of the border closing. "I don't know what we'll do. We're pretty stuck," she said. "We may stay in Eilat or go to Aqaba."

Tzur Shezaf, an author and journalist, wrote a furious letter to Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, saying he was supposed to guide a tour in Sinai under Egyptian and Bedouin protection. "I and the rest of my group are prepared to sign a letter releasing the State of Israel from responsibility for our safety outside its borders." He also wrote that the border shutdown is "disproportional," and impairs freedom of movement for Israelis.

Closing the border at the last second before Passover is unfair especially to people whose livelihood relies on tourism, Shezaf wrote.

Shabi Shay, director-general of the hotels association in Eilat, told Haaretz that occupancy at hotels in the Red Sea city is running at about 95% and the beaches are packed, too. "Eilat is at full capacity," he said.

The travel ban on Sinai was instituted based on concrete information about a terror attack planned against Israeli targets. It is to be lifted on April 18, after the holiday's end.

Israelis in Egypt may freely cross the border to return home, and the travel constraint does not apply to Israeli ministers or non-Israelis.

Shortly after the announcement of the travel ban, a rocket was fired form Sinai, says the Israeli army spokesman. It hit the Eshkol Regional Council, causing damage but no casualties.