(I was all set to write something much lighter than this, but then I saw the news last night about the terrorist attack at the airport in Istanbul.)
I heard the first reports about the terrorist attack at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul last night as I watched Sheppard Smith’s show on Fox News. (I know what you are thinking, but Smith is just about the only sensible host on the network. He does not just spit out its talking points and is downright funny.) The show starts at 10 PM here in Israel and around the midpoint Smith interrupted with breaking news about the attack.
I was shocked. I have traveled through that airport a number of times, most recently on my way back home from a trip to New York. Sheppard Smith told his viewers about how tight the security is there. Unlike any airport in America, the one in Istanbul does not let anyone into the terminal until after they have passed a security check and their bags have been searched. In the U.S. anyone can go into a terminal and wait among the crowds at the cheek-in lines without anyone conducting even a cursory examination.
Even in Israel, while there is a security check at the main entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport, they only do profiling of people as they enter the terminal for check in with all their bags and do not search most people.
When the first confirmation of what had happened came through my heart jumped. I flipped back and forth between Fox News and Israel Channel One. It took about an hour before the other international news channels available in Israel like Sky News and France 24 began to even mention the attack. They were too busy going on about the Brexit.
As I watched live films of what was happening after the bombings at Ataturk Airport, I felt a deep connection with the people there. This was something which I did not feel when a similar attack occurred in Belgium last year.
An Israeli man who was waiting for a connecting flight in the International terminal there sent a live picture of what was going on to the Israeli news through his smart phone. The man recounted what he had experienced just a half an hour earlier when gun fire and explosions were heard. In the background I could see the main shopping plaza with the duty free shops where I had been just eight days before.
Then I saw the footage of the aftermath which showed the ambulances rushing back and forth and a number of the wounded people outside.
People ask me why I risk traveling through there and I explain that I never leave the airport. Most of the thousands of people who pass through it each day only catch connecting flights like I did because Turkish air has the best economy class service in the world for the best price.
Yes the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdojan has been very vocal in his condemnations of Israel over the Palestinians. But many observers have seen this as a necessary posturing on his part in order to placate certain interests in his country.
The well-publicized strain in diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey in recent years belied the reality: there has always been a close military and economic relationship between the two countries. You see, what does not get reported as frequently is that Israel and Turkey are huge trading partners. For example, most of the nuts and candies sold all over Israel by weight are imported from Turkey.
Israel exports chemicals and military equipment to Turkey. More than a year before the recent announcement of the renewed good relations between the two nations, Israel’s Ynet reported that trade between them had doubled in the previous 5 years to almost $6 billion per year.
Israeli made goods, including high tech items, find their way to Arab and Muslim nations around the world after first being exported to Turkey. Even Iran is said to use computer systems designed in Israel. This according to a recent report in the Hebrew daily Haaretz.
So people also ask me, “well if you are not afraid of traveling through Turkey with all the recent terrorist attacks there because you never leave the terminal and you think that Israel really does have a good financial relationship with the Turks so you do not mind giving business to their national airline, surely you must be concerned about how you must be treated by the Muslims, Turks and all the Arabs who travel through the airport there?”
This is something that only people who have never been there could possibly say.
Turkish Air has multiple flights a day between Istanbul and Tel Aviv. Countless Israelis fly the airline each year on their way to destinations around the world. Many American Jews fly the airline to Israel.
I have sat next to people all over the world. The last time a Muslim man from Uzbekistan sat next to me. The year before I flew during the month of Ramadan and sat next to a secular Muslim Turkish man who not only did not fast but who also drank alcohol. We had a whole conversation on religion.
On one trip to Istanbul my flight from Israel was filled with ultra-orthodox Israelis who were also catching the flight to New York at 6:30 AM. We had a minyan for Shacharit (morning payers) at the gate in front of all the other passengers in our Talitot (prayer shawls) and Tefilin (phylacteries). The area for flights to the U.S. is cordoned off with an extra security check. Only ticketed passengers can go there and this is only done for flights to America.
On a previous outing I davened in front of the gate by myself when there were no other religious Jewish passengers. This last time that I flew, the man I sat next to on the flight from Tel Aviv got me into the luxury lounge for first class passengers and frequent flyers as his guest. There I used a room set aside for Muslim prayers for my morning prayers.
The lounge itself is unbelievable. Two floors of luxurious couches and recliners. All around are what look like built in book cases but are really refrigerators filled with cold drinks like sodas and water. You can take as much as you want. There is also, of course, unlimited coffee and cookies, as well as liquor tables all around with top shelf scotch, vodka and bourbon. You can take all you want.
There was also a free buffet breakfast which they only began serving when I needed to head to my gate. No matter, it was not kosher anyway.
On a previous trip I spent the three hours I had between flights mostly hanging out by the Starbucks there sipping coffee.
My sister-in-law asked me if I was concerned at all about passing through the Istanbul airport or traveling on Turkish air wearing a yarmulke. Well I’ve seen plenty of Orthodox Jews walking around Ataturk Airport and this time the flight from New York was filled with them. Also, if all those Japanese people can go around the airports of the world wearing surgical masks because of their irrational fear of germs without worrying about what people think then I should not need to be concerned about wearing a yarmulke.
As far as the service in coach is concerned, I have only had great experiences with both the airline and at the airport itself. No problems at all wearing a yarmulke there and on the plane and plenty of orthodox Jews fly the airline to places all over Europe and Asia, not just Israel.
The staff is nice and wonderful. One time on El Al I went over to the galley to ask for some water. A big bottle of mineral water was almost empty and I asked to just take it, but the woman said that if she let me do that then she would have to let everyone do the same thing. The next time I flew Turkish Air something similar happened and when the flight attendant saw me pouring water for myself she insisted that I just take the bottle.
Also on El Al they only gave out small water bottles to people in the economy plus section. On Turkish Air they hand out the water bottles freely throughout the flight.
This last time I flew I knew it would be hot when I got outside the airport in Israel. I asked if I could get just one little water bottle to take with me and the woman handed me a bunch. Wow!
The duty free shops in Istanbul are also much cheaper on all items than in either in Tel Aviv or New York airports.
When I finally went to bed last night after watching several hours of reports from Istanbul, I had difficulty falling asleep. When I woke up this morning I heard the now official reports on total casualties. I also saw the footage from security cameras of the actual bombings.
They say that this was ISIS, but it does not really matter who did it. Terrorism is not about the cause. It is about the method of murdering masses of innocent people. There is no excuse for it whether it is Al Qaeda, Hamas, the IRA or some deranged homophobe like the man in Orlando a few weeks ago.
Some analysts are saying that this attack was in response to Turkey’s rapprochement with Israel. Others say that it had to have been planned far in advance so it was more likely due to Turkey’s alliances with the West and its helping the fight against Isis.
What difference does it make? The cause does not matter. Turkey, like Israel, has had a terrorism problem for years. Murder is murder, whether motivated by financial gain or committed by a psychopath like a serial killer, or a terrorist.
Less than 24 hours later the airport reopened and it is going about business as usual. Good for Turkey!